Gnosia takes the human element out of a genre that thrives within it. Social deduction games like Werewolf and more recently Among Us are all about how good people are at lying and pushing through the noise to find an ultimate truth. One or more of you is a traitor, and the very notion sews distrust among Gnosia’s group of 16 mostly human weirdos. In games like Werewolf, this is heightened by the personal connection of the group and the use of evidence-based arguments to cut through alibis and derailed discussions. As a single player video game, Gnosia feels like it’s missing a core tenet of the games that inspire it. Often devolving into a game of pointing fingers without reason or, in many cases, the ability to convey your understanding in a satisfactory way.
Without a means to communicate your own logic, Gnosia becomes a game of systems. A mystery that can only be solved by passing stat checks, winning dice rolls, and learning how to play according to its rigid rules. Initially, this dissonance frustrated me, as I felt I was often fighting with mechanics more than I was making a case. But once I learned how to play the deduction game Gnosia presented, I was able to more effectively navigate it. Learning more about the idle spaceship I looped through dozens of times as I walked closer to solving its many mysteries.
The titular Gnosia are believed to be alien invaders capable of taking over a human’s mind. As a crewmember of a ship floating through space, it was up to me to identify the traitors in our midst and put them into cryogenic sleep so they could do no harm. Every time I failed to identify a Gnosia in the group, it would result in another casualty. But it also meant it was one less person to suspect.
In between the roles of a crew member and a dreaded Gnosia are assignments like the Doctor, who can identify the true nature of a person we last put into cold sleep, or an Engineer, who could scan someone and definitively reveal their identity. But Gnosia could claim any of these roles as well, throwing myself and the AI of my peers off the scent. At least, until I was able to spot their deception and gain enough control of the room to bring suspicion down upon them.
All these factors were cycling through my headspace throughout Gnosia. It was communicating my thoughts through limited means that made the game a struggle in its early hours. Each of these setups, with its 16 characters being given roles as crew or Gnosia, were reset with multiple loops. Everyone gets a clean slate. Knowledge of a crewmmate’s role in one loop would have no bearing on their alignment in the next. But I started each of these loops in the same room, under the same traitorous circumstances, and had to start throwing accusations about with no evidence to back any of it up. Someone in the room’s fate is decided in five rounds of assertions and defenses, and in that short time I had to identify oddities in people’s behavior based on where they casted suspicion. Or, if I was lucky, two people would claim the same role, and that at least told me one of them was likely Gnosia.
Even if I noticed these things, I had to hope my character passed stat checks within the short timeframe to convince everyone else. Many loops would likely begin with an innocent being cast into a cryo pod. But their sacrifices narrow down who among us was killing someone each night. Hopefully there were enough human crew aboard the ship after, however. Because if the Gnosia were equal in number to the humans, they’d win the loop. Whatever the case, it would be time to shake off all my preconceptions from the last loop and start another.
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The procedurally generated side of each loop kept things fresh, but only after I spent several hours learning the tells of its AI and leveling up my stats enough to get control of the conversation. I can’t pinpoint a moment where I suddenly found the debates were finally going my way, but it was after multiple annoying loops where I was being singled out by default. Eventually I learned there was power in discretion. As well as certain obtainable tactics like exaggerating, which would let me double down when an ally was accusing someone I believed was our enemy. Or defensive options like “Don’t Be Fooled,” which would immediately negate any suspicion thrown my way for a round. Those new tactics come with higher stats, such as Logic to better convince your shipmates of your accusations, or being able to better avoid detection as a threat through Stealth. But those perks don’t really show their face until you’ve leveled up after a few dozen loops.
Surprisingly enough, my favorite role to play became acting as Gnosia myself, as manipulating the game’s systems led to more satisfying loops than unmasking a traitor did. A lot of these nuances took hours for me to gain access to, which gives the game a roguelike quality. But this iterative, numbers-driven side of Gnosia made its actual mystery solving less satisfying to me than I would’ve liked.
Without tangible evidence or expression, Gnosia frequently felt like a game of pointing fingers. I eventually found my way into its rhythm, but my desire to solve mysteries was reserved almost solely for its elaborate, looping storyline. Asking questions like: What is a Gnosia? Who on the ship can I trust beyond individual loops? These answers were hidden on certain numbered playthroughs and behind extremely specific parameters, including characters occupying certain roles. Luckily, Gnosia includes a feature that let me automatically set up those situations, and working my way through those became my default way of play.
I feel so conflicted about Gnosia, because I think it’s an interesting experiment in making something that usually requires human connection fit into the mold of a single player experience. Its overarching story was more compelling to me than loops where people’s place in its world were decided by a dice roll. But even those eventually became fun to me in their own way. Despite the way I engaged with the mystery feeling more mechanical than most things I’d have the language to compare it to. Gnosia is full of some chilling twists to uncover, but it couldn’t disguise that my opponents weren’t human, thus were restricted by the boundaries of 1s and 0s.