I want to get this out of the way immediately: I am very disappointed that so little was done between the beta of Screencheat and the final version.
When game breaking bugs happen in a beta it’s easy to forgive them. It’s equally easy to ignore the limited number of maps and play modes, and the general lack of refinement to the user interface. But by the final version, these issues should have been fixed, and here they were not.
I understand that Screencheat is an ambitious project. After all, it’s a multiplayer shooter, meaning that it’s competing in the most overloaded genre of all, made by a tiny Aussie indie team. It has its own unique quirks to set it apart (and we’ll get to those in a second), but when one of the aforementioned bugs included one that somehow split the screen into eight ugly pieces, which couldn’t be fixed short of the host of the multiplayer session quitting out of the game, it’s a problem. The fact there are are only four maps and four play modes isn’t a bug, but it represents way too little content for a full release. On a purely aesthetic level, the levels themselves look lovely, but the menu interface and chat boxes look like they were directly pulled from the 1980s. I loved my time with the beta of Screencheat, but I did expect that the final release would have had more work done to it than this.
Now that being said, assuming that the developer continues to work on the game, adds more maps, and perhaps brings it to consoles, which are a more natural fit for local multiplayer, Screencheat still has the potential to be one of the most entertaining ways to spend a Friday night with friends and beers out there.
The basic idea of Screencheat is that it’s a Goldeneye 007-style FPS multiplayer experience. This means that the screen is split into four sections, and each player has one piece of the screen to move around in. It’s like squashing four TVs into one, and while this kind of multiplayer is dying rapidly in the world of AAA-games, it’s the kind of nostalgia that’s perfect for indie devs to tap into. What made Goldeneye so much manic fun in multiplayer was that players would “screen cheat” – they’d look at another person’s screen to figure out what weapons they were using and where they were on the map.
Screen Cheat ramps this idea up to 11. Now you’re no longer able to see other players on your section of the screen. To shoot each other, you’re going to be shooting invisible people. This forces you to look at your opponent’s corner of the screen in order to figure out where to shoot. And in Screencheat one successful hit is a kill. There’s no health here, folks. It’s twitch gaming at its finest.
At first this is a bewildering experience as you’re forced to retrain your brain for how to play multiplayer shooters. Play against someone who has already experienced the game, and you’re going to lose badly. But after an hour or two it all starts to make sense, and then suddenly Screencheat becomes a remarkably skill-based game. It’s fast, furious, but also highly strategic, forcing players to think up clever ways to stay out of their opponent’s firing range, while being precise with their own shots.
There’s a nice range of weapons, too. The rifle can shoot four times before it needs to be reloaded, but it requires the most accuracy of all weapons. Grenade launchers fire slowly (which is a problem in a game where people won’t ever stop moving), but the missile does have a blast radius. The shotgun needs to be reloaded after every shot, but it has a greater hit window than the rifle. And then there is the hobby horse and candelabra – both melee weapons and incredible trolls when they connect. Nothing – and I really do mean nothing – quite compares to taking a dude out with a hobby horse.
The four maps are all different – one features tight corridors, while another is set high in the sky with loads of opportunities to fall off the edges. A museum has a giant skeletal Tyrannosaurus Rex in the middle – a great vantage point, but a really easy spot to target for others too. Gameplay modes range from a standard deathmatch to capture the flag and a unique one – a Cluedo-style “you must use this weapon to kill this person to get a point.”
Get four competitive players in a room together, and this is a recipe for an all-nighter of insanity. Bounding around, firing like crazy people and punching one another in real life for griefing is every bit as good as Smash Bros. or Mario Kart for local multiplayer, and this is impressive given that it’s coming from a small independent team. Because it is so difficult to pinpoint the exact position of the other players, as well as the impossibility to monitor three other players at once, Screencheat is crazy, hectic, frantic fun. It’s also possible to play online, but naturally this kind of game does work better in local multiplayer.
The problem is that while you could play Smash Bros. or Mario Kart for weeks on end, Screencheat’s content is just too thin to last anywhere near as long. It really needed double the number of maps and some kind of excuse to keep coming back to it for more. A single player game wouldn’t have worked here, and neither would have perks and upgrades, but it needed something, because as it stands Screencheat behaves like a bonus game within a full game, rather than something standalone, and this is a problem from a longevity point of view. It will only take a few all-nighters for most people to be done with Screencheat.
I don’t want to sound too harsh with this game, because it does have that beautiful ability to make the hours fly by. I just can’t see this being more than a flash in the pan kind of game that’s going to lose its appeal far more quickly than it deserves.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld