Screencheat Review: Cheaters Prosper

If you grew up video gaming in the 90s then you should be familiar with the split-screen, multiplayer shooter and the caveats that stem from sharing the screen with your opponents. Screencheat turns this experience on its head, embracing what was previously a limitation, by integrating the screen watching of other players into the game as a deliberate gameplay mechanic. What results is an enjoyable multiplayer experience that’s fun in short bursts, but lacks the easy-to-play but tough to master design mindset that made games like Towerfall as popular as they are.

With one simple twist – making all players invisible – Screencheat flips the traditional shooter on its head. Instead of looking at your screen and the cues it provides, Screencheat asks you watch the screens of other players in order to figure out their locations, and ultimately kill them. There are a number of layered gameplay features that support this, for instance the maps are all colour coded into sections, and weapons feature a risk reward mechanic where they cause you to be briefly visible at some point before or after firing.

From there, the experience is pretty simple. Run around across a variety of colourful maps, using your opponent’s screens to figure out where they are. It’s fun, although with four players on screen at all times, it can feel a little too chaotic at times. It’s easy to track one player, and their locations, perhaps even two, but having to keep an eye on three can often cause death to feel almost unavoidable, especially as experienced players will often kill you from a fair distance away.

Screencheats variety of game modes do sometimes bring order to its chaos though, one particular mode assigns a specific target to each player which they can view at the press of a button and that makes things a little more tactical and controlled as you’re always aware that only one player is hunting you and have the capacity to figure out who that is by looking at their screen in the moment that they check their card. Another mode features a king of the hill type objective, which takes a different slant thanks to Screencheats invisibility, forcing you to search other player screens in order to hunt down other hill occupiers.

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The game isn’t much to look at visually, but its aesthetic is carefully designed in order to best facilitate the gameplay experience. Most of the maps are relatively simple to navigate and colour code, this makes them relatively easy to learn and the act of screen watching opponents informative without needing complex prior knowledge of the map and its layout. For instance if I see that I’m in the red zone, and that one of my opponents is too, then that’s a cue whose screen to watch and from there I can attempt to garner more particular information on their position.

Beyond its screen watching and invisibility mechanic there’s little more to the game however, so it’s up to this singular mechanic and the gameplay that overlays it to carry the experience. For the most part it does this successfully, making for enjoyable local or multiplayer game sessions, though there will always be someone on your couch that doesn’t ‘get it’, finding the invisibility twist disorientating and overly demanding rather than enjoyable.

In this regard it’s less accessible than other local party-competitive games as there’s an assumed knowledge that you know how to play local first person shooters going in, and then the invisibility mechanic layers complexity onto that. It lacks the more universal appeal that simpler games like Towerfall or Sportsfriends feature, as it’s harder to recommend the game if you aren’t familiar with the genre or possess fond memories of local multiplayer experience on games like Goldeneye or Timesplitters.

Even for the experienced however, the game can be perhaps a little too demanding at times, within regular free for all matches the prospect of having any of the three other players ambush you at any moment could cause proceedings to feel a beyond your control at times, especially if more than one player has decided to make you their target. It’s difficult to figure out who’s going after you, and even once you’ve done so, it’s easy for another player, also going after you, to get the better of you while your attending someone else’s screen. In turn we found the more controlled gametypes more enjoyable, providing the opportunity for more awareness of who may be after you at any given moment.

In sum, Screencheat is an enjoyable local multiplayer game with a competitive focus. The games core mechanic is an interesting twist on the traditional split-screen shooter, forcing players to opt new strategies around what was previously a limitation of this style of multiplayer gameplay, should they wish to succeed. However for some, the experience may be a little too demanding, somewhat voiding the easy to play, tough to master ethos that makes many of these games popular. More focused gametypes serve to alleviate this issue, but even for split-screen veterans, things can feel a little outside of your control at times. Still, Screencheat makes for an enjoyable local multiplayer title, especially in shorter bursts when everyone is on the same page.

 

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Author: Jozef Kulik

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