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Do you yearn for the good old days of first-person shooters when men were men, reloading didn't exist, and rocket launchers were all the rage? If so, Nexuiz might be your kind of game. It tries to bring back the fast-paced, stripped-down multiplayer action from the Quake era.
In Nexuiz, two teams of four players face off in Team Deathmatch or Capture the Flag modes. Everyone starts with a shotgun, and other weapons are strewn about the map in the usual fashion. The frantic, close quarters action ends after ten minutes or when one team gets the required number of kills or flag captures. It's as basic a multiplayer shooter as you'll find.
The appeal of an arena-style shooter, in theory, is that it's very easy to pick up and play. Even someone with little to no shooter experience will figure it out quickly because there aren't any complicated features to bog them down. The other main characteristic of an arena game is that it's pure. You'll soon learn where the choice weapon picks-up are so your success is simply based on your ability to shoot and dodge. There's no tank or turrets to hide in. The problem with Nexuiz, though, is that it fails to be either a convenient diversion or a test of skill.
Hopping into a match takes just a couple presses of a button. The game promptly matches you up with seven players and away you go. However, the rest of the ride isn't so smooth. If someone leaves the match before it completes, the game doesn't pull in a replacement so you're stuck with imbalanced teams. If the player hosting the game leaves, the match migrates to a new host but this feature had very mixed results. On a couple occasions, the new host that the game selected had such a bad connection that the rest of us couldn't move. However, he could and he spent the rest of the match running around and picking off his immobile opponents (until we quit, anyway). I experienced a lot of smaller latency spikes as well, so enemies would regularly flop over seconds after I shot them.
An important component of an arena shooter is the arena itself. Nexuiz ships with nine maps, designed specifically for TDM or CTF modes. A few of them have a sort of futuristic Victorian design that looks incredible. However, the maps feel like they were originally designed for a higher player count. They're a bit too large for eight (or fewer) players so you'll spend a lot of time searching for someone to frag. Rather than feeling like one coherent arena, the maps are often smaller levels split up by teleports and jump pads so it's even harder to find prey. The random "pits of death" are very grating, too.
Nexuiz' most unique feature, Dynamic Mutators, is also its most problematic. Mutators are randomized power-ups you can acquire by finding them on the map, racking up a killstreak, or capturing a flag. These power-ups can help you and your team or hurt your opponents. For example, you can get infinite ammo or make your opponents cause themselves damage when they jump. There are over a hundred of these mutators, each with the potential to turn your match upside down in a hurry.
The initial issue with these Mutators is that it undermines the competitive aspect of the game. Success is no longer just about how well you can shoot or how well you can strafe - it's also about what power-up is active. The fact that these power-ups are mostly random, and your teammate might have grabbed it instead of you, takes a bit of the flavor out of your kills or flag captures. When I took down an opponent, there was always a slight suspicion that I was luckier than him rather than more skilled.
The developers try to give you some control over these Mutators to give the game a strategic flair. However, these attempts are poorly executed. When you acquire a power-up, you're given three to choose from. There doesn't seem to be a time limit on this choice, either, so it's up to you to decide when you activate this Mutator. However, your choice of Mutators is listed in the bottom corner of the screen with big icons and small text. It's not practical to inspect your choices in the midst of a firefight. Again, there are over 100 of these power-ups so it'll be awhile before you can identify them by icon alone.
The game's progression system also tries to remove some of the randomness of Mutators. Over time you earn "pips" to invest in specific power-ups which increase their chances of popping up for you. Earning these pips is very slow, though; it takes about a half-dozen games just to get one. For private matches, you actually get a full set of pips to distribute however you want. It might've been a good idea to do the same for ranked matches. It feels silly that you have to spend hours in the game to earn the right to smooth out one of the game's weak spots.
Nexuiz makes little effort to explain mutators, the progression system, or the weapons to you while you're playing. You need to browse the manual in the main menu to find out, for example, what the hell a Hagar is or what its secondary attack is. It's nice when a game can throw you into a gunfight seconds after you boot it up, but it'd be better if they didn't send you in blind.
It's easy to start playing Nexuiz but the game offers you little reason to keep playing it. The messy and confusing execution washes away its minimalist charm very quickly. It's not a terrible game but I also can't think of any reason to recommend it.
Platforms: PC, Xbox Live Arcade (reviewed), PSN
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