What’s Nether All About, Then?

Early access survival game Nether seems to have earned plenty of positive coverage in the past few months, and you can perhaps see why: an atmospheric apocalypse aesthetic, hordes of not-quite-zombie mutant things, and brutal PvP. It rings that survival combat bell pretty loudly. It does, however, bear an uncanny resemblance to a game which was not so popular, and was not particularly good – WarZ/Infestation Stories – which didn’t go down well at all. Furthermore, a number of readers have pointed out to me that both Infestation and Nether trademarks were filed by the same person. What could it mean?

I decided to have a play and judge the game on its own spooky merits.

Well, it is rather similar to War Z, pretty much from the character screen onwards, despite being outwardly developed by a different studio. There’s a strong family resemblance, even if this game doesn’t feel quite as clumsy or shallow. It is definitely a different game, with a different setting and pace, and different items that you slot into… basically the same inventory system. And similar stats that you buff up via leveling. Hmm.

Yes, back to the point: rather than the now familiar zombie’d up wilderness, you are in a polluted, destroyed city in which there are teleporting quasi-zombie mega mutants called Nether. They’re nasty, and you have to kill them with whatever you can find. All too often that’s just a kitchen knife. They are, fortunately, pretty vulnerable to kitchen knife.

It’s a moderately pretty game, if you like catastrophic urban decay (and I know you do). I certainly enjoyed my first hour of wholly aimless exploration (for the game offers no direction.) The large map is filled with visual detail and the sheer amount of trash and broken things is amazing. That said, it does begin to seem a little boxy and unimaginative once you’ve been exploring for a while. The trick with urban environments is so often to use the verticality and architectural honeycomb to create interesting spaces. Sadly, Nether doesn’t manage to do that, despite creating some spectacular vistas and its artists so energetically daubing everything with the brush of trendy gloom. It’s all ramps and square rooms, which I suppose make life easy for the Nether as they attempt to kill you with their splendid mutant powers. And gosh, the stamina bar only allowing you to dash for fifty or so metres means that you can effectively roleplay a guy recovering from serious respiratory illness.

So yeah: the game is open PvP, with a good helping of fighting NPC enemies. This is my favourite kind of game! I should be in for a treat. As it turns out, however, there’s not a whole lot of interesting PvP action, even on a busy server, and I spent much of my time scavenging, killing monsters, and so forth. The actual person-fight stuff has so far been scarce and pointless, even whilst keeping a constant look out for armed players, who may or may not choose to murder me as they play.

No one really seems very interested in combat, which is an odd thing to see. They just run off, looking for more boxes on the floor.

Perhaps the disinterest is down to how little getting killed seems to matter to this game. Death, thanks to the global inventory system, means only losing what you have in your backpack, and if you’ve bought a special thug hat with game money, then you get to keep it. This means that any tension in PvP rapidly fades. Certainly it’s a bit annoying to lose a gun when you just found one, but it somehow doesn’t have that DayZ feeling of really having lost out on a backpack of stuff that was your backpack of stuff. It’s disappointing that Nether isn’t able to conjure that tension, even if I can’t quite put my finger on why.

What’s perhaps most disappointing about Nether is that it offers little in the way of player interaction, and it’s a far cry from the weirdness-inspiring cruelties of that other popular game, or the formal chum-enabling systems of MMOs. Here you either group up (although I’ve yet to find anyone outside actual friends interested in grouping) in an MMO style, or you get murdered. It’s a simple formula, and one that doesn’t really inspire the kind of crazed tales we’ve heard emerging from other survival games.

The weird and tiny compass at the bottom right of the screen is, combined with a map, your main navigational tool. What would have been useful would be to have been the ability to place waypoints on the map screen, and it is frustrating to have to flick and back between the two in order to find my way to the safe zones. These safezones are peculiar places where, thanks to being on raised platforms above chainlink fences, you are immune to attack from either game enemies or other players. Whilst in there you can pick up fetch quests, buy things, or store stuff in your global inventory. Unintuitively, this is only accessible when standing next to the shop. It’s a brutally artificial way of doing things – putting the shop in a caravan on sticks – and the negative side effect of that is that it feels less like an exciting survival game, and more like the shop part of Killing Floor. Perhaps if it had Killing Floor’s combat, it would be great. But it doesn’t.

In fact, looking to my right as I type this I can see that I made a note which reads “combat is pretty nob.” I should probably expand on that a little: the melee, on which much of the game hangs, involves flailing about while “firing” a handheld weapon. Not much skill is required, and the audio-visual feedback from it doesn’t have much cowbell. There’s really not enough there to master, and the way it is tied to increased stats just seems to be mean weakness at the start of the game, and immense power later on, without an obvious balance. The enemies’ ability to teleport around meanwhile is just awful. It sounds interesting in principle, but it’s not threatening, just annoyingly like playing whack-a-mole. Guns too are shonky and without punch. I mean they’re no worse than the are in a lot of games, which is to say they’re uninteresting and forgettable.

