Review: Nexuiz

Nexuiz

It’s time to party like it’s 1999 in Nexuiz, a multiplayer shooter that manages to accomplish what its designers apparently set out to do: Recreate the same kind of deathmatch vibe that Unreal Tournament gave us when it rocket-jumped onto PCs back at the tail end of the Grunge Decade.

Whether you find that goal admirable or completely pointless will go a long way toward determining whether you’re interested in scooping up a railgun and boost-jumping around the nine beautifully designed maps Illfonic has created for your retro enjoyment. Given that we currently have somewhere in the vicinity of 10 bazillion deeper multiplayer shooter options to choose from on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, something tells me the latter camp’s gonna outgun the former.

Nexuiz—pronounce it “nexus”– couldn’t be more bare-bones, even for a ten-dollar download. There’s a tissue-paper setup about intergalactic conflict between the Kavussari and the Forsellians (frankly, you could just have easily called them the Red Guys and the Blue Guys and been done with it) and then you’re set free to bop around with bots or try to find some friends to rock the multiplayer. There are only two game modes here (Deathmatch and Capture the Flag), nine weapons and no level upgrades. It’s not survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the leanest.

The only place Nexuiz sets itself apart from the standard-issue multiplayer FPS pack is in its use of “dynamic mutators,” randomized power-ups that change up the action in silly and strategic ways. You might scoop up and deploy one to teleport all your enemies right into your weapon’s sightline, mess with the environmental gravity, or give everyone a big head, a la NBA Jam. Messing around with these is one of the few instances where Nexuiz shows some promise. Rocketing around in a suddenly black-and-white world felt fun, even if it was only a temporary jolt.

Of course, you’d have to find squadmates and enemies in these beautiful environs to really rock it, and that’s also an issue. In more than one match, my capture-the-flag squad started at the maximum four—4 v.4 is as extensive as Nexuiz gets–and dropped down to two within the span of five minutes. That’s not exactly a hopeful indicator of Nexuiz’s long-term viability.

Nexuiz clearly revels in its move-or-die modus operandi, but the speed of the action, fueled by the same engine that gave us last year’s Crysis 2, is almost too much for the 360 controller to manage. Even with the copious platform-boosters and teleporters that seem to crop up every five feet in the Mayan Temple and Renaissance Castle-themed levels, you’ll still find yourself careening off ledges and platforms to annoying and untimely deaths, simply because you’re zipping around so quickly. You’d like to think that in the distant sci-future, controlled movement would be something advanced alien races might have mastered.

There’s a PC version of Nexuiz coming through Steam, and it’s easy to see how traditional keyboard-mouse controls will be better positioned to harness the game’s speedy elements. And tap into a larger, more online FPS-savvy audience. In the XBLA (and soon to be PSN) environment, it’s impossible to escape the sense that Illfonic has succeeded in meticulously recreating the videogame equivalent of a Sony Walkman. Too bad everyone else is busy rocking MP3 players.

SkipIt

Pros:
+ Beautiful level design shows a lot of attention to detail
+ The big head power-up is always good for a laugh

Cons:
– Action’s too speedy for a console controller to manage
– Deserted servers drastically undercut the multiplayer vibe
– Super-shallow gameplay options

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360 via XBLA, also coming soon to PC and PSN
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Illfonic
Release Date: 2/29/2012
Genre: Multiplayer FPS
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-8 (online and offline with bots)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.