Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation Network, Steam, (Reviewed via Xbox LIVE Arcade)
First Person Shooters have come a long way in the last decade or so. Since the monumental release of Halo: Combat Evolved on the Xbox in 2001 changed our expectations, developers have been coming up with ways to keep the genre interesting, adding all manner of gimmicks, quirky gameplay ideas and elements that you might consider to be clichéd or necessities, depending on your opinion of the genre. Today FPS fans have a variety of deep and engaging games to choose from to get their frag fix, but there was a time when an FPS game was a far simpler beast.
Enter Nexuiz, a shooter that rejects class systems, levelling up and a complex story in favour of big guns, crazy pickups and mad physics. Nexuiz is an old school all-action arena shooter, but does it still feel relevant in our world of classes and enormous battlefields?
The Nexuiz that we see today has been a long time coming. The first version of Nexuiz was released for PC back in 2005 and used a heavily modified version of the Quake engine. Since then numerous updates and additions have been made to the game until eventually, in July 2010, the game was taken up by developer Illfonic to be developed into a full console release, this time using the more up to date Cryengine 3.
The story behind Nexuiz is one you have no doubt heard before. At some point in the far future there was a devastating interstellar war, after the war – when the dust had settled – the two factions were forced to fight for the entertainment of the rest of the galaxy, and thus the Nexuiz Competition was born. It’s a story well used by Unreal Tournament, and to be fair it is only there to justify the fighting that is going on in front of you, but a little originality wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Upon first glance it is pretty difficult to pin down the visual style Nexuiz is trying to portray, as it is a real mixed bag. The rustic, futuristic and even ancient all make an appearance here, all melding together to leave something of a stodgy mess. While at times managing to be technically impressive, the game lacks the sort of consistency that pulls all the elements together to create a believable world. The style that Nexuiz is apparently going for is a; “futuristic, Victorian art style”. This design choice didn’t exactly jump out at me while I was playing the game, one minute the game looks like the slick, futuristic Mass Effect and the next minute the Art Nouveau styling’s of Bioshock make and appearance. What did jump out at me was how shiny everything is in Nexuiz. Anyone who has played Perfect Dark: Zero or the first Gears of War will know the story; most of the game world appears to have been laminated. That or it has rained recently…indoors. This may sound a harsh critique of what is a downloadable shooter, but if the developer wants to create a game with an art style such as this, it needs to at the very least be consistent.
Nexuiz is considerably healthier in the audio department. It features an extensive collection of background tracks of a strictly electronic flavour, just what you’d expect from this sort of arena shooter. Many of the tracks are fast paced and match the games frantic on-screen action. Explosions and weapon noises have the expected impact, with rockets and lasers having distinctly different impacts on the senses.
With the aim of keeping things simple, Nexuiz gives you a choice of guns, then puts you into an arena and lets you loose on your opponents. Well, that isn’t all that is on offer in Nexuiz, as it throws into the mix 100 dynamic mutators too. These are picked up by grabbing one of the mutator pick-ups distributed through the map, the game then gives you three mutator options that can be chosen by pressing a direction on your D-Pad. The game claims to contain over 1.7 million unique mutator combinations, so no two Nexuiz matches will be the same.
So how does this mutant addition play? Hit and miss is the best way to describe it. Some mutators add to the experience (big head, all weapons, low gravity, infinite ammo and so on), some are imaginative – at one point I was running round as a near invincible cloud of electric energy, with double damage applied to my gun, all the while bouncing around in low gravity – but overall the combination of mutators can make for some awesome, dynamic battles. On the flip side it is possible to encounter some combinations that feel like they break the flow of the game. Hitting one of the games many jump pads in low gravity with a black and white screen while being shot at isn’t fun, it’s just annoying.
Firing the weapons in Nexuiz is well handled, the controls are tight and can be adjusted to taste. The shooter aspects of this game play just as well as you would expect from an Unreal style game. You do miss a one or two things that we have gotten used to in modern shooters however; it isn’t always clear if your shot has landed, or indeed if you have killed your opponent, as their corpse disappears almost instantly after death.
In terms of game modes, Nexuiz keeps things simple and sticks to just the two: Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. Two teams of four can go at it online, or you can play offline against computer controlled opponents. Don’t expect much of a challenge however, even when set to hard difficulty the AI bots were fairly easy to pick off. The game features 9 different arenas of different shape and size. The smaller, tighter levels are pulled off nicely and are well balanced. The larger levels are a different animal though (luckily there are only 3 of them) as two of them are totally dependent on use of jump pads to navigate the environment. “Vertigo” is one of the aforementioned levels, and only once did anyone figure out how to get to the enemy base in the allotted 10 minutes during this map.
Sadly there are several game crushing bugs within Nexuiz. Indeed, if a match was finished without encountering something annoying, frustrating or downright ridiculous it was something of a novelty. The score overlay kept getting stuck over the screen, so the game action couldn’t be seen. If you grab a pickup you will be lucky if it makes it into your armoury for selection. Falling off the edge of the map probably won’t kill you, so you will either fall endlessly and have to quit the game, or you’ll hit some invisible scenery, just out of reach of the action. These foibles would normally be hardly worth mentioning, but in this case the bugs are so frequent that they must be mentioned.
Ignoring the bugs and assuming that they will be fixed, whilst also assuming your friends will grab Nexuiz too, you could well have some fun with it. It doesn’t take long to see all of the maps, play with all of the guns and experience most of the mutators (good and bad). Games such as this live and die on their online popularity and a strong online community with a variety of players might keep you coming back for a quick blast. But sadly, it just doesn’t seem likely this will happen.
VERDICT: Nexuiz could have been a fun and interesting title. The mutators – when they work well together – can be a joy to use and it does the job of being a shooter reasonably well. However, its miss mash visuals, game-breaking bugs and poorly designed levels make it a very hard game to recommend.
At the start of this review the question was asked if a game such as this could feel relevant in today’s FPS climate. The answer is YES, but not this game. Nexuiz is a game that brings some interesting ideas to the arena shooter table, unfortunately lacklustre execution of those ideas has probably killed what was an interesting idea.