Split-screen is back from the dead.
Do you remember when playing first-person shooters locally was your only option for multiplayer modes? Screencheat developer Samurai Punk does. Remember how there was always that one friend who would claim that they weren’t looking at your screen, despite them knowing your exact position at all times, and how developers didn’t used to walk arm-in-arm with weapon manufacturers by including real-life guns in their games, instead opting to go as ludicrous as possible with their respective arsenals? Screencheat is a loving homage to those days, with one unique twist—looking at the screens of your opponents is essential to ensuring victory.
Regardless of whether you’re playing Screencheat locally or online you can always see your opponents’ point-of-view, as the game brings back those split-screen windows that are slowly becoming a thing of the past. While playing a first-person shooter in split-screen is typically not ideal, in Screencheat it is absolutely necessary as each player in a match is invisible, thus forcing you to check their screen to discover their position on the map. This is made easier as each map is split into four colors—blue, orange, green and pink—each of which allow you to determine where your rivals are by their position within the colored zones.
While you’re not exactly armed to the teeth with weaponry, the game does feature a reasonably sizeable selection to choose from, with the majority of them being suitably off-the-wall. There are a few guns that are based in reality, such as the revolver and blunderbuss, though there are also the likes of the hobby horse, which gives you a boost of super speed and kills your enemies when you bump into them, the candelabra, which can be used to beat enemies over the head, and my personal favorite the bear bomb, a remotely detonated teddy bear that hops around the battlefield in a similar fashion to the explosive sheep featured in the Worms series.
While some of the weaponry initially seems quite useless and needlessly complicated, there’s a surprising amount of depth to the equipment that’s on offer here. For instance, the crossbow initially appears slow and cumbersome with its long-range, until you make the discovery that shots fired from it can curve along walls and through corridors. It’s difficult to come to grips with, but once you have done so it transforms from a weapon that you’ll rarely use to one that will suddenly find itself in frequent rotation. Unfortunately some weapons inevitably slip by the wayside, such as the aforementioned candelabra, because who wants to use a melee attack when an exploding bear is an option?
Screencheat’s unabashed love of the insanity of late-nineties/early-noughts shooters is thoroughly endearing, though its homage to the frenzied action of the likes of Goldeneye 007, TimeSplitters and Unreal Tournament is somewhat absent in its level design. Samurai Punk puts such a strong emphasis on symmetry that each map feels like it’s missing something. There aren’t the “crunch points” so apparent in other shooters, nor are there the iconic landmarks and vantage points that made for truly memorable levels in the old classics. That there are only 5 maps in the entire game should have meant that at least one of them would have lingered in the memory, but that is not the case. Only the Museum level, which features a giant skeletal tyrannosaurus rex at its center, features a discernible defining feature, while the rest are wholly forgettable.
Thankfully Screencheat excels in its 5 game modes, which feature the likes of deathmatch and king of the hill, alongside a fun ‘One Shot’ game variant that only allows players to reload after each competitor has shot a round from their weapon, and the inventive ‘Murder Mystery’ mode which sees players being handed a selection of cards detailing the color of the room that the opponent they must kill is hiding in, alongside a picture of the weapon that they must kill them with. This mode is essentially the FPS equivalent of the classic board game Clue, and provides the most fun by a considerable margin.
While I only managed to play the game online with a few friends, I can imagine that Screencheat will excel when sitting side-by-side with your comrades on your couch, similar to shooters of old. If you want to invest in the game then you should ensure that you have a few friends who share the same mindset, as it doesn’t feature any bots (for quite obvious reasons) and playing online with strangers saps the fun out of it. This isn’t a competitive shooter by any stretch of the imagination; it’s one intended to be played in quick, 30-minute bursts with a handful of buddies.
Screencheat’s unique concept is one that provides a nice dose of hilarity and harkens back to all those memories spent staying up late playing GoldenEye with friends. While it’s still missing a few sparks of genius that made those old classics so endlessly replayable, it’s certainly fun while it lasts.
Code provided by publisher. Available via Steam now.