Before loadouts, before character customization, before reloading, before aiming down sights, friends were trash talking, humiliating, and dominating each other in living room LAN battles across the country. The challengers: Quake III: Arena and Unreal Tournament, multiplayer fragfests that drained countless sleepless hours from players in a mixture of motion blur and snap reflexes. Soon, however, online gaming extended grudge matches to the luxury of man caves as dial-up Internet connections played the song of their people. And then, nothing. After Unreal Tournament 2K4's launch, arena shooters left a sizable gap once current generation platforms shipped.
Nexuiz looks to occupy that rift as a paid version of the original Quake mod. On the store page, a blurb reads, “Arena FPS is back – inspired by the giants of the Arena FPS genre, Nexuiz reinvents twitch gaming for next generation consoles and PC.” But some would claim arena shooters never left. Quake IV started this console cycle strong, with Prey filling the tall order months later. Even Tribes: Ascend carries the mantle of its bygone colleagues, albeit at a slower, less spray-and-pray pace. So why reinvent what’s perfect? Arena shooters have remained strangely resilient to the Call of Duty craze, and it’s clear which multiplayer brew Nexuiz would rather consume.
Like Quake III, the developers promote Nexuiz’s narrative to give your involvement credence. Two clans, the Kavussari and the Forsellians, waged war for centuries. Now their fragile truce prevents these tribes from bloodying their battlefields. Instead, they pit their best warriors in televised team competitions that alter the laws of physics. But the only takeaway players need is to “shoot opposite color dudes.”
The Light, Medium, and Heavy body types differ for pure cosmetic reasons.
Nexuiz features nine maps, with six being dedicated to classic team deathmatch and three harboring capture the flag. The arenas themselves contain a sharp visual flair, whether you’re circumventing the precarious ledges of an overgrown temple or hurdling from the third-story balcony of an ornate palace, and yet they would be more impressive if not for the lowly 4v4 player limit. Multi-tiered stages, regardless of the plentiful jump pads and teleporters, feel hollow. Rarely did matches show signs of human existence (remember, it’s a free weekend at the time of this writing). I don’t play arena shooters to examine the scenery, but that was the lone option available when minutes passed before I made contact with another living being.
On the flipside, finally partaking in combat is an erratic experience, characterized by fighters that dodge explosions with the acceleration of an Olympic sprinter. The PC version of Nexuiz lauds faster movement speeds over its console doppelgangers too, an unfortunate concession the developers enforced for less accurate gamepads. On a keyboard and mouse, Nexuiz replicates the rapid, escalating chaos cherished by Unreal Tournament/Quake veterans. Players begin each round with a shotgun, but depending on the host’s filters, rocket launchers, mortars, sniper rifles, and machine guns also pepper the stages. We've all sampled this conventional weapon platter before, yet the gameplay still indulges your hunger via the satisfaction of gibbing rivals with perfectly arched grenades and synchronized RPG takedowns. Move quick, however, or you’ll be staring down the barrel of rebounding shrapnel.
Sadly, arena shooters live or dies by their latency, and I encountered several servers problems shared by cohorts and competitors alike. Lag spikes delay volatile detonations and prohibit the the smooth, frictionless momentum so inherent to this genre. Servers frequently booted me right back to the main menu after a match as well, irregardless of whether or not the host lost connection.
That's not your grandma's egg timer counting down in the background.
I questioned Nexuiz’s existence until I experienced the mutators that separate this FPS from its adversaries. Every killing spree, flag captured, and dynamic pickup rewards you with a selection of three random mutators that affect you, your team, the enemy team, or everyone in play. Pick carefully, because you can only choose one power, and the effect doesn't last long. Obvious game-changers include infinite ammo, lower gravity, invulnerability, and instagib, but its the out-of-the-blue mutators that make Nexuiz unique. Wild Fire causes opponents’ weapons to shoot in uncontrollable directions, Team Spawn teleports allies to your location once they perish, and Detonate selects one player at random to become a ticking time bomb. Other mutators are merely for laughs. Pogo forces all participants to bunny hop around the level, and Bumper Cars deflects shield-encased victims like pinballs upon contact.
Match experience doesn’t go to waste, either. Gamers purchase “pips” for specific mutators, increasing their appearance chances during dynamic pickups, but the prospect of rolling the mutator you need is a crapshoot. Nexuiz divides its modifiers into five tiers, and more powerful mutators – such as a fifth tier Uber-Nuke that slays all players – cost more points per pip than, say, a first tier Decoy. While I heard teammates voicing concerns that the luck of the draw diminishes skill in a genre known for millisecond response times, the mutators add another layer of depth to keep players on their toes and the repetition off their backs.
Nexuiz even looks good for a downloadable shooter, especially when powered by Crytek’s CryEngine 3. The visuals have improved since the game’s first appearance on consoles (as Microsoft places firm restrictions on Arcade file sizes), with extra detail having been applied to firearms and character models. I give this vote of confidence alongside one qualifier: turning on anti-aliasing. Without the anti-aliasing filter, environment textures are rigid enough to slice your retinas.
I admit I grew fond of Nexuiz and its courage to innovate on the Quake/UT formula, at least. Muscle memory returned with each rocket fired, and recollections of video game cafes poured through my mind’s photo album. Except there’s no real reason to spend money on Nexuiz despite its contemporary mutators, as the active amount of amateurs will just exponentially drop once the weekend concludes. Unless the thrill of team deatchmatch against lethargic bots piques your excitement, heed my warning. Besides, both the browser-based Quake Live and free-to-play Tribes: Ascend offer more polished experiences and players at no cost to you.
Release Date: May 10, 2012 (PC), February 29, 2012 (XBLA)
Number of Players: 2-8 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), XBLA, PSN