Nether takes on the ever-so-popular survival genre. One that has only as of recently taken the world by storm, proving that setting and tone alone; albeit an extremely interesting one, may just be enough to sell games. With recent successes such as DayZ and Rust, it's no surprise that Phosphor Games would throw their hat in the ring and try to take a piece of their action for themselves. While early impressions of the game painted it a weak experience at best, let alone the comparisons made to the complete stinker that was War Z ( now hidden under the title Infestation: Survivor Stores), not only do I say this game is competent in what it is trying to be, it's probably the Early Access survival title that is most feature complete and best justifies its price tag.
If there's one thing that Nether gets so undeniably right, it would be the setting. A lot of games have gone with the post-apocalypse to provide an interesting backdrop for the players ever since it was re-popularized with Bethesda's Fallout 3 back in 2007 (though perhaps to a lesser extent with STALKER back in 2003). With that, I have only ever felt so many games actually got the setting right. The just mentioned STALKER certainly did, but that's because it managed to hit that apposing sense of atmosphere, not just give people a destroyed city to look at. Most who take on this setting certainly give players the corresponding surroundings, though so few actually manage to hit the sense of atmosphere that actually sells the setting. STALKER did, did, and Nether definitely does. As soon as I was dropped into the world with my newly made first character, my jaw instantly dropped. I just sat there a minute, looking around and soaking in the world that Phosphor managed to realize. It's impressive. It really is. And, even after exploring the map to a great length, I found little of that initial feeling removed. The world is fantastically realized and is successful in creating a compelling world for players to explore.
So, the setting is fantastic. What about the gameplay? I am happy to say that, while certainly not perfect, the game is actually pretty damn fun to play. Sure there are melee weapons and guns to be had to make your time exploring this vast wasteland a bit easier to manage. Hell, that part of the game is actually pretty reward in itself. The gameplay, while nothing mind blowing, is certainly more than passable with solid hit detection with the melee combat and a real feel of force behind your swings, whereas the gunplay is simply just solid in itself with a weighty feel to them and a good sense of recoil. There's also iron-sites on offer, and I always like that.
There's also, however a rather well done stealth system in the game that makes bypassing much of the combat you would otherwise find yourself in feel like an actual way to play the game. Sure, you can't then take advantage of leveling your player that much quicker, but it almost creates a sort of game within the game, where you task yourself with creeping around, looting, slowly getting the supplies needed to build the arsenal needed to then take the wasteland on full force. I guess I am just happy to see the game not focus purely on the gunplay, instead allowing players to bring their pseudo-ninja out, if you will, and actually still reward them in the process. Part of the player leveling system touches on the stealth aspects of the game, so players who do choose to go this route will find it just that much more rewarding as they continue on in the own little personal adventure.
Nether's creeping, looting, gunning down dem' monsters in a post-apocalyptic world sounds good on paper, though holds up rather well in practice as well. There's a worthwhile and rewarding leveling system that gives players of many playstyles worthwhile options for whatever sort of character they wish to make, the looting system, however slow-going it may often be, is very rewarding and really gives the sense of a true survival experience and makes the long act of building up your characters inventory all that much rewarding. Then you have the game world tself that honestly just questions how much better realized these sorts of settings can really get at this point. The game is fantastic because of these things and I often times have a blast playing it because of these things.
So, does that make this game a full recommendation, go out and buy the game now? No. Not quite. As great as the game can be there's definitely issues there, both personal and not, that keep me from wholeheartedly recommending this one. The first being its technical issues, both in terms of performance as well as in the way of the amount of overall bugs to be found in the game (Beta, mind you). The second, and this is actually a major selling point of the game, is the other players. That's right, I am just going to come out and say that one of my biggest issues with a game designed with multiple players in a no holds-barred survival experience is just that. It's not that I don't like the idea of a group of people sharing a large, open world. I most certainly do. I just don't understand why a game that's been so long in Early Access, whose majority of fans openly, and adamantly so, are voicing their want for PvE servers in the game hasn't done so at this point. I am not a very competitive person. I rarely play competitive multiplayer games, almost always opting for co-op experiences. The sort of experience offered here and by the likes of DayZ, where nobody can be trusted and you have to always be wary of everyone, while compelling, just isn't the sort of experience I'm looking for. While many would argue that that simply means this isn't the sort of experience for me then, I should look elsewhere, I then question just what the point of being on Early Access is. It's often times billed as a way for people to pay into a project, both to help keep development alive, but also to have a voice in shaping game before final release. Well, the majority have spoken and they feel optional PvE servers would do a lot to improve the game. I know I do. The base gameplay is there for a fantastic survival experience. I just want a more co-optional experience to be offered. It might just end up in higher sales for the developers, stripping away that competitive wall that often times scares people away from a product.
As for looking at the game on a technical level, while it is most certainly in a better state then many games on Early Access. The juggernaut that is DayZ included. The game can still be a mess at times. While the game certainly runs better than many similar games on Early Access as well, performance can still be rather dodgy and still needs to be addressed. With my single GTX-680/i5 build, maxxing the game often times slows the game to a crawl, hitting in the low twenties and sometimes even lower. However, simply turning off shadows and reducing the draw distance by a quarter from max had the game running at a solid 60 at almost anytime. So, yeah, it's really not too shabby. I would definitely like to see it improved, though this is something the devs have actually been pretty active with over the months. Then there's the glitches. So, so many glitches. From crashes on player death, to clipping through geography, to the juttery mess that are vehicles at the moment, there is a sever lack of polish on show at the moment. Keep in mind, the game is still in beta and these issues, as could be said for any of the other issues raised in this revere, most definitely can be changed by launch, or even post-launch. These issues still are something that need to be addressed, however, because they are still very much real for anyone buying the game upon reading this review. The game is fun, many of the issues don't do much to impede the fun you can have here. Just know what you are getting into when purchasing the title at the moment.
All in all, I had a rather positive experience with Nether so far. I plan to have more great experiences going forward, especially with the gaming doing nothing been improving over these coming months. It's a highly engaging experience and solidly realized the idea of what a survival game should be. It certainly has its caveats, and I am going to be extremely upset if the final release doesn't include the implementation of PvE servers, but what is on offer is leaps in bounds, at least in my opinion, over what is on offer with similar titles in Early Access at the moment. While it's not a glaring recommendation, I say that the sort of experience Nether offers is the best to be had at the moment. If these sorts of games are of interest to you, Nether is probably the way to go.