Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
Developer: InterWave Studios
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7/Mac OSX 10.6.7, Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz or better CPU, 2 GB memory, 6 GB hard-drive space, 128 MB DirectX 9-compatible graphics card with Shader 2.0b support, DirectX 9.0c-compatible sound device
ESRB rating: Not rated
Release date: Available now
My PC brethren, turn in your hymnals to #1337, and sing along with me: “Mods are good, mods are great, mods are things we appreciate.” Some of your favorite games started out as mods, and the others were undoubtedly influenced by them. Indie developer InterWave has been in the Source mod scene for a while now. Both Stargate: Last Stand and Insurgency (which is quite nice) are notches on their collective belts. Tossing the budget-o-meter up from “freebie” to “costs money,” they’ve cranked out the generic-titled Nuclear Dawn, which proclaims to offer a “full FPS and RTS experience within a single gameplay model, without crippling or diluting either side of the game.” Featuring six maps and 32-player matches, Nuclear Dawn isn’t just a funny pun on my mother-in-law’s name. It’s the best multiplayer FPS that you should be playing right now.
On the FPS side, Nuclear Dawn features four classes, each with different loadouts. Each class is marked by its own activated ability. The Exo can go into lockdown mode, turning into a living chaingun turret. This is countered by the Stealth, who can use (gasp!) stealth to run around and stab said Exos, who in turn are countered again by Soldiers and their stealth-detecting thermal goggles. Meanwhile, the Support class decides to stay out of it and tosses medkits, repairs buildings, or barbeques everyone. All classes are bolstered with the gradual unlocking of attachments. The unlocks simply add tactical versatility instead of greater power. If you’re a skilled player, you can top scoreboards regardless of rank.
Yet, this old formula gets really interesting when you have two commanders playing the game like an RTS against each other. Now you have to capture and hold resource nodes so your leader can build, using a deep tech-tree to unlock goodies or drop turrets on the field. Forward spawn points, fueled by a network of power relays, let the battle change momentum in ways that static control points never do, as you push forward to knock down the enemy’s command bunker.
The RTS/FPS crossbreed makes for some truly engaging team play. Even as a foot soldier, you’re engaged in the macro-level strategy. Defending critical power stations or sneaking behind lines to swipe a secondary resource node, you’re constantly aware how your actions affect the battle. Ideally, the players and commander work together to reach goals, each informing the other as situations arise. However, we all know that things never go quite like that, and mutinies are remarkably common. Pub games can be rough on commanders, but on a good server, the experience is unmatched.
Even though its built on the latest Left 4 Dead 2 build of Source, Valve’s venerable engine is certainly showing its age. If you want flashy graphics that use all eight cores of your rig, this isn’t your game. Nuclear doesn’t have much, but what it does have it uses very well. The maps are not only well constructed, but each also has its own feel. Pre-war ads flicker across urban walls, adding the right splashes of color. The floating HUD isn’t just functional, but pretty spiffy to boot.
There are many multiplayer shooters that compete for your time and your wallet, and InterWave has made sure to make more than just another copycat. While many of Nuclear Dawn‘s features, such as squads and unlocks, are borrowed from larger games, its soul is all-original. The RTS/FPS hybrid concept isn’t a gimmick, it’s a huge feature that makes the game stand out in a crowded field of look-a-likes. For $20, you get far more bang-per-buck out of it than most AAA games give you.