Chaos Theory: First impressions of Funcom’s Hide and Shriek
Have you been hiding and shrieking? I have! Hide and Shriek, the 1v1 Secret World spinoff that pits the much-loved Innsmouth Academy against the newly introduced Little Springs High in a PvP scare off, is now out for players to test their spook skills. Who doesn’t love a good scare, especially this time of year?
Like The Park, Hide and Shriek was an exercise in learning to program a game on the Unreal engine, except this time it was for the US-based Funcom office. Upon completion, the fruits of those labors were offered up to us to enjoy; I’ve been playing matches all week myself. So how is it? What do I think of the game? Is it worth the price tag (currently $4.79, going up to the full price of $5.99 November 1st). I say a resounding yes! Believe it or not, it is going to be encroaching on my Samhain event play time. The game isn’t for everyone, but I am finding it fun. Want to see more of the game for yourself? Tune into OPTV tonight at 9:00 p.m. EDT as Justin and I square off. (You could also win a copy of the game!)
Everyone who tuned into my sneak peek of Hide and Shriek before it launched saw first-hand the difficulty I initially had. In a game that is all about opening doors (to get to items as well as set traps), I couldn’t open any doors! Once my opponent grasped the implication of that, he was able to better steer and trap me, giving him a major advantage. So I started losing. Yet oddly, I still found this a positive experience (just don’t ask my poor mouse how it feels). Why? Because of one of the main reasons I love the studio and cheer its success on: the developers.
The devs take real interest in their community, so it was no surprise that devs were watching the livestream. As soon as they saw the problem, they jumped in to suss out the issue and make sure it was taken care of before launch. It turns out that while I had the latest patch, my opponent didn’t, so that desync caused all the problems. Personally, I wish it caused the problems on my opponent’s end, as that would have made him log out and back in a hurry, thereby getting the recent patch.
Of course this brought up concern about people having different versions and the unfair advantages it could bring. After the stream, I talked with Creative Director Romain Amiel more about this concern. He said one problem comes from the fact that Steam does not force people to update. Currently, there is a simple version check in place, but the team was actually at that moment working on a fix. “We’ll do something better to make sure version mismatch is impossible,” he told me.
Before I get into my impressions, let me explain a little about the game itself. In Hide and Shriek, two invisible players face off in an attempt to out-scare each other in 10-minute matches. There are two win conditions: Either you successfully shriek the opponent three times in a row without getting shrieked yourself (instant win), or you win by accumulating the highest total points. You get points by collecting runes, finding orbs and placing them on an altar, and tricking your foe into setting off your traps. You also get bonus points at the end of the match for things like never being discovered or picking up the most runes. So for strategy, you can focus on either trying to collect the most points or stalking your prey and winning by shrieking. Just remember, if your foe shrieks you, then the counter resets.
The collected runes are simple spells, with things like moving through walls (so very handy for avoiding traps), fireballs, and simple traps. It gets more exciting when you start combining runes to make more powerful spells, like actual attacks that will go right to your opponent no matter where he or she is; the ability to see traps, orbs, or your foe; and vortices that dump the other guy into a purple dimension that subtracts points every moment he’s trapped there.
One thing I have to point out is that Hide and Shriek isn’t PvP in the sense that many think of it now, so I’d almost hesitate to use that term here. But it is the actual true definition of PvP. It is player versus player. It’s just that the contest between players here does not include any of the baggage that PvP now carries with it, like pulverizing your foe and rubbing his face into it. So folks who stay away from PvP because of its baggage needn’t steer clear of Hide and Shriek. There is actually no player interaction to speak of. There’s no chat; there’s not even a visual except for occasional shimmery outlines or floating orbs to give people away. Additionally, you can just play against friends in private matches (said person must be on your Steam friends list) or you can play public matches.
Is the game fairly simple? Yes. The commands are few and easy to perform; they consist of mouse clicks and pressing E, shift, or the spacebar. But that’s just the surface. There are deeper levels of gameplay. When you add in the spell crafting, it’s no longer about getting any old rune but about learning certain combinations and going for those specific ones instead. You have to pick your strategy and even be prepared to change it up depending on what your opponent is doing. You have to be very cognizant of the environment. (Speaking of environment, I have to put a plug in for not just the great visuals but the sound as well. The background sounds really give it a good ambiance. And the change in music when time is running out seriously cranks up the tension.)
When Hide and Shriek was first announced, I mentioned that I saw a real possibility for replayability. I feel like it delivers. Is it a game meant for hours-on-end play every day? Not really, not for me. But there will be many, many smaller play sessions. Each match is brand-new and different. I’ve already put more time into this game than I did in The Park, and I have no intention of stopping any time soon, not only because of the gameplay but because there is lore to be had that ties into TSW, and I want to find all the lore. Be sure to read the stories behind the spells in your grimoire!
Although I have had a blast playing with friends, my most satisfying game actually took place when I was playing publicly the same person who creamed me the match before. This time around, he was beating me even worse, with over 70K to my 20K. But guess what? A few seconds before the timer ran out, I got a third shriek in a row on him and won! That felt oh so sweet.
You might say I enjoy the game only because I win often. That would actually be completely false. Yes, I enjoy winning, but I have only won a few matches. My most stellar round came about because I discovered and happened to keep making the rune combination that summoned my altar to me. So when I found a room with an orb, I just summoned the altar and immediately dropped my orb on. I made it to 127k that round! Other than that, what drives me to keep going is the desire to improve and start winning. I want to learn all the spell combinations and devise personal strategies, and of course, find all the TSW Easter eggs and lore.
One thing that initially disappointed me — but I later changed my mind aboutn — was the scope of the game. The area you play in is pretty darn small. I was really looking forward to roaming the halls of Little Springs High, not the hall. Or part of a hall. I frowned at first to see that the entirety of the game encompassed four classrooms and a small segment of hallway between them. But that’s because I was looking at the zone with MMO eyes.
Obviously, I still want to explore a large area. Who wouldn’t? But more area would pretty much ruin this game. One I was inside and playing, I quickly realized that having too much space would nullify the whole point of the game. If you were totally spread out, your chances of finding the opponent would be slim to none. And the chances of setting traps your foe would trigger off would diminish with each extra door you added and each extra tile of floor space. The small cozy space actually works just right for what is needed — enough room to move around, and small enough to be able to hear and try to pinpoint your foe. Maybe we can expand to other parts if the school at a later time to have matches of the same size but in new areas. That would definitely keep the replayability up!
When I was first talking with CM Andy Benditt about the game, he mentioned that although playing with strangers is a blast, it is even more fun playing against people you know. And I found that to be very true! Having some insights into how your foe thinks (and a stake in being able to best her!) definitely adds to the experience. But what I actually found was the biggest satisfaction came with the the ability to experience my opponent’s reaction!
As in any circumstance where you (hopefully innocently) prank someone, you are going for a reaction. In Hide and Shriek, unless you know the person and are within earshot — be that in the same room, house, or voice program — you don’t get to experience the reaction. And that is a total bummer. A little message that someone tripped the trap isn’t nearly as satisfying as hearing a yelp when you got ’em good. Hearing those reactions is like a little win each time, so even if you don’t win overall, you still have those little ones.
I’d also love to see voice integration. Yes, that seemingly goes against the argument for this PvP above. Of course you need to have the option to shut it off, and easily at that. A simple click of a button on screen should instantly mute the other person. Or maybe it could be set to only pick up the yelps, shrieks, and screams. I am the poster child for not wanting to be subjected to the rants and language of others, but there are also plenty of players who can do right by voice, showing manners and consideration and all that.
And screams. Seriously, I want to hear their screams!