Early Access Impressions: ‘Nether’

The first thing I must say before you read this piece is that this is not a review; this is just my experience with the game so far as it is Early Access. It is currently being developed by Chicago based Phosphor Games.

The most important thing you need when you begin Nether is patience. In this first-person urban survival game it will seem like for hours there is nothing to this game as you die over and over again. As you scavenge through the gutted buildings full of rubbish and destroyed furniture you will get frustrated and complain you can’t find anything but Nether. After a few hours though, once you start to understand the game it seems like all the weapons and gear just magically appeared. Because of this though, the first impressions of most players won’t be that great.

Only patient players will typically break through the first few hours, which perhaps works better for the community and the development of the game. After all, this game is still quite early in its development and is regularly keeping in touch with the gamers to see what the players want. The developers extensively host choices in the Steam forums that allow players to vote by majority on what features they’d like to see implemented. Reasons like this are why I really enjoy getting involved in the Early Access periods of games. It provides you with the opportunity to help shape the game you’d like to experience. Well to a certain degree anyway.

Nether is set in a post-apocalyptic urban setting, with tall buildings dominating the skyline. The only thing left are scavengers, rubble and the Nether. These demonic creatures come in a few different shapes and sizes. For instance you have Crawlers who are the easiest to kill, Shriekers which draw other Nether towards you and the big Golem’s who just smash. At the moment however, once you get a gun the Nether can become irrelevant and a temporary inconvenience. Even the big golems I managed to kill in a couple of bullets which was surprising.

If you only have the starter kitchen knife when you encounter these monsters however they are a bit more difficult, especially when you’re fighting two or three. But if you don’t like fighting the Nether and would rather just sneak around you can level up your stealth talent tree which allows you to get past without being heard. There are other various skill trees which focus on things like guns, survival and melee. But it can be quite hard to ever reach the end of the talent tree.

This is because once you die, you lose everything besides your money. Whatever weapons or items you have will be lost, including your levels. It is perhaps a bit unfair, and I feel should be implemented onto a hard-core sever later on. I do like the feature of a blood meter though, which basically means the more people you kill the more likely a Nether is going to detect you.

For me, one of the most important features for an online game to have is a healthy community. A rotten community spoils the game for many players and can make or break a game. And from what I saw in my playtime, Nether has a strong community. There were a few evil players, but that is expected in these styled games. You’re never quite sure whether the person you teamed up with is actually going to help you, or shoot you in the back of the head when you encounter a good weapon.

Even I turned into an evil player at one point. A random straggler and I decided to team up and scavenge the high-rise city for some weapons and safety. After about twenty minutes we stumbled on a machine gun, and as we both wielded the starter kitchen knives we realised we never decided who gets what. From what started out as a reasonably good scavenger hunt, quickly turned into a bloody murder.

We both sprinted towards the DM-15, with only the gun in our target. As we reached the end of the building I managed to snatch the gun and turned towards him wielding the weapon to end his tenure. We both stared at each other for a few seconds before he began to run for the exit, as I lined him up in my sights and shot him down. I quickly picked up the food he had and made a run for it. You’re never quite sure how other players will react, or even how you will. It’s what make these games so enjoyable, and why I love games like Nether, Arma and DayZ.

You may not encounter someone for half an hour, but when you do, your heart races as if you were actually in the situation. Even if you think you’re a good guy, impulse can change you.

At the moment there are about three or four outposts which are safe zones so players and Nether can’t attack you. These areas allow you to sell, buy, and store items. However as one of the events, the main safe haven Lakeside occasionally comes under attack from Nether and players must take it back. This is done by reactivating 7 generators which repel Nether.

There are a couple other events called Nether Surge and Nether Reaper which allow you to kill hordes of Nether and gain exp. I never really found much enjoyment in the events though, so hopefully there will be some more creative ones down the track. You also have the option to do courier missions which basically deliver packages from one outpost to the other. It’s a really easy way to make money, gain some exp and hopefully stumble upon some weapons and food.