And those last couple of adjectives are sadly what seems to be true of Nether as a game. Sure, it’s in development and all that jazz, it’s not terrible, and it will likely improve, but it simply doesn’t have the hook that is binding people like cursed souls to Rust and DayZ. The core functions are lacking, and there’s not enough else to do to really make it stick. That said, it does not seem like the same railroad to horribleness that War Z was – it has tuned down the Pay To Win a bit – but it does still have a real money cash shop while at the same time costing $20. So that’s fun. When I say fun, I mean rubbish.

Also, some Steam-tagging do-gooder has tagged this game “massively-multiplayer”, which is a description I arch my handsome eyebrow at. It’s massively multiplayer in the same sort of way that Day Z is, which is to say that it isn’t really, despite some character persistence. It’s played on 64-man servers, and might as well be just another server-based game.

In conclusion then: I didn’t make any jokes about nether regions. But I should have done.


  1. Lemming says:

    That top screenshot looks like the Keanu meme.

  2. SominiTheCommenter says:

    > I didn’t make any jokes about nether regions. But I should have done.
    Nether should I.

  3. frightlever says:

    64 man servers? About the size of an Age of Conan map instance then. Hahaha. But seriously.

  4. not-the-beez says:

    What on earth anyone gets out of DayZ at the moment is beyond me. I’ve NEVER played a game with such god awful mouse controls. Different sensitivity for X and Y axis? Check. Massive amounts of negative acceleration? Check. Varying sensitivity between indoors and outdoors? Check. I played with a friend for a couple of agonising hours, before it felt like my head was going to explode. In those 2 hours we wandered between houses aimlessly, cursed incessantly at an inventory system that hates you, were awed by just how badly the game runs, and generally had a pretty boring and shit time. Voip is far too quiet. And our encounters with other noobs on the coast was comedy gold as 3 randoms tried to melee me, and I just side stepped each feeble attempt. Can someone please explain why they like that game? I just cant get my head around it. If this game has mouse control that goes where you want, then it’s already got one up on DayZ. I honestly think you’ve all gone fucking mad..
    (Id just like to add that this is coming from someone whos played a lot of Arma2. Im aware of the engine and its foibles, it just appears theyve managed to make it all more of a mess. And apologies for the slab of text, trying to use forums on my mobile is a bit of a ‘mare).

    • derbefrier says:

      It just goes to show that if you have a unique concept people like and enjoy people are able to see the forest through the trees and appriciate and enjoy what’s there in spite of the clunkiness.

      I am with you though it was too buggy and clunky for me to enjoy in its current state. Maybe in a couple years when one of these survival games gets finished I will actually be able to enjoy one of them. I love the idea after all it just all this early access crap is already getting old to me. I have realized I prefer to play finished games a lot more than alphas and betas

    • herschel says:

      Yeah, love it, or hate it.

      I for myself love it but I constantly have to remind myself of the early alpha state of this unfinished “game”. The early alpha status is taken seriously here and the devs are not shy to break stuff from time to time, what makes the community scream in agony. But hey, you signed up for this early broken piece of crap and the game even makes you confirm this every time you play.

      But DayZ has quite a rapid patch cycle (an extensive patch every 1-3 weeks) at the moment and the survival aspect will increase a lot in the next months, which hopefully might lower this awful kill on sight mentality.

      On the positive side, the devs are quite involved in the community so you might actually be able to have a little influence in the development process…

      My friends and me have a lot of fun in interacting with people, surviving, getting shot, start all over again…

      This aside, you are right. Controls are totally bonkers, the interface is ugly and the engine is under heavy construction and optimization at the moment and it is suprisingly unplayable for some unfortunate people. Maybe you’d check back in a couple of months and see, what has changed, which will be a lot I guess.

      • Syra says:

        I love/hate it. It’s frankly an awful game because of it’s awful mechanics and bugs. At the same time playing it you can reach giddy heights unheard of in most games.

    • roryok says:

      I swear I’m not taking the piss when I ask this, but what’s negative deceleration, and is it any relation to deceleration?

      • frightlever says:

        I think negative deceleration is acceleration.

      • not-the-beez says:

        Negative mouse acceleration is when moving your mouse at a faster rate results in slower on-screen movement. It’s really jarring, and it’s more apparent on one axis than on the other. So whilst you’re slowly looking left/right, you’re also managing to zoom between the sky and your feet. It need’s patching more than anything else, as far as I’m concerned, and yet despite all the anecdotes and coverage on this site, I’ve not read any mention of it. Which kind of pissed me off tbh.

    • Baineblade says:

      Unsurprisingly….IT’S STILL IN AN EARLY ALPHA STAGE! Honestly…If you had played ARMA II in Alpha you’d be saying the same things about that game that you are currently saying about DayZ. My god are you all blind to the fact that it even ensures that you agree that you recognize the game being in an alpha state?!? It’s been out for 2 months and it’s already improved massively over the initial offering! Guns are harder to find, melee is much improved, frames aren’t dropping like flies every 3 minutes. The intent of an Early Access game is not to play it, but to help its process along, which includes reporting problems like your mouse issues (Though you’re the first one I’ve heard complaining about that), any bugs you found during gameplay, or other issues you’ve come across! It’s not meant to be enjoyed at this stage, it’s meant to be tested, broken, and retested until it’s fixed! You’re part of the development process, you are NOT there to just have a good time.

