Review: Nether

The survival-horror genre is certainly a popular one as of late. With recent successes such as Rust and DayZ, we are seeing more and more developers throwing their hats into the ring in the hopes of making the next big thing. Phosphor Games is no exception. Their title, Nether, spent the better part of a year in Early Access, where it drew upon player feedback and insight in order to help build it into the best experience possible, has finally hit official release.

Early impressions of the game during its beta stages painted Nether as a rather weak experience overall. That said, the game has only improved more and more over the following months and showed a lot of promise in the later stages of beta, which became reflective in the user reviews as well. Now that we have our hands on the official release, Nether proves itself an interesting and engrossing time, though not one without more than its fair share of issues, both on a technical level as well as in terms of design. As an overall package, however, Nether holds as one of the best in the genre and more than justifies its asking price, considering you can look past the game’s faults.

The first thing that hits you upon entering the world of Nether is its setting. Many games like to go post-apocalypse, providing an interesting backdrop for the players. It’s a moody, tension-filled setting, providing players much in the way of strong atmosphere, if done right and is allowed to serve its purpose. Unfortunately, not that many games have actually done the setting justice. Game’s like STALKER and Metro most come to mind when thinking of just what titles did just that. As does Nether, thankfully, and this game does a lot to remind players of those aforementioned titles, STALKER in particular.

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The game is all about sneaking around, scrounging for resources while combating and avoiding both man and monster in the name of survival in the harsh post-apocalypse. It’s easy to see that STALKER very well could have been a huge inspiration during Nether’s development. Nether, in a lot of ways, feels much like another entry to the STALKER series, despite its online, multi-player nature. Much like its probable title of inspiration, the world itself is well built, well realized and just a fantastic one in itself to explore. Honestly, it might be the best realized post-apocalyptic setting to be seen at the moment. From the hundreds upon hundreds of dilapidated buildings, to the crumbling freeways ornamented by countless cars, to the empty subways now housing any number of twisted creatures within it, the world of Nether is one that is well crafted, believable and, ultimately, just very, very masterfully crafted.

So, the setting is fantastic. What about the gameplay? As I said before, the game isn’t perfect. And there are certainly issues to be found in the gameplay. Luckily nothing on show is enough to keep Nether from being the overall fun and engaging experience that it is. While melee combat often suffers from a short lag between your swings and the impact, and the enemy ai, while generally well done, does suffer from occasional bouts of stupidity, the game still manages to be a blast to play. The further you delve into Nether as a whole, the more addictive the experience becomes and you do quickly learn to forgive the game for its faults because the overall package just works.

Aside from the somewhat wonky melee combat, guns also play a huge role in the game and, while both expensive and rather hard to scrounge up, they certainly make your time exploring the wasteland one that is that much easier. The gunplay itself is actually rather weighty, with a solid sense of recoil on many of the firearms you’ll come across. There’s also a rather large selection to be found, and many do feel a fair bit different from each other, making each time you acquire something new a refreshing and exciting experience.

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There’s also a rather well done stealth system which serves to help bypass much of the aforementioned combat, were you to find that more your style. It doesn’t do much in the way of helping to level your character, sure, but it does help in the way of reserving supplies that would otherwise be spent during combat, allowing you to amass more and more in the way of equipment for those battles you simply can’t avoid. It’s nice to see more than just the combat-focused gamer catered to here, allowing also the pseudo-ninjas of the gaming world to enjoy their time with Nether.

While Nether’s creeping, looting, gunning down dem’ monsters in a post-apocalyptic world sounds good on paper, it holds up in practice as well. There’s a worthwhile leveling system that gives players of any playstyles worthwhile options for whatever sort of character they wish to make. The looting system, however slow-going it may often be, is rewarding and really gives the sense of a true survival experience, making the long act of building up your character all that much sweeter as time goes on. Then you have the game world tself that honestly that begs to question just how much more realized this sort of setting can get at this point.

As great an experience as Nether can be, there are a few glaring issues that need to be addressed. On a technical level, there’s still a lot of issues on show, both in terms of performance as well as in the way of the amount of overall bugs to be found in the game. Things that should have been addressed before the title left Early Access. Then there’s the players. One of my biggest issues with a game designed with multiple players in a no holds-barred survival experience is just that. The players. It’s not that the idea of a group of people sharing a large, open world is a negative thing. That has the potential for countless memorably experiences, let alone potentially countless hours of interesting game time.

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This is definitely an experience that people want, but they also want, and something that the fans have been asking for for some time, purely PvE servers. Sadly the game does not offer this, despite being one of the most requested updates to the game throughout its time in beta. This would go a long way to not only address the wants of the current user base, but to also make Nether a more approachable experience with just that much more to offer players.

Going back to the technical side of things, the game does still have a bit to go in terms of overall performance and in addressing the numerous bugs still on show. Easily said, you can question just why the developers thought the game was ready to leave early access, considering the state of the game is more than questionable at times. The game ranges from anywhere between 20 – 60 fps on an overclocked GTX680/i5 build. That’s even with the game not entirely maxxed. Though, halving the rather ludicrous draw-distance and turning of shadows managed to keep the game hovering between 50 – 60 in most cases, while allowing all of the important graphical niceties to remain.

All in all, it’s a great looking game with a lot on display at any one time and still manages to keep a solid framerate, considering you have a relatively modern rig. Not too shabby. Then there’s the bugs, however. While many of the issues have been recently addressed, issues with clipping through geography, frame-hitching and the aforementioned lag during melee combat can hamper the experience in a real way. These are things that shouldn’t have made it through Early Access and it’s a shame to see them unaddressed in even the official release. They don’t do all that much to hinder the game as a whole, but they are still sad to see.

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Closing Comments: 

All in all, Nether is a great time. It’s a highly engaging and realized survival experience; something we need more of. It certainly has its caveats, and I am rather upset at the issues still shown in it to this day, but it still offers a lot of fun. While its issues certainly hold it back, they don’t do so to the point that it doesn’t deserve a recommendation. If you’re looking for a proper survival-horror experience, Nether is the way to go.
score3.5
Platform: PC