This claymation indie gem has become my new go-to party game

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There is a giant Santa Claus hovering in the sky, and he has a gun. This is already enough to make Just Act Natural my new favorite “find the impostor” game, no offense to Among Us and its little beantronauts. There’s an unpredictable, absurdist anything-goes vibe to Just Act Natural that fits perfectly with its collection of frantic minigames, most of which involve posing as an NPC while another player as Santa (or perhaps a giant finger gun) snipes you from the heavens. It’s quick, silly, and my new favorite party game for a Discord server full of friends.

Just Act Natural launched out of early access on Steam back in March, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go through an Among Us-style explosion of popularity at any time. It’s free, though a few of its particularly fun game modes are locked behind an $8 upgrade. Almost all of the modes riff off the same idea of controlling a lumpy, bug-eyed clay character and trying to blend in with a sea of similarly lumpy NPCs, but they offer just enough structure for shenanigans to play out every match. The graphics add a lot to the comic potential here, too. Characters don’t so much walk as they totter side-to-side. Sometimes you’re wearing a fez. Sometimes you’re a sushi roll.

We’ve played Just Act Natural with the PC Gamer team for a couple weeks now, and we mainly keep coming back to a few of its modes. Diamond Grab feels like the default: most players masquerade as NPCs and try to snag diamonds from around the map, while one or two snipers in the sky loop around the perimeter of the map trying to spot obvious human behavior. In Death Race, the snipers try to spot human players waddling their way across a race course to a finish line. It’s like a cuter Squid Game, though to be honest shooting an innocent clay penguin is still pretty messed up.

My favorite may be the Assassins mode, because it removes the sky snipers and makes everyone part of the crowd. I immediately get wildly paranoid and start believing every NPC that takes a step toward me is another player out to kill me. I’ll lose points if I throw my knife and hit an NPC instead of a real player, but sometimes ending a match with negative 30 points on the board because you went on a rampage is just as entertaining as trying to win.

hiding as an NPC in Just Act Natural

(Image credit: Conor Garity)

These kinds of games can easily be overcomplicated with too many character abilities or objectives or whatever, but Just Act Natural doesn’t fall into that trap. It’s essentially a one button game: before a match starts you usually get to choose between a few different power-ups, like a smoke bomb or instant disguise change, and you press X to use it. In the Assassins mode, you hit the spacebar to throw a knife.

That’s about it: the rest is mind games and yelling at each other on Discord. Just Act Natural does seem a bit buggy, but in ways we mostly just found charming when games only last a minute or two. In one mode everyone’s fighting over a hat, but sometimes we couldn’t see who actually had the hat, which was a bug. But it wasn’t a bug that the sniper player couldn’t see the hat, that was by design, so they spent a couple rounds utterly confused about what everyone else was talking about. It was the good kind of chaos for a game you can spin up for 45 minutes to just hang out.

It’s not a household name yet, but Just Act Natural is popular enough to be getting active updates, including anti-cheat support and support for 24 player lobbies, up from eight.

I think what I find especially charming about it is how handcrafted the whole game feels—beyond the characters, the levels and props were also clearly built out of clay and then turned into 3D models. Bits of the UI are written in first person, like this message in the thanks section: “If I forgot you please yell at me in the Discord. Do not be polite about it.” 

When I want a slick, professionally polished party game that people in my life who don’t normally play games can easily “get,” I’m still going to pick Jackbox. But Just Act Natural deserves a spot on the list of games you should have ready to fire up with your Discord server whenever you need an easy hang. Just remember big clay Santa can’t hurt you in real life.

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