Downright Enjoyable for Survival Fans
I stalk through the undergrowth, a butter knife in my hand, a bottle of water in the other. I hear gunfire; I freeze. What follows is a bestial scream, a flurry of movement and then silence. I dare not move, and I sit eyes wide building up the courage to raise my head above the grass. Sneaky sneak... sneak sneak... I move slowly forward and spot a pile of loot and a lurking beast, claws, eyes, bulbous skin. I inch closer... is that a gun on the floor? I carefully snatch it up, the sound alerts the beast and it screams, a terrible retching scream from the nether. I fire. Click, click... It’s empty.
I’m now staring at a death screen on my PC, my pulse still racing and my sweaty hands sticking to the mouse.
Nether is a first-person shooter survival game set in a claustrophobic city with multiple levels of buildings, rooftops and subways, littered with detailed scenes of horror which tell a bit of the terrifying story of the world. Stumbling through the dark to come across a pile of bloody skeletons, or a skeleton sprawled at a desk, its fingers still gripping a book, the little details help put your mindset in the same place as the creators’ and really manages to deliver the uneasy feeling that the nether brings. The backstory details a solar flare which caused a great cull. turning over two thirds of the population into the horrific mutated beasts known as the nether. The graphics, style and animation suggests dimension-jumping beasts driven by a hunger for prey. Some beasts are skittering mutated humans, while others are great winged bat like creatures that can kill you in a few swipes.
As a beta Nether has its fair share of bugs; I died randomly, got stuck in water, clipped through a wall, couldn’t search items and failed to hit people at point blank range. But I don’t want to talk about bugs and issues. During my playtesting bugs were identified, resolved, new ones appeared, new ones disappeared and the game generally improved with patches. As such to write about bugs and highlight issues related to them will create an outdated article. At the same time I want to avoid writing about “what the game could be”, as in my experience games fail to live up to what I dream. Instead I will write about what the core game offers now.
Nether has the ability to immerse you quickly with its level design and gameplay with an emphasis on stealth. It is a game that drives you to survive by looting for food to keep your levels of nutrition up, dodging nether horrors while delivering courier packages to and from various outposts, gathering resources, buying guns and finding materials for makeshift weapons. However, more than once I sprinted at full pelt in the open carrying a package aiming to cash in on easy rewards, while on the opposite end of the spectrum I’d be stalking a player carefully, straining to listen to movements only to be rudely alerted with the un-mutable in-game music blaring over the game sound effects, only to see the player run, sprint, jump over a barrier and disappear to never be seen again.
Nether offers what most sandbox MMOs offer: the ability to start with nothing, wander aimlessly in any direction looting and creating a narrative of your playtime, and a story you can repeat to your friends with much excitement. But can the game actually deliver?
When starting the game the short tutorial and tooltips confused me, and with minimal direction I struggled to understand what was happening. A game that requires a quick read of a Wiki is certainly a game I have second thoughts about, but is not a sign of a bad game (Minecraft, anyone?) On the flipside the interface was minimal and the lack of a minimap was a refreshing change forcing me to navigate based on my surroundings in a city, using unique scenery and streets to traverse the world. “To the east of the main safezone, on Adams street, at the edge of the park just behind the gate” is not only a unique way of exploring but also fairly easy compared to other survival games where trees, hills and wilderness are your landmarks. The city is modelled loosely on Chicago, meaning the streets and roads are in traditional American blocks with the long sprawling streets broken up by ruptured ground, piled up cars and collapsed buildings. I’d often find myself stalking across rooftops, ducking in and out of makeshift compounds and lurking between cars with each area I stumbled across feeling new and unique in layout and design only let down by textures and singular car designs repeating across the city.
Nether’s persistent world and permanent character death it meant that each decision I made, each road I crossed, each building I entered required careful thought. The game played out in such a lethal fashion that at times I found myself searching a pile of loot in a popular spot and hearing the round of a sniper rifle before dying an instant later. Nether offered a comfy feel to the weapons similar to popular FPS games. They felt accurate but at times felt weak and soft hitting due to sound effects. However, the movement and hit boxes felt genuine, leading to a satisfied feeling after a gun fight rather than a feeling of being cheated due to lag or the game engine. On a base level I found myself darting from cover to cover seeking out a better weapon or a ranged weapon and then adjusting my playstyle to careful stalking, movement and thought. More than once I found myself nearing starvation as I struggled to find the balance between stealth and action.
With each server allowing up to 64 players the world map offers a good amount of space for nether beasts and the threat of roaming players while rarely feeling empty. In addition to this, the more people there are on a server, the better the loot, which tackles the element of people joining low populated servers to loot, to then change to a high populated server.
In addition to playing and surviving, the XP system rewards you with character bonuses as you level such as silent looting, silent steps when crouched, holding your breath when aiming with a sniper rifle and the ability to parry with a melee weapon. Each level up is obtained fairly quickly by completing a mission or killing a few nether beasts, but it rewards your character by surviving this long. When you eventually die, you lose everything and are given the option to start again. However, alongside your current character you earn account experience points which gives you minor small bonuses such as an extra 20 health points or an extra $50 and so on. While each account perk is minor it allowed just enough to buy a few items, a bottle of water or a helpful leg-up to your next character’s life.
Amongst the struggle of trying to stay alive by hunting for food and weapons the Nether world is dotted with events and random missions. Such missions, such as the Nether Surge which involves waves of spawned nether beasts, or Reaper attacks where the big “boss” nether comes along, require the careful use of a group. Meanwhile you have other event missions such as loot drops which not only attract nether beasts but other players seeking various high value loot. These varied missions and events give another way in which the game may affect your narrative.
To help with grouping, Nether has a system of tribes, which allows players to join one of the tribes and compete with one another capturing territories by remaining in the area. Each territory offers a different bonus, such as extra experience points when you kill, extra money or the spawn of vehicles. The system allowed me to team up with random people in the same tribe and work together on missions, capture territory and generally survive a bit longer amongst the horrors and other players. While the tribes system added a reason to team up with other players, and your tribe earns you extra points it felt unfinished, raw at its core, and partially left me wondering if the real prize was the bragging rights of owning a server rather than points.
My first impression of the game left me dubious, and it took me a few days to pick it back up, but with some research on the Wiki I had a better idea and enjoyed a high-populated server. I’d recommend to keep an eye on the developments, watch some streams and if you are a survival horror fan, give it a go.
Nether brings together a mashup of ideas, from survival horror, crafting, exploration, and skill levelling, to player versus player combat with elements of missions, group play and solo play. It struggles to merge the ideas seamlessly but what it does do is offer an atmosphere which is unnerving, dangerous and down-right enjoyable for survival horror fans.