It's a reality of which most game developers are acutely aware: survival horror doesn't really work that well in a multiplayer context. There's something about having another human presence nearby that somehow mutes the fear such titles instill. It sort of makes sense, I suppose - at their core, horror games are about isolation. They're about vulnerability, paranoia, and deep, primal terror. The thought that you've another person nearby who's experiencing the same thing you are is comforting.
In an MMO, there's a whole host of 'other people' around you. As such, those brave few who've attempted a survival horror MMO finds that their efforts simply fall flat; experiences that would be terrifying by one's lonesome instead become laughable. Because of this, most people don't even bother trying.
One development studio thinks they might be onto something, however. The Chicago-based Phosphor Games has come up with a seemingly bulletproof concept; a post-apocalyptic survival-horror MMO set in a sprawling urban wasteland. It's called Nether.
Okay, admittedly...on the surface, that concept sounds just a touch cliche. Hear me out, though. Phosphor actually has some extremely good ideas up its sleeves.
I dunno, it kinda looks like modern-day Los Angeles.
Nether takes place approximately a decade after a world-shattering cataclysm. No one really knows what happened, only that humanity was utterly destroyed. The players will take the roles of the few ragged survivors of that biblical apocalypse as they pick through the burnt-out corpse of a once grand, sprawling metropolis. As they make their way through the city, they'll be forced to both fend off bandits(or become them) and flee in fear from the horrific mutants that have pushed mankind to the bottom of the food chain.
They're not zombies.
Nether's design is partially inspired by DayZ, but the developers decided to go in a completely different direction from the title, which features small towns and vast, exposed fields. Nether's world is partially inspired by Chicago's West Loop, and designed to be both compact and somewhat claustrophobic. It makes for a markedly different experience.
They might help you, sure. But they're more likely to kill you and take your shoes.
The way the world is designed, it's possible to pass within feet of another player (or something worse) without even realizing it. Being within a building makes you effectively invisible from street-level; the streets are strewn with rubble, abandoned vehicles, and other refuse which players can either salvage for supplies or hide behind. Factor in a persistent, open-world environment, and you've got what's effectively an entirely player-driven experience.
That's the 'survival' element of the title. What about the horror?
The Nether are lovecraftian mutants which hunt primarily through sound. That isn't what makes them frightening, of course - it's the fact that if one manages to pick up your scent, it'll start emitting an unnatural, inhuman scream, teleporting around the map and leaping to impossible heights in order to circle around behind you and end your life.
It's how they say "hello."
"We wanted it to be where even one creature is something to be terrifed of if you don't have the gear," explained Creative Director Chip Sineni."It's sort of like the movie Alien, where one organism can wipe out everyone on its own."
Upping the ante a little, there'll be a number of dedicated servers with the option to turn on permanent death. The developer has also hinted at a few RPG elements, as well. There's something else Phosphor is doing that's worth noting here, as well - they're listening to the community.
"Something we really want to see is rather than keep focusing on features that players may not care about, we really want to get it out there early and then have the community guide us," Said Sineni. "Maybe what we think is going to be a really big feature is something that you don't care about, and you'd rather us focus on this other thing."
You can sign up for the closed beta here.