We’ve all been there, playing GoldenEye or Halo multiplayer in split-screen and looking at our buddy’s screen for an easy kill. It’s an impossible temptation and something that everyone has done no matter how much they might deny it. Well, just like everything else that happens in the gaming world now, someone made a game about exactly that. And it’s actually pretty fun, and even took steps to persist past the inevitable death of its multiplayer scene.
Screencheat is a multiplayer FPS where everyone is invisible. That would be a pretty decent hook for a shooter but it’s actually in service to another gimmick, that you have to look at your opponents’ screens to figure out where they are. Whether playing local or online matches the game plays in split-screen, showing you what all of your opponents are seeing at all times. Using this information you have to line up your shots to dispatch unseen adversaries, and also keep them from using your own view against you.
Everything in Screencheat is designed to support this gimmick, from the weapons to the levels themselves. Each arena is small enough for the maximum of four players to be constantly tripping over each other, and every part of it is painted in a different bright color to make it easy to figure out what part you’re looking at. The game modes share this intelligence of design, like the King of the Hill mode having very small capture zones that light up with the color of the player occupying them. There are some really crazy ones that make use of the premise, like the Clue-inspired Murder Mystery where you have to kill a specific person with a specific weapon.
The weapons deserve special mention for being creative and perfect for this kind of game. There are no pickups or unlocks, just an entire library of a dozen or so armaments to choose from between lives. You’ve got familiar guns like a blunderbuss and a beam cannon, clever additions like ricocheting energy balls and the line launcher from Dead Space, and crazy options like exploding teddy bears and a wooden horse you can run people over with. My personal favorite is a spiked ball the size of a moon that rockets out a short way, and then blasts back towards its point of origin with terrifying speed.
All weapons have infinite ammo and are one-hit kills, as there is no health or healing to be found in Screencheat. In fact, you won’t find any sort of pickups in the game at all, which is a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it keeps the action focused entirely on finding and annihilation your hidden opposition. But on the other, it cuts out a lot of the tactics that keep other multiplayer games fresh, and in doing so kind of relegates itself to more of a novelty than a shooter you can really dig into. It feels like the developers thought otherwise, since you can level your profile up through matches to unlock… stuff for your profile? I have no idea why you would bother, because this game makes a great diversion with your friends and not much else.
Even if you did want to become a Screencheat grandmaster, the online multiplayer is all but dead anyway. There’s between zero and one servers up at any given time, even on weekends with the allure of double profile XP. Normally that would be enough for a thumbs down from me but the developers smartly added bots in one of their last updates, and they’re clever enough to make matches worth playing solo. Like I said, it’s not much more than a novelty but it’s a quality one that’s sure to have you hooting at getting run down by wooden horses or crushed by flying balls. Not every game has to be a cornerstone of your library, and Screencheat makes a great little break from more serious or deeper shooters.