First person shooter that enable some form of local multiplayer are a dying breed. Bar the one or two yearly exceptions, you’d be hard pressed to find a title in the genre that doesn’t emphasis its online component over playing with someone sat alongside you. Now, with MMO hybrids such as Destiny and The Division stepping on the scene, we’re even further away from our local multiplayer roots than ever before, trapped in a dimension where having an internet connection is pretty much mandatory.
Sadly, there’ll be a generation of gamers who never get to experience the thrill of a split-screen firefight as four people huddle around the same console. It’s a shame, especially when you look back at iconic games like GoldenEye, TimeSplitters, and Halo 2. However, shooters have arguably evolved too much to go back now.
For some, that’s nothing but a good thing. Although there’s definitely an air of nostalgia surrounding split-screen multiplayer, it wasn’t exactly the perfect way to throwdown against your close friends. For one, your play area and interface was shrunk down to 25% of its normal size, forcing you squint when picking out weapons and power-ups during a match. Then there was the particularly sensitive issue of “screen cheating”.
Even before my years as a hardcore gamer, I remember spying the movements of my brother and friends when playing shooters with them. Instead of immensely detailed mini-maps, UAV radars, and heartbeat sensors, the only way to get a good angle on your opponent was to view the battle from their perspective. Whether you class it as cheating or not, it has become somewhat of an ancient art. Until now of course…
Cue Screencheat, a clever FPS throwback by Samurai Punk. Instead of lamenting the decline of split-screen shooters, this independent Melbourne-based studio has used it to form the basis of their own multiplatform debut.
If you’ve read up to this point, chances are, you already have a good grip on the game’s premise. There’s no story-driven single player component, nor is there an extensive suite of online progression systems. Instead, Screencheat takes the genre back to its roots yet feels modern at the same time. Although the game builds itself around one central gimmick, we’d hesitate to brand it as regressive or outdated.
Whether playing online, locally, or against bots, setup takes a mere few seconds before the game drops you into an arena. With the screen split into quadrants, it won’t take long for players to discover Screencheat’s trump card. You see, although the game allows you to spy on your opponents, none the avatars are actually visible in game. Even when standing within inches of each other, you’ll have no way of truly knowing where the other player is.
Terribly fiendish, it’s a mechanic that force you multi-task, stalking the map while always keeping an eye on the other three screens. Your opponents may be invisible, but that’s not to say they can completely avoid detection. Each of Screencheat’s zany weapons is tagged with a certain animation – some more overt than others – that can often signpost someone’s position. Spot a rogue tuft of flame and you’ll know there’s someone waiting to smash your melon in with a candelabra closeby. What’s great about this approach to gameplay is that it works just as well online, with everyone still presented with the same split-screen view.
Aside from your bog standard deathmatch, there’s a slew of familiar modes to get stuck into. Whether fragging a control point in Hillcampers, or pilfering coins in Gold Rush, they’re all great fun despite being based on traditional archetypes. There’s also a neat bundle of time trials to tackle, doubling up as a training mode in which to test out some of the more exotic weapons. One mode that stands out in particular is Murder Mystery, a lethal FPS/Cluedo mash-up. Each player will be given a hand of cards, instructing them who to kill and with what weapon, leading to all kinds of madness.
Screencheat could easily be labeled as a party shooter, if ever there were such a thing. Where many of its contemporaries feel overly tactical and complex, here’s a game that’s perfect for the odd fifteen minute drop-in with friends, as you blitz your way through a menagerie of modes.
With cartoon violence being such a core focus, this makes the overall lack of detail easy to overlook. Each of the game’s maps are fairly basic, as are the ragdolls that appear whenever a player is killed. Obsessing too much over environmental detail would have been a pointless exercise however given how each one is split into colour-coded areas. Combined with the occasional landmark and prop, these coloured zones are designed to help you pinpoint another player’s position.
Unique, accessible, and hilarious to play with friends, Screencheat comes together nicely in one neat little package. It’s a chaotically nostalgic trip down memory lane and one that Samurai Punk has fleshed out nicely with a range of systems that shooter fans will be comfortable with. That said, it’s tenure over the sitting room may be short-lived. Although fun in small bursts, it doesn’t have quite the same staying power or online community that other games enjoy.
Version Tested: PS4