Console based FPS multiplayer has long seen a shift from twitch-reaction, fast-paced arena shooters to the more realistic and measured military games that dominate servers today. So, it is with a combination of nostalgia, curiosity and bewilderment that Nexuiz (pronounced ‘nexus’) is unleashed upon console gamers through XBLA and, in the near future, the PSN. A retooling of the free 2005 PC game, now referred to as Nexuiz Classic, the Illfonic developed remake comes to consoles with a new coat of paint, new engine and new price tag.
For 800MSP Nexuiz, originally running on a heavily modified version of the Quake engine but now transferred to CryEngine 3, brings with it all the bells and whistles you’d expect from Crytek’s graphical powerhouse. Gamers weaned on tactical multiplayer (or even the ability to take a breather mid-game in some far-flung corner of the map) could find Nexuiz comes either as something of a shock, or even appear as archaic. It’s been a long time since arena-based multiplayer shooters had a strong foothold on consoles – the last major franchises being the Unreal and Quake instalments – and Nexuiz does come across as something of a museum-piece, at least at the beginning.
First off, for those gamers looking for a story – or even a short campaign – beware. The story of Nexuiz could be summarised simply as ‘red team wants to kill blue team, and vice versa’ yet Illfonic construct a rather pointless pair of enemies and try to explain their motives. The speed with which these details are barked at you in the opening cutscene only accentuates how unnecessary it really is, especially when the single player campaign consists solely of multiplayer sans-real people, instead populated by bots on the same maps you’d find in multiplayer anyway. Despite the backstory and jargon-heavy exposition presented during loading screens there’s a distinct lack of personality to the combatants, maps or weapons. The conflict of the Kavussari and Forsellian forces comes across entirely as window-dressing, inconsequential considering you don’t get to pick sides anyway.
Gameplay is solid although rather sparse; there are only two multiplayer modes – Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag – both industry standards. The defining gimmicks of the game are the ‘Dynamic Mutators’ that are selectable during each match. Either through picking up an item, achieving an objective or demonstrating skill a player is given the option of selecting from a random trio of mutators that can range from the familiar (low gravity, health regeneration) to the bizarre (one such mutator, titled ‘Oh James!’ grants every player the appearance of Illfonic animator James Haynes) These help Nexuiz avoid scraping the bottom of the blandness barrel and provide each match with a degree of randomisation. There are enough mutators that it will take a great deal of playtime to come across them all, inspiring players to invest more time in the game, and there are some genuinely quirky examples to discover.
It’s a shame then, that there isn’t that much to offer to while away that time. The selection of maps are designed to highlight the strengths of gameplay – verticality, warp points, jump pads abound – but the rather limited range means they can become repetitive. The single player mode works less as a campaign and more as a tutorial for each map, allowing you to practice before hitting Quick Match. A point-based levelling system works both in single and multiplayer (allowing you to assign ‘pips’ to influence certain mutators) but is far too demanding, turning the game into one gigantic grind. Points are gained through kills, use of mutators, flag captures and the like - all augmented with bonuses - but the meagre amounts bestowed mean rewards seem a far fetched prospect. Top-tier levels look for points in the five-digit amounts; with 15 points the average for a kill, that Level 5 mutator is a blur on the horizon.
The aesthetics of each map show off the power of CryEngine 3 – moss-encrusted ruins and pseudo-Victorian cityscapes catch your eye and, to avoid sounding too much like a Joss Whedon character, are wonderfully shiny. The amount of effects on show adds to the overwhelming optical stimulation, especially during the more frenetic parts of each match. While this design extends to the weapons they are underwhelming in terms of performance – there are your standard shotgun, sniper rifle and rocket launcher stalwarts, all lacking the sound and fury you’d typically find in other shooters.
Perhaps the biggest problem that afflicts Nexuiz would be the matchmaking and server host migration issues that burden the rhythm of the game. During time spent playing, most was frittered away waiting in lobbies for other players who would often pop in only to migrate away after minutes of inactivity. Matches, although open to 8 players, often started with just 4 players and disconnects were common, resulting in a few minutes of downtime wherein the game would often reset. It’s a problem that could hopefully become less frequent as more people buy the game but it’s crippling for a title so reliant on matchmaking. Lobbies took upwards of 6 minutes to fill to base capacity and, while the games themselves ran without a hitch so long as players stayed connected, if anyone left it descended into a madness of lag and aggravatingly reset map positions.
The lingering issue, however, would be the pervasive feeling that this has all been done before – years ago, for that matter. It’s hard to see beyond the generic feel of every part of the game; there isn’t a standout map, weapon or mode. From the title menu to the matches (underscored by tracks only slightly more memorable than elevator-muzak) nothing stays with you beyond the gameplay itself which is redeemed solely by the presence of the mutators – something else that’s already been done before. For adrenaline junkies looking for a game faster than your average military shooter, or a console devotee willing to experience a glimmer of PC nostalgia Nexuiz will prove a worthy distraction albeit nothing more. There are, however, better shooters out there which offer a more complete package – Team Fortress 2 covers a lot of the same beats but is an ocean of personality compared to Nexuiz’s puddle. Is it worth 800MSP for what was essentially a 7-year old game released for free on PC? Perhaps – it’s solid and with a larger community could improve. It’s a shame then that the community it targets may well be the PC players who are already spoilt for choice in the arena-FPS genre.
Nexuiz is by no means a bad game – just nothing special amidst the current crop of shooters. Like a lovingly restored vintage car it shines on the outside but can’t compare to the feature-heavy, powerful models just released. For the price, though, it’s worth taking it for spin – just don’t go expecting the ride of your life.