Every now and then here at GD Towers, we like to hop into something a little multiplayer together, and own noobs, as I believe the young people say. This week, Squee, Felix and Prolific braved the post-apocalyptic RTS-FPS-mashup Nuclear Dawn together. But did they find it shimmering with radioactive light or blistering with ugly pustules from the fallout?
This is how Nuclear Dawn works: There are two teams of future soldiers split into squads, who attempt to take over the map; in the version we played the maps were generally devastated areas of a city. So far, I felt that it was basically the same as a lot of online shooter games. Throw into the mix a selection of classes - support, heavy, stealth, and assault, then allow these classes to choose their weapon load outs - a support soldier could be an engineer or medic for example, and I was really beginning to think BF2, where you also select a class, choose a spawn point closest to the action and get stuck in with your squad. I am afraid it’s still pretty similar to a lot of games that have been and gone, not to mention the approach of some multiplayer giants on the horizon.
Well the ace up its sleeve is the global support where one lucky soldier can take on the role of “THE COMMANDER”. Sounds like some Doctor Who enemy: “THE COMMANDER”. OK, I will stop doing that now.
The… commander sits in a bunker back at home base and places turrets and other useful buildings on the map, strategically blocking any enemy from getting within 100 meters of him, allowing him to pretty much ignore the FPS part of the game going on around, while performing a support and tactical development role instead. Huddled in the command bunker THE COMMANDER gets a bird’s eye view of the battlefield and enjoys a real time strategy game that is every bit as hectic as the FPS side. Turrets and supply depots must be placed around the map, the FPS players can be given orders to attack certain targets and the commander is also responsible for providing new spawn points, as well as making sure the whole lot is hooked up to a huge power grid he has built. Your mission is to develop your base fast, moving towards the enemy.
Now if that all sounds pretty hectic, then you are not the only one to think that. The game plays fast with little room for error. And this being multiplayer, don’t expect your team mates to be particularly forgiving!
Learning curves for multiplayer games are sometimes not all that fun. Sure, any old gamer can pick up a FPS and puzzle out one end of a minigun from the other pretty quickly, but there are minimaps to contend with, spawn points to master and the million and one intricacies and gimmicks that come with any new game. Whereas in single-player affairs you can take your time, drink a nice cup of tea and ruminate over the inner mysteries of the thing until you’re good and ready. Nuclear Dawn certainly doesn’t give you that luxury. Everything about this game that you’re going to learn, you’re going to do under fire. What on earth are those big structures with the lasers coming out the top? Blam – headshot. How do I capture a resource point, and what are they for? Boom – grenade. What in the holy name of Darth Vader is that huge, pulsing red thing on my minimap? Sluice – stealth knives in the gizzard.
But that’s the nature of multiplay. Some kind of slow tutorial or even an offline mode played with harmless bots would be enough to allow a basic grasp of things before you pile into the online arena. But no, that’s not to be.
Now, I’m going to gloss over the FPS game. Suffice to say, it’s mostly the same as other control-point capturing games, with the notable exception of all of the deployable hardware that each of the commanders spams the map with during play. Blowing away enemy turrets or power nodes will slow their advance into your territory, giving you a chance to fortify your positions and counterattack. Capturing resource points allows your commander to do more research, allowing you more options when you come to choose your loadout each time you respawn…
So much for the FPS. There’s a basic kind of rock-paper-scissors to it all, with Stealth beating Exo beating Assault beating Stealth, but most of what makes Nuclear Dawn interesting and, dare I say it, fun, ties back in to the commander. It’s a position of great responsibility, and without a good commander you’re pretty much doomed.
As Felix mentioned, it’s a pretty thankless task, and fraught with challenges of its own. Aside from building structures to resupply your boys in the field and turrets to protect yourself from sneaky griefers, you’re needing to issue orders for the troops to best coordinate the battlefield, and when your troops have all of the discipline of a classroom full of adolescents (because that’s precisely what they are), it’s a bit like herding cats.
And it doesn’t end there. After furiously trying your level best to provide support and assistance to your whole team, when the balance of power finally does tip and one side gets the advantage, everyone is forced to play out a long, drawn-out endgame where the losing commander inevitably has to weather an assault on his own ego just as the winning commander enjoys every sweet second of the thing. These long endgames, when the battle is a foregone conclusion and the losing side is just spawning, running around for a bit and then dying until their last defences fall, are not the best thing about Nuclear Dawn, I’m afraid.
If the truth is told, there’s not a lot in Nuclear Dawn that is desperately original. The minimap is at times quite confusing, the learning curve could have been shallowed out with a decent offline tutorial and the overall FPS experience doesn’t really break new ground. BUT, when everything’s working fluidly, and teamwork is gelling, and you truly come to understand the secrets of the evocative and multi-leveled maps, there is a glistening nugget of gameplay gold for anyone willing to mine through the tough crust.
Having not played many team-based shooters in recent times (that double-combo of wife and work is a killer), I was looking forward to a quick blast on Nuclear Dawn. My enthusiasm was obvious, as I immediately ran off from the rest of the group, screaming for blood, and was blown into meaty can-sized chunks by the opposition.
Nuclear Dawn is all about teamwork, and how much fun you wring from it depends entirely on the people you play with. In a group of friends, all kitted out with headsets and communicating like an elite squad, it can be an enjoyable way to waste an evening. There's enough variety in the different classes and weapons to suit all styles of play, from the well-armoured tank to the sneaky sniper, and your team's success depends on finding the right balance.
The levels themselves are well designed, and distinctive enough to quickly learn your way around. Unfortunately, the balance of weapons seems to be off-kilter. Playing as the tank, I found his minigun was nowhere near as powerful as expected, and even lightly armoured opponents often withstood several seconds of heavy fire before finally dropping. I eventually stuck with the pistol and managed to kill plenty of enemies who were armed with automatic rifles or heavy weaponry, simply because it was more accurate.
While I definitely prefer the likes of Team Fortress and Unreal for some fast-paced team deathmatch action, at least Nuclear Dawn has tried something new with the Commander role. However, as Squee pointed out, this means your team is highly dependent on the performance of a single member. If the Commander doesn't properly fortify your base, or research the essential upgrades, then you're going to get stomped no matter how many skulls you shatter.
That said, I really enjoyed taking on the role, which is one hell of a power trip. You can direct your troops into battle using the overhead view, shouting out enemy positions and keeping them safe, between building up a network of turrets and watching in sadistic glee as they rip apart invaders. Just don't make the mistake of getting up to visit the bathroom or grab a pack of Monster Munch, as you could return to find your base is a smouldering wreck.
If you're looking for an alternative co-op game and have a group of mates who are willing to give it a go, you could do a lot worse than Nuclear Dawn. Its around £16.99 at the moment on Steam.