It’s funny to think that just over a decade ago, game consoles hadn’t yet harnessed the power of online gaming. When titles like the original Halo hit the scene, multiplayer matches cropped up mainly in college towns in the now legendary LAN parties of the time, where CRTs were hauled into basements and common areas for sixteen player deathmatches. If you grew up around that time, even if you didn’t participate, you heard about them second hand, even years after Xbox Live had rendered them extinct. Schools I toured years ago used to regale their visitors with tales of all night gaming sessions as an advertising bonus, it was inescapable. Therefore, it’s no surprise that when looking at Screencheat‘s menus, the randomized default names, the unique descriptions on every game mode, it’s clear that pistol duels on Hang ’em High was a favorite pastime among the developers at Samurai Punk who brought this game to life. Screencheat is at once nostalgic and new, a love letter to those times gone by in an easy to pick up downloadable package.
Of course, if you know of Screencheat at all, you probably know its gimmick. During every match, players are completely invisible outside of weapon animations. However, since the game is in splitscreen even when only one person takes it online, you can still identify your opponent’s whereabouts by stealing a glance at their screen. Maps are color coded like the block fortresses from Mario Kart 64, allowing players to easily identify landmarks and hunt down opponents. Every match becomes a frantic cat and mouse game, and the maps are mostly small enough that everyone can find their way around without much trouble. Player movement is even more of a throwback, with fast run speeds and jump pads everywhere that would remind any discerning FPS aficionado of the era of Quake 3. But here, that speed is necessary, as any head to head encounter devolves into a lightning quick series of missed blows and dodged explosives. Finally scoring a kill amidst all that nonsense is always satisfying.
Screencheat (PC [Reviewed], Mac, SteamOS/Linux)
Developer: Samurai Punk
Publisher: Surprise Attack
Release Date: October 21st, 2014
Nonsense is also exactly how I would describe Screencheat‘s arsenal of weapons, ranging from a standard revolver, to a blunderbuss, to candelabras and pinatas for melee strikes. There is a hobby horse with a charging tackle and a remote detonated bomb stuffed into a mechanical teddy bear. Just like the best FPS games, each weapon fills a unique role in the sandbox. The melee weapons seem a bit overpowered considering that players can spam them in close quarters, especially in King of the Hill. However, a skillful player could take advantage of range and notice the visual ques put off by any weapon to avoid this tactic. Once everyone in a game gets their bearings, everything seems to balance out. This is perfect for the off the wall atmosphere the game aims to project with its quick rounds and varied gametypes.
Speaking of which, gametypes are one area where you can clearly see the Halo influence on the game. In addition to the aforementioned King of the Hill mode, there are equivalent Oddball and Slayer variants, as well as a Murder Mystery mode that plays very much like the Halo 1 exclusive Phantoms gametype. Flag equivalents and other objectives give off huge visual cues, leading to less sneaking around than you’d think as you and your opponents fight over scoring points. Overall, each game does a great job of getting players together, and it’s easy to move with a purpose after the initial confusion of the new rules wears off. If the people at your party has ever played an FPS before, they should be able to jump right in without much fuss.
Of course, parties are the only time when pulling out Screencheat really makes sense. There is no single player content to speak of, just your standard deathmatch setup. The game has online multiplayer in theory, but it’s only out on PC, which is a place where nonF2P FPS games go to die nowadays. I was unable to find any lasting population online after trying at all hours over the course of several weeks. It’s just as well, because the few games I did get into weren’t nearly as fun as the local multiplayer sessions I had. This game needs someone to yell at on the couch to really shine, which means that it is better suited to an eventual console release, and I do hope it gets a chance to shine on the next gen systems. For now though, if you’re looking for something to surprise your friends with, or just a change of pace from Nidhogg and Samurai Gunn, give Screencheat a shot. Or a swipe. Or even a piñata to the face.