[Disclosure: A preview code was provided for the contents of this article]
The thing about open world survival games is that there are no rules: You're on your own. Taking that very simple concept in mind, when you enter a game like Nether and find yourself dying more than you're killing – and you're at a crossroad frustration, enjoyment and revenge-seeking antics – you can't help but wonder if the game is doing what it's supposed to? Or perhaps you just don't have the cajones to enjoy the the cut-throat world of Nether?
I've been playing Nether off and on over the past week; putting in a little bit of time here and there. It's been sharing moments of engagement against Starbound and Titanfall, only one of which I think is better than Nether and it's not the game running in 792p.
Now there are some good and bad points about Nether – and keep in mind that the game is still in Early Access, so it's still being worked on as I type this out: The good is that the map gives you some breathing room and plenty of open and enclosed areas to explore. I love the post-apocalyptic feeling of constant endangerment and desperation. It's a beautifully designed vision of a destroyed world. The gun play works decently enough and I like the open-ended skill-tree setup.
The bad is that it's pretty easy to spawn in and die but a few moments after spawning. I kind of understand that there are no set spawn points so it prevents spawn-camping, but the only problem is that while you're trying to check the map and get your bearings, it's easy to get clobber-clawed to death or shot from a distance by a man-ravager. Speaking of man-ravagers...
Everyone is mostly out to kill you. It's like DayZ but even more hostile. I was killing a mutant beast when a dude tried to surprise rape me from behind, but I was ready for him (I've played DayZ). As he was whipping out his shotgun as if he pumped it full of Viagra, I quickly whipped out my own axe and sliced through him like a knife through warm butter after pelting his body with enough pistol lead that the cops in the Howard Morgan case would grin with envy.
Now that may sound like a typical open-world survival encounter, but in a way that's not really true. You see, there's no way to prompt or warn people about your intentions. There's no way to attempt peace or wave down someone (or at least, no easy way that I've figured out). If the guy was coming up from behind to help me dispatch the mutant and by mistake grazed me with his shotty, neither of us were in a position to react or use a gesture to stop the inevitable from happening. There's no easy way to communicate a friendly gesture to other players.
In this way, I kind of feel as if Nether is the DayZ clone where it's not about making friends or establishing anything other than putting targets on other players. For now, you're there to kill or be killed.
There's a chat interface for communication, but pressing the “Enter” key is a death knell. The time it takes to type anything out and you're already dead. Also, alerting anyone to your position who aren't friends with you in real life – or giving anyone a hint as to your whereabouts – is the one action that precedes your death at the hands of the man-ravagers.
On the upside, the gun-play is pretty solid. Anyone coming off Call of Duty, Battlefield or any other modern military shooter will be right at home with Nether's controls and weapon handling.
Those hoping the weapons were closer to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. may be disappointed, mostly given that the weapons don't really sport realistic mechanics, recoil or weight. Handling the shotgun doesn't really give you that feeling of heft that you might expect, or were keen to experience in games like KillZone 2, Red Orchestra or Metro 2033; although it does pack a punch when you fire it. The pistol is light and airy, and you're likely to always to hit your mark when iron-sighting. In other words, there's no special trick to handling the guns in Nether, and you don't need any special mastery over the keyboard or controller like in Arma to shoot and win. This may or may not be to the liking of some gamers.
My play-time is still somewhat limited in Nether, so don't take this as gospel for a purchase or neglecting the game. It's just some basic impressions so far.
Does the game still need some work? Yes. Is it playable? Yes. Is it fun? Mostly yes.
I will note that I've had more fun with the axe and the melee ability to block incoming attacks, as it really adds a strategic sense of nonentity to the game that some other open-world survival titles are missing.
You can learn more about Nether by paying a visit to the game's official website.