Whether long-dead or still running, private servers for MMOs are always a little bit cursed. Reverse engineering servers causes all manner of obscure issues, and small communities leave once-bustling cities feeling like ghost towns. But in the case of the (definitely real) cult-classic MMO HitFlesh, one fan-run revival seems to be haunted by more than just poor netcode.
Developed by Virtual Archaeologist and teased at last week's EEK3 showcase, HitFlesh is a single-player adventure through the remains of a "weird and old MMORPG" put back together by fans.
Despite the telling name, the first half of our trailer sells the pitch hard—jaunty fantasy music laid over lo-poly player characters, all huddled together under floating names and level icons. There's a fully-featured character creator and customisable interface, and the whole thing is instantly recognisable for anyone who's dipped into the likes of Warhammer Online's revival server or a slew of janky fan-run Warcraft clients over the years.
At least, until the curtain lifts and things get bloody.
As to be expected of a HauntedPS1 game, HitFlesh quickly takes a turn for the worse. Characters glitch out, worlds turn into fleshy meat piles, and ribcages descend from the rafters. But what excites me about HitFlesh is that Virtual Archaeologist isn't shying away from the way online communities can be their own horrific beasts.
HitFlesh's store page notes that the game contains references to sexual abuse, bullying, harassment, and masculine violence. These are elements that could easily fall into shock value. But as someone who's spent a decade engulfed by MMOs, these communities can be fraught with this kind of behaviour, and there's ample potential for Virtual Archaeologist to confront these very real horrors.
"As individuals and game developers we're unconditionally opposed to heteropatriarchal violence and alt-right ideologies," the developer writes. "We believe videogame and other form of fiction are necessary to explore cultural and political imaginaries and can participate in the dismantling of naturalized toxic behaviours and structures."
HitFlesh doesn't currently have a release date, but there'll be a demo to try out soon over on Itch. In the meantime, I strongly recommend checking out No Players Online—a short, free trip through the empty servers of a dead online FPS, one that accidentally spawned a sprawling ARPG.