Nuclear Dawn ReviewPublisher: Interwave Studios
Platform: PC exclusive
UK Price (as reviewed): £16.99 (inc VAT)
US Price (as revewed): $19.99 (ex tax)
Starting life as an amateur mod for the Source engine five years ago, Nuclear Dawn is finally available to buy. However, while you might be initially put off by its hobbyist roots, Nuclear Dawn manages to pack much more innovation than your average blockbuster. A combination of RTS and FPS gameplay, Nuclear Dawn is multiplayer-focused and divides players into two teams. One player on each team is a commander with an overhead strategic view of the map, while the rest are soldiers on the battlefield, with the ultimate aim of destroying the other team’s command bunker.
Commanders can build spawn points and turrets, make new equipment available, and issue orders to the team, all of which require resources that must be captured by the soldiers - who themselves divide into four classes. Each class (Heavy, Medium, Light and Support) has access to different load-outs, as well as a special ability that goes along predictable lines - the Light class is recon-focused, for example, and can fade from sight.
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The classes work in a rock-paper-scissors fashion: light beats heavy, heavy beats medium, medium beats light, and support is beaten by everyone but has some useful tools to compensate. As such, it’s important to have a good mix of classes on your team, as well as a commander who can effectively communicate and coordinate the combatants they're watching.
Although most lack verticality, the maps are well designed, offering a variety of approaches. Choke points tend to naturally emerge after a few minutes of play and will become focal points of violence, but specifics can vary as commanders lay out their structures differently. Buildings never block the way either, meaning it's always possible to run cheekily over to an enemy command bunker when they aren't looking.
As is often the case for multiplayer games, how much fun you'll get out of a level depends both on the quality and familiarity of your fellow players - it's always best to play with friends, but you also need them to be good. Nuclear Dawn isn't like Team Fortress 2, where players can have fun by pursuing their own objectives; they need to communicate and plot their attacks carefully. If one team doesn’t play in unison, or their commander is useless, the balance quickly shifts and it becomes near impossible to reverse the flow. These matches descend into a pointless slug towards inevitability, usually with players leaving the losing team. It’s possible to start a mutiny and replace a rubbish commander, but is that fun? No.
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Unfortunately, the servers are only sparsely populated, so there's not much in the way of choice. To play instantly you’ll usually need to join a game in progress and, more often than not, the winning team is full and it's only the losers who've fled the game. You can sometimes turn your fate around if you're with some mates, but otherwise you'd best reconcile yourself to sailing a sinking ship and taking the place of rats who've already fled.
One possible cause for the disparity between decent and clueless players is the lack of a playable tutorial. Slickly produced videos explain the basic mechanics of the game, but without any interaction it’s overwhelming and baffling, which is a shame as Nuclear Dawn isn't overly complex and can be incredibly rewarding.
It's unfortunate to see Nuclear Dawn suffer from such simple errors, as underneath these tiny flaws is an above-average game with some new, interesting ideas at its core. If you're playing with friends or get lucky with a random server, it can be a lot of fun - but often that's not the case and as a result Nuclear Dawn doesn't quite earn the recommendation it's otherwise capable of receiving.