Remember playing Goldeneye/Call of Duty/whatever in split-screen mode, trailing behind your friends a little on the scoreboard, when you get a sudden, overwhelming, urge to peek at their section of the screen? Come on, you’re the only person reading this - no need to pretend you've not done it. We’ve all done it. Screen watching is a universally recognised, and highly effective, method of cheating. It’s not fair when your friend is stomping you by a single point and all he/she’s doing is trying to avoid you. The only logical decision in that situation is to screen watch. Of course, once you get a taste for it, it’s difficult to stop. Soon you’ll be accusing friends of screen watching despite the fact you’ve been doing it for the past two hours. A vicious downward spiral.
Some horrible human beings somewhere have decided to make a game about screen watching. It’s called Screencheat; turns out screen watching is an English phrase - I assume? It’s a pretty devious idea, but it’s also a bloody good one. The game itself is your typical Team Fortress-inspired FPS, only every player is invisible. The only way to play the game successfully is to screen cheat (let’s stick with that phrase), turning the whole concept of playing an FPS on its head. Well, the main principle is still the same, it’s just very difficult to take it all quite as seriously. That’s probably due to the fact that everyone starts the game playing like a six-year-old.
As you might expect, Screencheat is best enjoyed as a couch co-op experience where your friends are within punching range. There’s an online mode, but it’s literally the same thing only without being in the same room (thereby removing the best aspect of the game). The great thing about Screencheat is that the mere concept alone sounds fantastic: a whole game based on a mechanic that’s generally regarded as cheating. In reality, it doesn’t take long for the novelty of it all to wear off, but that doesn’t mean it gets boring. It just moves the game from light-hearted jovial fun to the tense swear-fest that most shooters inevitably become.
Indeed, Screencheat will trick you into thinking it’s a nice, friendly little game with its vibrantly coloured levels and wacky weapons, but be warned: it’s all a front. Those colourful levels do nothing but confuse players - sure, they’re supposed to help you locate which section of the map a player is in, but when a four player game really gets going the bizarre mix of colours just throws everyone off. It’s especially horrific for a colourblind player such as myself. The weapons too, while hilariously creative, seem to be designed to elicit deep rage. The hobby horse, for instance (seriously), is a devious little weapon that allows invisible enemies to charge full-force at your avatar with a terrifying speed. Or there’s the deadly crossbow that emits a line of light across the map that murderers anyone who walks through it.
Yes, they’re all fun to play with, but when an invisible madman is hunting you down with those, and a collection of other equally mad weapons, they suddenly don’t seem too friendly. In many ways, that often hilarious sense of dread is the best thing about Screencheat. One player doggedly pursuing another, neither of them truly sure about the other’s location. The fear and unpredictability of the unknown makes every encounter both painfully frustrating and endlessly comical. Although which of those emotions you feel largely depends on whether you’re the hunter or the hunted.
In some ways, the worse thing about Screencheat is that people start to get good. What makes the game so appealing right from the first match is that the whole concept levels the participants. Everyone is equally good because everyone is equally bad. Most people know that guy who’s just naturally better/more experienced than everyone else, but in Screencheat that person will have just as much difficulty from the off as the others. Playing a game where all your enemies are invisible is genuinely disorientating, and logical decisions can easily be overlooked purely because you’re trying to focus on too many things as once. Once people start getting good, however, the game reverts to more familiar FPS-fare.
Whether that’s a good thing or bad thing will largely depend upon the group with which you’re playing. I certainly had fun once things started getting more serious, the game’s innate charm helps to keep things jovial, but that doesn’t mean people won’t be threatening to throw controllers at walls. That charm is something that consistently works in the favour of Screencheat, allowing the developer’s comedic side to come through. Killing someone, for instance, brings up an amusing array of verbs from “you Kanye Wested -dead player-” to “you #Dead -dead player-”. Most of them make little sense, but it’s a surprisingly funny little addition to the game that only encourages players to relax and enjoy the game for humour’s sake. Weird voiceovers and a variety of other random elements further this comedic feeling.
As a package, however, there’s not a whole lot on offer here. The basic concept of Screencheat is the real selling point; with only a small selection of rather similar maps, a handful of game modes (admittedly with one particularly inventive mode) and no extras to speak of, the longevity comes down to how long you can enjoy the FPS mechanics for. I got bored of the game after a few hours. It was by far one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I’ve had for a while, but only for those few hours. The hilarity of people running around madly and pulling off seemingly impossible shots begins to wear off, and by that point you’ve just got a slightly weird, but ultimately very average, FPS.
That doesn’t stop Screencheat from being a game worth recommending. For a group of friends who regularly play together in the same room, this would be an ideal addition to the rotation. It’s an ironically fitting tribute to the days of Goldeneye, and one that will have your group in stitches by the end of your first session. Of course, you’ll be at it tooth and nail by the second session, and by the third you’ll probably be sick of it. While the idea and execution are both excellent, the game just isn’t substantial enough to warrant extended play sessions. As good as it is, I can’t help but feel as though it could have been done better, and that’s not a feeling someone wants after they’ve just sunk their money into a game.
Screencheat (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
For a group of friends who regularly play together in the same room, this would be an ideal addition to the rotation. It’s an ironically fitting tribute to the days of Goldeneye, and one that will have your group in stitches by the end of your first session. Of course, you’ll be at it tooth and nail by the second session, and by the third you’ll probably be sick of it. While the idea and execution are both excellent, the game just isn’t substantial enough to warrant extended play sessions.