There is also a night and day system implemented, which I found worked really well for the game. When it falls dark, and you have no flashlight, the only thing you can see is silhouettes from light in the city. It adds to the tension, and when a Nether screams out of nowhere it easily makes me jump. The environment fits perfectly with what happened to society. It is dark, lonely and deadly.

One time I was walking through the streets, carrying lots of supplies and a decent weapon.Thinking that I was relatively safe I quickly made my way from one side of the road to the other. Then all of a sudden I heard a shot, and my guy collapsed. Little did I know that someone was crouched literally within two metres of me, shrouded under the cover of darkness. It is a really risky environment, and I absolutely love it. You never know where someone could be. They might be on the other side of a wall, or on the rooftop of the building you walked past. You just never knew until you actually see them.

Nether really has a solid atmosphere and setting that really makes it an apocalyptic game. Streets are deserted with pools and blood and bodies scattered throughout the city. There is also the occasional section where you can interact with the area and subtitles will come up to give a bit of insight into certain things. I really hope that when it is released there will be some journals or notes you can find in the city that provide personal accounts of the events leading up to, during and after the collapse of society. It could really add a whole new level to the experience, and can add a new type of achievement for players to strive for.

As for the combat, it slowly improved over the two weeks that I played it. When I first started I noticed a fraction of a second delay when shooting, which is enough to make you miss most of your shots. But that sort of thing you needn’t worry about as it will no doubt be fixed, and is already close to being solid. I would like to see some improved AI for the Nether however, and perhaps a bit more fluent attack system when using melee. Fights aren’t really that exciting when you slash at Nether who teleport after two hits, and reappear behind you. But again, that will no doubt be improved on.

With Nether being a survival game, you have to maintain levels of hunger/thirst. Scattered throughout the city you can pick up painkillers, energy drinks, chips and all those sort of things to replenish your health and hunger levels. It’s pretty hard to die from hunger though, supplies are always around to keep you going. If you can’t find any however, you can purchase supplies from the Global Market that are stationed in the several safehouses. These markets allow you to purchase nearly everything besides guns.

For those who are familiar with games like Arma or DayZ, it will be a much easier process to settle into. It isn’t like Battlefield or Call of Duty where you see a player nearly every second and are almost always shooting. It takes time, patience, skill and a bit of luck to advance to the higher levels. I really like that you can store all your weapons and supplies in the Global Inventory for the next time you play, it ensures you won’t lose everything when you die. Another good thing is that whenever you die, you never lose your money. So while at the moment it is very punishing to lose all your levels, you can at least have back up gear and cash to get you going again.

Another cool feature is the inclusion of a glider, which you can use to quickly get down from tall buildings. At the moment, it is very touchy. Whenever I tried to turn I found myself facing the other way with the slightest touch. It perhaps might be easier to navigate it with a third-person perspective mode, which I’m unsure of they will add. I hope they do however, because myself and many other places would definitely like to see how character looks. Especially when you have the chance to purchase masks and other customization options.

One thing I noticed in many of the various servers I tried was how each server has a player who has everything and trades. It may have been what they were going for but from what I’ve seen is there is no trading system at the moment. I’ve watched various people in chat complain about getting scammed and losing their stuff so it’d be cool to have a trade option. Also when you open the game and browse for a server it can be quite frustrating. There are no ping levels so you can’t tell which is more laggy, although to their credit I found relatively little lag on the different servers. You’ll also spend a fair while at the server list frozen, unless you have fast internet as it stays frozen until the servers are loaded.

It’s very barebones at the moment so I am really looking forward to see what added features will be implemented down the track. I’d love to see a larger map, perhaps some vehicles and a bit more diversity in the map. Whether you decide Nether in the early stages of development is an entirely personal decision. It can be a risk, to lash out money on a game that isn’t even finished. But most games are like that even when finished, even the big AAA games. I would really recommend giving this game a go, from what I have seen so far looks pretty promising.