      • darkChozo says:

        The idea that you’re just there to help out with development and should be happy with what you get goes out the window when you charge money for it. For most people, Early Access is largely about being able to play a game before you’d normally be able to, even if it’s in a bit of a sorry state.

        That being said, I do wish there were more “in its current state”s being appended to posts about Early Access games, or at least Early Access games that seem to be actively updating.

        • toxic avenger says:

          To me, this would all be alright if “Early Access” meant Beta, full stop. Not some gamer’s idea of what beta is. What developers and programmers regularly call BETA: A mostly finished product that is going through one last round of testing before it goes live, where improvements and changes are likely to be made, and any massive, gamebreaking bugs/exploits/and changes could possibly mean reverting to an Alpha state, and thus, out of “Early Access.”

      • Rastaban says:

        They say they are in beta, not alpha. Obviously it’s not in beta. They are developing key features at this time and do not even have a female character model yet. And it’s not been out for 2 months. It’s been out since Halloween, so, almost 5 months now. Clearly it will take years to develop.

  5. jellydonut says:

    ‘Perhaps the disinterest is down to how little getting killed seems to matter to this game. Death, thanks to the global inventory system, means only losing what you have in your backpack, and if you’ve bought a special thug hat with game money, then you get to keep it. This means that any tension in PvP rapidly fades.’


    What a worthless game. Dead to me.

    • Mabswer says:

      Well, to be frank most of the players that have spent morethan 10 mins around Are wary of compat with other players because of the said skills, that reset after death. So you dont loose just your items but the gained exp and skills, which frankly sucks.

      And To be honest, KoS:sing (Kill on Sight) is a problem, not an feature. IT is what makes Dayz, rust, warz, whatever unbearable in long run.

  6. Siresly says:

    “WarZ/Infestation Stories”

    Say no more.
    No surprise that they’re trying to hide this legacy, the sneaky monkeys.

    “Posting privileges: Only group moderators and officers are allowed to post in this forum.”
    They’ve locked up the comments on Steam. Deja vu.

    They say they have no ties to Hammerpoint, which may be true. Disregarding the blatant similarities, trademark filings and whatnot as weird coincidences, and pretending there are no ties to WarZ is super shady though.
    link to steamcommunity.com

    • wu wei says:

      Only the News & Announcements sub-forum is restricted, which is pretty common behaviour.

    • Mabswer says:

      Yes its true that the Trademarks are filled by the same guy, Both Hammerpoint interactive and Phosphor Games Studio use the same Agency, which to uninformed may look like OMG THEY ARE THE SAME COMPANY whilst they are not.

      -which By the way, is not all that uncommon when small game studios do they trademarks.

  7. J. Cosmo Cohen says:

    Everything you’ve said is spot on. The potential for a great game is there; I just don’t believe it’ll ever reach that potential (although I’m happy to be proven wrong).

    Unfortunately, I bought it during the Christmas sale, completely unaware that it’s probably from the same WarZ developers, as from what I’d read people said it wasn’t them at all. I just thought it was a case of people starting ridiculous rumors.

  8. SkittleDiddler says:

    When I played this game via the beta around a month ago, it was a mess. Laggy, with terribly unoptimized graphics and tons of crashes. It also suffered from DayZ-itis: no real goal for players (besides running packages between points for cash), so the end game for most was hiding outside of safezones in groups and waiting for newbs to show up. Nether is an even bigger gankfest than DayZ if that can be believed.

    I got killed by griefers three times in no less than twenty minutes in my first playthrough, and this type of behavior is heavily encouraged by the community — a shitty, poorly-conceived game with a shitty, passive-aggressive player base. I can’t imagine much has changed in the last month.

  9. GameOverMan says:

    “Not much skill is required, and the audio-visual feedback from it doesn’t have much cowbell”

    So it needs more cowbell, then.

  10. chabuhi says:

    I thought Nether was from the guys who had the failed kickstarter for Project Awakened? Ex-Midway guys in Chicago, I think. Maybe Hammerpoint bought the IP or something. I don’t know. Sorry if I’m slow on the uptake.

  11. buxcador says:

    I never had an AMD/ATI card. Only nVidia.

    Each time I needed to buy a new card, nVidia was the better choice. Best bang for the buck.

    And I totally crave G-Sync.

    But I do not waste money, and if the next best card is an AMD card, I’m going to buy AMD.

    That’s stops me from investing in G-Sync. I would not spend money on something that is not guaranteed to work with my next video card.

    If G-Sync were an open standard, I would buy it, and most probably also a new nVidia card, as I ever did. but “most probably” is not a certainty, and I do not run risks.
    I will not buy a monitor with each new video card.

  12. statistx says:

    What is it with me and buying way early access games that have little hope to ever be good? I bought WarZ, played it for 1 hour, I bought this, played it for 1 hour and I cry about the lost money on both.