Years ago there was a method of playing multiplayer games locally with friends that saw players sneaking a peek at where their friends were, then stalking them down and killing them. This was possible because A: there were only a handful of maps, which everyone knew every inch of; and B: everyone was playing on the same screen, so it wasn’t exactly hard to notice where people were.
This despicable tactic was called “screen cheating” - so it’s little wonder that in developer Surprise Attack’s game Screencheat, that’s exactly what you need to do to play… except…. there’s a twist. This is a split-screen first-person shooter where everyone is invisible, so the only way to know where anyone is, is to screen cheat.
No matter if you’re playing by yourself, with friends locally, or matchmaking online, the screen is always split, between two and eight times in order to accommodate the number of players in the match - be they human or bot. The only ways to know where your opponents are is to either look over at their box, or watch out for the after effects of a fired weapon - as all weapons leave some sort of trail when used.
There’s no story or campaign; that’s not the sort of game this is. Screencheat is an arena-based FPS with local and online matchmaking, along with a Time Trial mode to help with learning the maps, modes, and weapons.
I’ll admit, the premise of this game is kinda amusing, and when you’re hanging with friends either online or in person, smack talking one another, this can be a pretty fun game for a few rounds. But when you're left alone to play time trials, compete against bots, or head to the nearly entirely empty multiplayer servers, I found my time with Screencheat to be an absolute bore.
Besides the lack of human opponents to combat against online - who often quit before a match ends because the bots that fill empty play spots completely trounce normal players - the game just doesn’t play very well with a controller. Now I don’t mean to say that it’s impossible to play, more that it’s far too easy to miss people who are seemingly right in front of you… or accidently kill yourself thanks to a ricocheting shot, or the odd use of gravity (that made running up ramps an absolute chore).
I like to think I’m pretty good at FPS titles, but I just sucked at aiming in this game. Be it player or bot, on numerous occasions I’d look over and see that someone was at the other end of a corridor I was in, and we’d both be riding the back of a Hobby Horse (which leaves trails of fire in it’s wake when activated). We would take off, racing forward, keen on mowing the other down. Then all of a sudden, we zoom past each other, narrowly missing the other by a hair - over, and over, and over again.
Other times I’d fire the Sörgeån, a projectile weapon that shoots massive spiked balls, which returns to the spot you were standing in after a few seconds, only to think I was well out of the way when it flew back… I wasn’t. I heard the announcer's voice say “Self Kill” quite a few times before deciding that, out of the 10 rather odd one-hit-to-kill weapons, I fared best with the default Blunderbuss, or the Candelabra (a fancy candle stick melee weapon).
So how exactly do you know where people are? Well, despite each map’s initial complexity, they are laid out rather well, designed for rapid traversal, and colour coded to boot. Once you get the hang of navigating the space, and learn the ins-and-outs of the game’s eleven maps - thanks in part to the optional Time Trials, it can be pretty easy to work out where to cut people off… providing someone doesn’t take you out first. Then it’s just a matter of learning how to win at the different modes.
Capture the Fun (similar to Halo’s Oddball), Hillcampers (King of the Hill), One Shot, My First Deathmatch, and another five other modes make up the game types, all of which can be played in Matchmaking. I was initially not the biggest fan of Capture the Fun, but as I began to learn to maps, I found it to be one of the more enjoyable (and easy) modes to win at - as you basically grab hold of a shedding Pinata, then run, hope your total time hits 80 seconds, and melee anyone who gets in your way.
For the price, it’s not the worst looking game out there, but it’s not going to be winning any graphics awards. The audio doesn’t fare much better; the announcer has some amusing one liners, but it can begin to grind on your ears after a while, and the sound effects and background music are incredibly forgettable.
Honestly, the biggest hook to the game is also the feature that I found most annoying - the inability to see the other players. Well, that, and having to actually screen cheat - in all the hours I played the game, I never truly grasped the ability to naturally quickly peek at everyone’s screens, while also keeping an eye on where I was going.
All too often I’d find myself running into a wall, or seeing that someone WAS in front of me, but completely missing every shot, moments before getting one of the many mildly amusing death notices; “You got #YOLO’d by Andrew-Bot”, or “You constricted Ro-Bot”. The game does have a certain amount of goofy charm.
Screencheat can be fun, but rarely did I enjoy my time only playing against bots, and the lack of any meaningful online community while I was playing became tedious (the game has been out on the PS4 for over two weeks as I write this). The most enjoyment was had while hanging with friends.
In the end, if you’re after a serviceable, quick-to-learn, mediocre-to-master title, with the simple hook of all screen cheating being made necessary by players being invisible, then Screencheat might make for a few nights of fun. If not, save your money; there are plenty of other games to play.