The first person shooter has certainly come a long way since the fledgling days of Doom and Quake. But amongst the very modern day tropes like prestige levelling and n00b tubes, the simple adrenaline rush of rocket jumps, death from above and jump pads has been lost somewhat in the crush to outdo the latest pretender to the Call of Duty throne. It seems like developers Illfonic share a similar opinion as they bring their creation, Nexuiz, to Xbox Live Arcade.
The approach found in Nexuiz is as straightforward as you can get; it’s all about arena combat. Sure, there’s the briefest of set ups about two warring forces, but this merely acts as a framing device to hang the action upon. There’s no flimsy campaign and no pretense to be something other than action focused, either online with up to eight other random players or with a party of friends. Whichever you choose, there’s plenty of opportunity for indulging in a spot of Capture the Flag and Team Deathmatch variants, which can be battled out across eight different maps.
It should be no surprise that the genesis of Nexuiz lies in it being a modification of the original Quake engine, which has now been supplanted by Crytek’s Cry Engine technology for this release. Its use contributes to Nexuiz looking pretty smart, without the feeling that it’s being overtly flashy. The action is super-fast, essential for an arena shooter like this, with a nice frame rate and everything runs smoothly, even when the host drops out. The migration process is handled well, albeit creating a minor delay but still, kudos to Illfonic for making the transition relatively painless.
Of the nine maps included, each location is varied and certainly conforms to the genre standards. Strength and Tension share a neo-classical look, all ornate surfaces brimming with intricate detail, rubbing up against futuristic flourishes. Vertigo is an apt description for a ruined location suspended in the air with a distinct Asian temple vibe, right through to the industrial look of Refinery with its central core surrounded by branching paths littered with jump pads. The only issue with them is that, while technically impressive, there’s nothing here that will genuinely surprise.
Other staples include Armour shards as well as weapon pickups sequestered in tricky locations, usually reached by using strategically placed jump pads (oh, how delightful it is to be reacquainted with such concepts) which lead to trying to obtain full sets of Armour or clamoring for a favored weapon.
Speaking of which, the weaponry in Nexuiz won’t surprise anyone with its selection and many will feel like sticking with the default shotgun since it packs a great punch at mid to short distances. Of course everyone will immediately hone in on the Rocket Launcher, such is their lure, with battles more of than not degenerating into races to locate and exploit them. There is a variant in the form of the Mortar, but it doesn’t quite cut the mustard in the same way. Sadly what they all have in common is the feeling that you’re wielding a pea-shooter, as the weaponry (bar one or two exceptions) feels lightweight and without substance, with bullets discharging with more of a whimper than a bang.
While it largely conforms to everything set before it, the differentiators in Nexuiz come in the form of Dynamic Modifiers. Placed around the arenas, these can be used to change the course of a battle, or alternatively, can provide a great deal of mirth. Adding the homing ability to Rocket Launchers results in utter carnage, while making everyone pogo around the arena results in silliness of epic proportions, adding a nice light touch for when battles become heated or slightly too serious.
The initial joy of a title like Nexuiz comes because it revels in what it does best, but this soon gives way the overwhelming feeling that it belongs on the PC or open platforms where dedicated fans will pour over the engine, tweaking all manner of variables while generally tending to its premise and content to keep it alive. In the continual churn of Xbox Live Arcade titles the unshakable feeling of it becoming forgotten in next to no time is disappointing, but probably not far off the mark. If the likes of Section 8: Prejudice or Breach cannot hold the attention, then you have to question what Nexuiz offers to make itself any different.
For a rose-tinted look back at online shooters, without having to nab a pair of 3D FX Voodoo cards to use in an SLI configuration, Nexuiz is a fun distraction. Everyone else will probably shrug and wonder what the fuss is all about.
(Disclaimer – Nexuiz was played with the game developers and other journalists prior to release and also with in-game bots and the review therefore is based on these conditions)