It’s August in the year 1997. The light breeze complements the warmth of the sun, and it’s a perfect day for tossing a ball, taking a hike, climbing a tree. Yet the neighborhood baseball diamond is empty, save for the homeless gentleman who sleeps at the away team’s dugout; the hilly trails are silent and serene, nobody trampling them or making a fuss; the leaves have begun falling off the trees, and it is obvious there are no children shimmying their way to dangerous heights in any of them.
That’s because GoldenEye 007 has just released for the Nintendo 64, and you’ve got your three best mates over to play the exciting new James Bond shooter. You’re all flabbergasted at the quality of the game. Controls are tight, weapon variety astounding, and those graphics – wow. You could have sworn Pierce Brosnan himself was hiding inside your 22″ box television set, performing for you in real time.
Yes, all seemed well and good until Justin won his third round in a row, by a significant margin. It was at this point you and your other buddies began to suspect something was amiss. Quietly the three of you agreed to hide in the most obscure places you could find on the Library level, to test just how good Justin was at finding you. Sure enough, the match is soon over with Justin sweeping the competition once more. There has been much uncertainly in your life, but there was one thing upon which you and your other pals could wholeheartedly agree on without a shadow of a doubt.
Justin was a sneaky, cheating, screen-peeking douchebag sunuvabitch.*
The year in now 2015. Long have you endured the folly of screen-cheaters be it in GoldenEye 64, Perfect Dark 64, Halo: Combat Evolved, or any number of other classic splitscreen shooters. Now, eighteen years later, is the time of your redemption. Now is the time when honor and pride cannot hold you back from releasing your inner Justin that you always wished you could. Now, there is Screencheat.
From Australian developer Samurai Punk and publisher Surprise Attack comes the game that not only encourages, but demands you look at your opponent’s screens in order to locate them and take them out. Let me tell you, Screencheat is comparable to those N64 classics in more ways than one.
First and foremost, this game is capital-f Fun. Just like the glory days of GoldenEye and Perfect Dark, Screencheat splits your monitor into 4 sections, one for each player, and you must take each other down. Whether you’re playing local co-op with friends in your living room of facing off against strangers from across the world, the screen is always split four ways. You see, it is essential that you peek at where everyone else is hiding because every player is invisible. You could run around a level for hours and never be able to tell where another player is if you don’t look at their screen to catch their surroundings.
The premise is shear brilliance, and plays on the nostalgia of pre-internet multiplayer shooters in a fantastic and innovative way. Whether you were the Justin in your group of friends or just the occasional peeker who liked a fair bout, we’ve all done it at least a couple times, and you’re lying if you say otherwise.
With a multitude of stages from the labyrinthine Manor to the hemispherical Loop to nearly a dozen more, you’ll have plenty of options for landscape to fight on. Plus the low-gravity and ragdoll physics make for highly entertaining jumps and deaths in any stage. Tack on a plethora of game modes both familiar (Free-for-All Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Juggernaut, etc.) and brand new (Murder Mystery, One-Shot, Gold Rush – all detailed below), and you’ve got a winning formula.
Murder Mystery is like the board game Clue; each player starts with a set of clues, and they must perform an execution properly according to those clues. For example, my clues could tell me I need to take out player three with the candelabra in the green sector. If, and only if, I can do just that will I score a point. If I take down the wrong player, or use the incorrect weapon, no dice. Then if I die, I respawn with new clues. It’s a challenging mode, to be sure, but it offers an incredibly different experience to your standard shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later game mode.
One-Shot requires different strategic thinking still, offering you a single shot within the set time limit. For instance if the timer is set to 20 seconds, each player only has one round with their weapon of choice within those 20 seconds. If you fire and miss, your new goal is to just stay alive until those 20 seconds are up and you get another shot at victory. The rounds also do not stack, so there’s no sense in hoarding them so you can rapid-fire a few minutes in. One shot per time limit. Let me remind you, everyone is invisible in every mode, making it all the more challenging.
Gold Rush shows a treasure trove of coins scattered throughout the level. The goal is to pick up and hold onto as many coins as you can for the duration of the match. As you may suspect, kills net you bonus coins, and deaths lessen your cut. Pretty straightforward stuff, but still a nice shake up to the mix.
At this time there is a total of 10 game modes and 10 playable maps, offering vast amounts of fun, a variety of gameplay, and undoubted broken friendships. Unfortunately it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
For one thing, Screencheat straight-up looks like it belongs on the Nintendo 64 alongside those classics from nearly two decades back. While the polygonal Mr. Brosnan looked piercing back in 1997, by today’s standards it’s downright ugly, and Screencheat doesn’t look much better. The intentionally colorful level pallets make a unique aesthetic, and are meant to help you find other players, but they’re not particularly attractive. The levels themselves are clever and fun to navigate, which is ultimately better than looking good in the long run, but a bit more polish around the edges would go a long way with Screencheat.
Then while the game is most certainly fun no matter who you’re playing, at this point it’s only available on Steam, meaning the easiest option is playing with randoms online. Of course you can hook up Xbox or PlayStation controllers to your computer if you like, but personally I feel like the game would be more at home on a console. If Screencheat were available on my Xbox One, it would challenge Mario Kart 8 for most played at my monthly games night, no doubt about it. As it stands, however, it will remain a fun distraction for me now and then.
Rest assured, however, that I will continue playing it online, because as I stated at the beginning, this is a wildly entertaining game. Whether you want to just pick it up for a couple rounds before bed or spend all weekend releasing your inner Justin, you’ll have a blast with Screencheat.
A Steam code was provided to Save/Continue for review purposes.
*May or may not be inspired by actual events.