Nether Review (PC)

Nether ever did I ever feel so low

Nether is currently on Early Access on Steam but the developers have insisted that it is ready to be reviewed, so here it is. If the game changes dramatically in the future we’ll revisit this piece and write an update.

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Nether is another entry in the rapidly expanding genre of survival horror games. After titles like Minecraft, DayZ and Rust made it big with multiplayer persistent worlds in which PvP is free-for-all and trust rapidly becomes non-existent, a few other titles have tried to muscle in on the action with varying degrees of success. Nether gets quite a lot right in trying to stand out from the crowd, but then it also falls down at nearly every hurdle, resulting in a game that doesn’t equal the sum of its parts.

If you’ve played other survival titles your first thoughts upon spawning in Nether would probably be to run out and try and find a weapon. Sadly this is almost impossible as although you’ll often find a few melee bits and pieces, in order to get a gun you’re likely going to need to find an assortment of parts and then build them at a gunsmith in one of the many safe zones. This means for a substantial part of the early game you’ll be woefully underpowered and incredibly easy for any more advanced players to pick off at will. Those early scavenging days will be spent running around the sprawling but surprisingly small in terms of travel distance city, scrambling through floor after floor of mostly empty identikit buildings clad in incredibly ugly textures, searching for boxes and containers that grow bright yellow.

Should you find one of these containers, either you’ll open it up to find a meagre assortment of objects, or there’ll be nothing. Occasionally you’ll be told you need a key to open it, a golden key, and guess where you get that from? That’s right, an online store. Of course you can get them with in-game money, with a set of 5 (you can’t buy them individually) costing $500 which is a not insignificant amount of cash. One time I found what was noted as a ‘very large’ wad of money, it was $30.

The way you’re ‘supposed’ to play Nether is to join a group. Thankfully the grouping options are excellent and if you are alone you’ll often quickly be invited to join one or making one yourself is no problem at all. The reasons for joining a group are manyfold, they can help you assemble guns by pooling the parts you’ve found, they can often tool you up basically instantly making any further scavenging completely pointless, and they off protection.

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Due to the scarcity of useful objects in the wild, by far the easiest way to get loot is to simply murder players. They’ve usually spent the last hour or so gathering anything good in the local area, so you can just kill them and take all of that, treating them like on giant loot chest. If you’re in a group you can often take down a player before they know what happened so random ganking is rife in the game.

In order to make money the quickest method is to run courier missions, simply taking packages from one safe zone to another. The mechanics of this aren’t obvious at first, with packages usually just left on the ground in a safe zone with a tooltip telling you where to take it. Once you get to the new safe zone you’ll find a number of what look like vendors and one of them will be willing to take it off your hands in exchange for money. There’ll also be a few true shops, that tend to trade items for other things. That seems like a good idea until you find yourself accidentally trading two perfectly good and hard-come-by pistols for basically nothing in return.

Alongside gathering loot the main form of progress in Nether is a levelling system that borrows heavily from more traditional RPGs. There are a number of attributes you can put skill points into, boosting your abilities in lots of different areas. The boosts are reasonably small but levelling is extremely fast so there’s at least an illusion of progress that’s fairly constant. The main way you’ll get XP is by killing the demonic beasties that roam around the environment. In terms of audio these things can be terrifying but their main attacks involve teleporting into the ground, appearing, looking around a bit and then swiping at you. Occasionally you’ll find bigger ones that do the same or most ghost like ones  that do a little more damage, but essentially they’re pretty stupid and inconsequential. You’ll spend much of your early gametime swinging melee weapons at them and after the original scares you’ll quickly find how quickly you can drop them even with a spade, allowing you to carry on your merry way. Once you get guns you’ll find yourself mowing them down whenever you can just to pick up the XP, but the threat has long since gone by then.

Once you’ve got your guns and you’ve found a group there’s very little left to do and this poses a problem. Yes you can buy cosmetic items (with real money or in-game money) and there’s some cool items like a wing glider that lets you shoot about from some of the tower blocks, but the only environment is the city and there’s very few monster types to encounter. You could try taking out other groups of players but often who dies feels like a matter of luck rather than skill due to the high damage of weapons and low health of players combined with some slightly suspect netcode.

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The graphics are sadly pretty atrocious with some low resolution textures and ugly character models. Geometry regularly clips through itself and you’ll see the exact same model of car or object many times in the same location. We tried to take some good-looking screenshots for the article, but as you can see we failed miserably.

Nether tries some interesting things with the trading, the city environment and the player grouping, but it’s nowhere near enough to make for a compelling game. It’s shallow and janky and although you could no doubt have fun for an evening with some friends, it’s never going to have the longevity that other titles in the genre have. If this was free to play, we’d say it might be worth your time if you have a group who’ll play with you and communicate, but as a bought title on the Early Access program, maybe give it a miss.

Verdict 5

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