Nether – Early Access Review (PC)

“People are strange when you’re a stranger.” – Nether

Back in the mid-1990s there were two big names in horror, Resident Evil and a masterwork known as Silent Hill. Resident Evil, as every gamer should know, is  about being in a house and taking on zombies, as well as plants, sharks, and giant cobras. Silent Hill on the other hand is a game where, despite its hardware limitations, did it’s hardest to try to scare the ever living piss out of you. A new generation of survival horror has arrived, taking form as Nether.

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After an event known as  “the cull”, a massive event that has somehow turned two-thirds of the world’s population into nightmarish Lovecraftian monsters, you are thrown into a post-apocalyptic city . Apart from that the rest of the storyline is completely open to speculation.  The cull could have been caused by God, could have been aliens, it could even have been something as mundane as a solar flare. No one knows the truth, and as far as the player can see, we may never know.  As soon as you select your character you are plunged into a cityscape that is loosely based on Chicago, but on a really bad day.

Within the city are safe zones, temporary havens that provide a break from fighting. Each safe zone contains Anti-Nether devices that can become disabled and must be repaired from time to time. If all repairs are not completed within an hour the entire safe zone will become unsafe for a short period of time.

A religious sect has formed in order to help survivors convert to the church and will offer supplies to members who trade in the body parts of previously defeated Nether monsters. You can buy weapons and weapon upgrades, as well as turn in escort packages that can be picked up from various points across the map.  Missions and quests can sometimes be overtly difficult as you must turn in various combinations of items rather than just one item itself, so the ability to complete a mission may rely just as heavily on luck as it does on skill.

Nethers, the enemies of the game, come in a variety of flavors, some are ground based; with the worst of these being the Reaper, a rare creature that only appears at certain points. These sub bosses come with a crowd of other monsters and can kill you very quickly. The Mantis is a flying monster very reminiscent of Silent Hill’s Air Screamers.  These abominations must be strafed and attacked from a distance, as they can lick you and strike with brutal deadly force.  Mantises are the bane of the camper’s existence in Nether.

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Nether’s graphics are an interesting sight to behold, inside the safe zones they can be quite impressive, the worn cityscapes, still blazing with  neon lights, and ambulance lights flashing telling you that help is here. On the outskirts however things become a bit underwhelming. Grass sometimes hovers over hilltops pulling you out of the dramatic environment for a bit of unintentional comedy. There is an island off the Eastern coast that just sort of floats off in the distance for no discernible reason.

Sounds are exactly what you’d expect from a game of this nature.  Ambient sounds are good, they let you know what direction your enemies are coming from, and give a great impression of the loneliness you can feel if you are on your own. When you get into a battle with a Nether or get too close to one, music starts up to let you know it’s time to fight.

Online functionality for this game works fairly well. Each server has a hard set limit of 64 players. We did experience some random server dropouts that should be taken into consideration.  They also still have a lot of bugs to squash going into the future. Every sandbox needs sand of course, and there is plenty of it, enemies respawn sometimes too quickly and there is of course the threat of other players shooting you in the back, the front, or wherever else they possibly can with whatever instrument they currently have on hand. The problem with sandboxes comes when you have no pail and no shovel. Because of the way the story is set up there’s no beginning no middle and no end. But the big problem with games like these is that you need a good group to play with. This is not a game you want to go into alone.

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Nether  can bring out the best or the  worst in players, depending on who that person is and who they want to be.  You can be a good guy, always seeking to help other players achieve their goals, team up and take on the wasteland in a group. Or you can be that bloody bastard that shoots people in the back. In the end the choice is yours.  Nether is far from perfect, but it looks decent, plays well, and the bugs are more amusing than annoying.

Nether is currently available on Steam.