DayZ has inspired a host of games ever since the original mod of ARMA 2 was downloaded by everybody, their dog and their dogs squeaky toy last year. From the initial releases that capitalized on its popularity, like the terribly received The War Z (now Infestation: Survivor Stories), we have moved into a time where DayZ is a standalone game and some really good titles, given enough time in development, have been released. One such title will be covered here in this Nether Early Access Review.
This actually puts me in an awkward position. I’ve already given away the conclusion that Nether is a really good game. However, a very large asterisk at the side of that statement is compulsory. Nether can be outstanding, but at other times it can be incredibly frustrating and just plain bad. It seems to depend on what sort of mood the developers, Phosphor Games, are in.
Nether holds a special place in my mind as the best of the bunch, even better than DayZ. Now before a horde descends on me like I’m Frankenstein’s monster, I’ll give the reason why. The reason is that Nether does atmosphere like few games have done outside of the horror greats like Silent Hill 2, Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast, as well as some action oriented games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Demon’s Souls. I would go as far as to say that Nether is the very first online only game to do horror, or at least atmospheric tension, in any true way.
It manages to do this by combining a number of aspects. The first is that it plops you in a good setting, a city in ruins with only few areas of survivors and gives you the simple goal of survival, through finding your own weapons, food and drink. It then adds to this by pitting you against both mysterious and known enemies. The titular enemies are the Nether, these are mutated humans who have a variety of abilities, from teleportation to spitting acid at you, and one type simply explodes upon you getting close. The other known foe are simply other survivors like you. If popular media has taught us anything, humans are cruel, evil, beings that are just as happy to murder you and steal what little you have salvaged, rather than teaming up for an improved chance of survival.
Linking to the earlier referenced Silent Hill, Nether uses some of the same bag of tricks. You generally can’t see a great deal when the weather decides to get foggy, or when the sun decides it’s had enough and it’s going away, commonly known as night time, which increases the tension exponentially. Nether also makes excellent use of sounds, with eerie ambient music perpetually keeping you on edge, then accentuated with the screeches of the Nether, or the sound of gunfire coming from other survivors, either attempting to murder each other or the Nether.
How To Stay Alive
So knowing that everything in the world is out to murder you and use your corpse for demonic fun, or murder you and steal all of your chocolate bars, what can you do? Do you pick up a gun and just shoot at anything that looks at you funny? No, that would be silly. Now pay attention. Like with all survival games, shooting a gun is much more likely to do more harm than good, drawing all monsters within a hundred meter radius to come claw at your nipples and possibly even drawing any curious humans if any are around. Silence is key, which means that your first choice of action is to not get into any trouble. Sprinting will also attract the cosmic monsters’ attention.
Nether gives you a number of options on how to live your life, you are able to be the gun-toting cannibal Rambo, once you’ve found a gun and a reasonable amount of ammo, if you want to be and want to murder other people. Murdering other people has them drop every item they are carrying, as well as a percentage of the money they’ve found. This money can be used to buy other weapons, ammo, food, drink, accessories or cosmetic gear from the marketplace at either of the four safehouses. The safehouses are also linked to the global inventory, letting you store a small number of items that can be shared across all characters.
The other way of playing is to be a friendly guy, one who can work with others and help to keep each other alive. The way you get yourself the gear, food and drink you need is to roam around and find random items left behind by other survivors, now dead. These are mostly located by looking for the smoke of camp-fires and attempting to get to them. Human killers will also be doing this to an extent, but for the most part you should be able to avoid most of them.
I’ve found both types in my adventures of Nether, I tend to be the work together type, though I have committed two murders. One because I was jumpy and hacked at the guy as I bumped into him, it was a fight to the death after that. The second was because I’d been killed three times by other humans, I’d just decided that nobody on that server should live. No matter which path you take, you need to do something because even if you sit back in a safe zone where you can’t get attacked by people or nether, you will still eventually die of thirst or hunger.
Where Nether keeps survival interesting is that once your character dies, that’s it. The equipment will remain, dropped at the spot where your corpse lay, but your have to start off all over again with a level one nobody. Levels are gained through killing the Nether, which does help the more aggressive players, and for each level gained, a skill point is gained.
These skill points can go to improving one of six sections, each equally useful to increasing survival through increased health, ability to block with melee weapons or simply making you last longer without food or water. I don’t know if there’s a max level, because staying alive that long is more than likely impossible, but I’d be interested to see how far a person can get. My highest level so far was level nine.
There is little beyond scavenging for items, gaining experience and attempting to stay alive to talk about. A few small courier missions have been recently added to the game, but only offering rewards that simply let you buy the items that you would have other wised scavenged. This, to me, seems to be taking away from the strongest aspect of Nether and not a direction I’d go in, though I imagine there are those who aren’t that interested in the scavenging.
Take A Look Around
Where Nether really shines is in the aesthetic. The previously mentioned audio is second to none at keeping you on edge, even when a Nether or another person is nowhere near. This is simply through the background sound being nearly constant, regardless of what’s around, with the use of strange howls and crows with the background sounds to add a sense of life. What it means is that everything is left to the imagination, which is always the worst thing possible.
As well as the music, the visual side of Nether is simply brilliant. The day-night cycle offers a changing world, or at least the perspective of one. The actual city never changes and the buildings are quite blocky, with simple ramps being in the place of stairs, but these are early days so the smaller touches aren’t there yet.
The details that are there, though, are brilliant for a project of such a small stature. The land and building textures are decent to look at but most of all, the foliage and sky are by far the best things. The grass and foliage, on higher settings, show the sort of overgrown state a city would reach in a number of years abandoned and it leads to times where you could be mere feet from a shambling monstrosity and have no clue until it teleports on top of you. The sky in particular just looks brilliant, from the light blue skies of the day to the claustrophobic night.
To Nether Or Not To Nether?
I would have to argue that Nether is the best of all of the DayZ offspring, even better than DayZ itself. The environment is excellently suited to the game offered and the atmosphere settles on you in a way that is smothering. Nether isn’t without its problems, mostly a lack of anything other than scavenging, hunting Nether and killing other players, but the game is still in its early days.
Nether has brilliant potential and it’s already one that is worth picking up and spending time with. It’s enthralling at it’s best and keyboard mashingly frustrating at its worse, it’s worse being when a horde of Nether swarm you as a result of some other git luring them towards you. When that, a few small bugs and the lack of content in early access are the only real issues of note, then you know that there’s something good on show.
Still not impressed? Check out their live action trailer, perhaps that will get your blood pumpin’!Related: Early Access, MMOFPS, Nether, Review, Shooter, Survival