It’s difficult these days to ignore the increasing popularity of online gaming. Or at least, the increased interest developers have on jumping onto the bandwagon. But with so many online shooters to choose from, many tend to come across as half-baked, simply recycling ideas of others without a shred of individuality. How refreshing then to play one which does manage to stand out.
Nuclear Dawn is one of a few games that began life as a modification built on Valve’s own Source engine which has since ascended to the ranks of a full scale commercial release. It’s a game hoping that by mixing traditional online FPS game-play with a healthy dose of real-time strategy will allow it to stand on it’s own merits rather than invite comparison. And it’s a game that very nearly succeeds where so many others have failed.
It’s not an entirely new concept, however. We’ve seen this splicing together of RTS and FPS before, often with mixed results. The style of play does manage to balance these two varying genres remarkably well together. For the most part you’ll be playing the game as a standard shooter. Here two teams – the Empire and Consortium – fight across the decaying landscapes of a future earth teetering on the brink of annihilation. There are four classes to play as and various objectives to capture on your way to giving the other team a healthy dose of near-future justice.
What makes this game different, then? Those objectives you have to capture fuel the progress of the entire game. While you and others fight it out across the barren landscapes, one player per team is given the responsibilities of running it all. Commanders over-watch the entire match in traditional RTS perspective, building bases that can only be constructed once the troops on the field successfully capture and hold the many resource nodes littering the streets. Ultimately both teams must work towards destroying the other’s bunker housing the enemy commander.
And so, the game hinges largely on how well you can work with others. Everyone has a part to play, and the entire game seems geared towards championing the urge to utilise individual abilities and strengths to help others. Resources themselves also occasionally require more than one person to capture, and always need protecting from subversive enemy players who can easily slip by and steal them away. But it’s how the soldiers in the field interact with their commanders where Nuclear Dawn really makes it’s mark.
Neither can work well alone. Want an upgrade for your weapon? Than gather those resources so your commander can build the structures that will allow you to acquire them. Likewise, buildings that can restore health and ammo and turrets that can help boost the defences of the captured resource points can’t be built until the commander has access to the materials needed for their construction. The commanders themselves have even more responsibilities.
It’s not easy being the one guy on which the entire match can depend on. A good commander can seize on the gains of his team-mates by building a succession of turret defences and forward spawn positions as the other players edge their way to the enemy base. A bad commander fails to take advantage of these and can have defences overrun, eventually facing the accusations by other team-mates over his incompetence. Neither role is as easy as it initially appears, but by embracing the team orientated nature of the game, both can work extremely well in securing that elusive victory.
The problem is that Nuclear Dawn doesn’t quite like to give you certain bits of information you really need. What tutorials there are simply involve watching a few videos. There’s no direct control, no ability to test the waters by getting to grips with the game before jumping in and playing online. It means that if you want to try your hands at commanding things, you’ll just have to dive in at the deep end and give it a go, hoping that the information you gathered from those videos sticks well enough in your mind to prevent making silly mistakes.
There’s also a tendency for the game to become extremely one sided when one of the teams gets on a winning streak. It’s easy for the loosing team to become swarmed towards the end of the match as the attackers pound their bunker into dirt. Loosing players then have very little time to react as they spawn in base and are subsequently bombarded by the numerous players each attacking the besieged bunker like buzzards circling a corpse. Commanders can initiate a surrender, but it’s a decision the rest of the team has to agree with, and not everyone will be willing enough to accept defeat even when it’s clear everything is lost.
For what Nuclear Dawn can get wrong however, the good points can out weigh the bad by a decent margin. True, the maps aren’t exactly in a plentiful supply; server population is hardly what you’d call swamped and the graphics do look outdated, but in this selfish age of personal glory, where so many online games reward people’s own self desires to inch closer to the top of the leaderboard, Nuclear Dawn’s insistence on getting people to help each other is what eventually gives it the edge it needs to stand out. While perhaps forgotten in the recent rash of popular online action games, ND deserves more recognition and a healthy and thriving community to what it currently has.
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