Nexuiz Review: Speed Kills

Tired of bunny-hopping, rocket launcher kiddies in Halo, sawed-off shotgun wall huggers in Gears of War, or cowardly campers in Call of Duty? Then maybe you should consider Nexuiz, an updated return to the old school arena shooter.

Platforms: Xbox 360
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Illfonic
Genre: Team-Based Shooter That’s Not Quake III Arena
Release Date: February 29, 2012
ESRB Rating: Teen

Nexuiz (pronounced “Nexus,” even though it looks like it was typed out by someone mid-sneeze) was originally a popular Quake III Arena mod, and its heritage shines through. The pace is true Quake, meaning it’s ridiculously fast, making Halo and Call of Duty feel downright sluggish. The arena shooter is all about speed and skill, rewarding accuracy, quick evasiveness and twitch reflexes, while punishing those spoon-fed on regenerative health (which is non-existent in Nexuiz), no-skill high splash damage weapons (ditto), and camping hidey holes (stop moving for an instant and you just make yourself an easy kill). Speed and movement are as much a weapon as the gun in your hands, and it can be pretty brutal for those not used to the furious pace and action. Real twitch shooter skills are required, something Quake and Unreal Tournament vets, or newer FPS fans looking for a challenge, will enjoy.

Weapons are nicely balanced, ranging from the starting shotgun (which has unlimited ammo) to the rocket launcher, mortar, SMG, and sniper rifle. Every weapon has a secondary fire mode and, best of all, you never have to reload. Yup, as long as you have enough ammo (which is plentifully spread across the maps), you can keep firing without a pause. Nice.

The game supports up to eight players and comes with nine maps, each tailored specifically for either Team Deathmatch or Capture the Flag. This helps focus the action for each gametype, creating plenty of flanking opportunities for TDM, while forcing flag carriers out into the open in CTF. Each map is littered with jump pads and teleporters, along with ammo, armor and weapon pickups that quickly respawn. When you die (and you will, a lot), you are put back into the battle within seconds, so you thankfully don’t have to endure the annoying fixed respawn cycle plaguing some other shooters.

There is an offline single player mode, but that’s really just for learning the maps. Playing against bots gets boring fast, and you don’t earn any stats for doing so. The game lives and dies on multiplayer, which means it needs a thriving and enthusiastic community to support it – but with the big budget titles grabbing everyone’s attention, this may be easier said than done.

However, what makes Nexuiz stand out from the crowd is its over 100 mutators. Either picked up on the map or earned through in-game accomplishments, mutators can be activated at will and temporarily change the game dynamics, like benefiting you or your team with unlimited ammo, replenished health or increased weapon damage. But they can also be used to mess with your opponents by deleting their HUD, screwing up their hit detection indicators (i.e. telling them they are getting hit from the left when it’s actually coming from the right), or the nastiest of all, flipping their Y-axis controls. Evil! There are even fun mutators like turning the screen black and white, making fart noises, turning corpses into bombs, activating a nuke that kills everyone (including yourself) and, best of all, an old school graphics mode that turns everything into chunky 8-bit blocks. Very cool!

Graphically, the game looks fantastic, thanks to CryEngine 3. Although there isn’t much variation in character design, everything looks great, especially the outdoor maps. Of course, you really can’t afford to take in the scenery since you need to keep moving to stay alive. The game’s ability to maintain a smooth framerate for such fast-paced action is also to be commended.

As fun and frenetic as the game is, there are a few downsides. Getting into a lobby is fast, but getting into a game is not. You have to wait until there are at least six players before a game launches, and the wait can sometimes stretch into several minutes. If a player drops out mid-game, his team is basically screwed because the balance of power massively shifts to the other team, and players can’t join a game in progress. The electronic disco music can also be a little grating – that’s one aspect of classic shooters that I definitely do not miss.

But the biggest downside is the previously mentioned need for continuing support from players. Granted, most shooters live and die online, but most shooters also have a robust single player or offline multiplayer/co-operative mode. Nexuiz is severely lacking in offline replayability, so if you’re going to invest the money (an admittedly small $10), you also need to invest the time to help keep the game alive.

Nexuiz is certainly worth it if you love the fast, skill-based frenzy of classic arena shooters. The mutators definitely make things interesting and fun, but the longevity of the game is a concern. Even so, at only $10, shooter fans should consider Nexuiz for their library.

Review Disclosure: A review copy of Nexuiz was provided by Illfonic for the purposes of this review.

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