By Seán O'Sullivan - March 8th, 2012


Crusty gamers who have stuck around for more generations than they’d care to admit can get a little curmudgeonly when they think back to the “glory days” of whatever genre is being discussed. The time that I have invested in Call of Duty’s various multi-player modes since 2006 surely eclipses the hours I whiled away playing the likes of Quake 3 Arena and Unreal Tournament; but my reverence for these ‘pure’ shooters is unflappable. Nexuiz openly mimics the game-play of these arena-based shooters, which should excite any of the gamers who still talk in hushed tones about their awesome rail-gun exploits or elaborate lag-compensation techniques from days of yore.

Nexuiz is a modern throwback to the good old days that makes little effort to even appear original. The map designs use many of the basic layouts and features of Quake 3 (jump pads, teleporters), the weapons are based on the best death-bringers that Unreal Tournament and Quake had to offer, and the arenas are littered with familiar armour pickups and stat-enhancing power-ups. The graphical style is evocative of Halo’s shiny, curved, futuristic world. Success in combat relies not just on sharp reflexes and an appropriate use of the arsenal of nine weapons; but also on how accurately you can predict where your fast-moving enemies will be by the time your payload arrives.

The one unique feature that Nexuiz has introduced is modifiers that kick in mid-game, fundamentally altering the flow of combat. At the drop of a hat, all players may be bestowed with jetpacks, or have their controls inverted, or lose their HUDs, or find themselves colourblind; with over 100 modifiers, it’s not uncommon to continue playing purely to see what kind of madness the next match will bring. This is Nexuiz’s core hook and it’s an absolute stroke of genius that brings extra chaos and unpredictability to a genre that’s regularly celebrated for those innate traits.

Run and gun as long as you can. You never know when you’ll be “modified”.

Where Nexuiz falters is in the presentation. My first impressions were marred by text overspilling its notification box, terrible techno/dub-step tracks that were also looped badly, and poorly proofread menu screens. When the matchmaking pairs up enough players, the countdown timer leads to a lengthy load screen! Quite the anticlimax for a game that should offer instant thrills.

The presentation issues continue in-game: the ambient sound is surprisingly sparse, letting the wretched muzak set the mood; the announcer feebly croaks out updates in a way that makes one pine for the infective-enthusiasm of Unreal Tournament’s narrator*; and the guide that should give at-a-glance information on who is benefiting from the active modifier is a needlessly unintuitive colour-coded system, rather than simple icons.

With six players per game, it rarely took long to fill a match, and the maps regularly funnel the players together to keep the action moving. Players can’t join once the game is in progress, which regularly made the teams woefully unfair; but when the worst case scenario is three on one, it only becomes unfun against those rare, well-coordinated teams. Some skill or experience-based matchmaking would be appreciated – I’ve been on both sides of the skill gulf, alternating between giving and receiving absolute drubbings over the course of an evening (with such small teams, one skilled player can make a huge difference).

The melee system is regularly maddening – swing at a fleeing enemy and your character will charge forward, sometimes spinning wildly to follow the enemy’s circle-strafe. What is your reward for landing the blow? The enemy falls over with little fanfare. Scaling back the aim assist and stealing a page from the sound-design of Halo or Call of Duty would have done wonders to enhance the close-quarters combat.

This is what we call “pulling a Leroy Jenkins”.

Considering we’re talking about a ten dollar game, I can’t help but feel a little petty for highlighting the faults above. Nexuiz has managed to capture most of the essence of my favourite shooters from a decade ago, while adding a unique hook that does bring immense value to the proceedings. It must be noted, however, that the lack of polish did dent my overall enjoyment, regardless of the commendable amount of content crammed into this downloadable package.

So that’s Nexuiz: a solid old-school arena shooter that has no aspirations of revolutionizing the genre. For less than the price of most map-packs, this game manages to cram in an impressive amount of content, only hinting at its ‘budget’ status in the finer details – which may be enough of a deterrent for some. If you have ever groaned that multi-player shooters don’t require as much (or the same) skills as their predecessors, buy this game, register your interest, and keep the community alive.

* – Would it have killed them to throw in a “Boom! Headshot”?
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