Nucleus is one of those strange games that make you feel unsettled from the moment you see the title screen onwards. I'm not talking about Resident Evil or Silent Hill style spooking, but rather a combination of sounds, music and images that don't mix well. The grrrrn noise that meets you when you start the game is enough to set your teeth on edge before you've got past the "Sony Computer Entertainment" screen.
Let me put it bluntly so that there's no ambiguity throughout the rest of the review. Nucleus is a bad game in several different ways. While the concept is intriguing, the implementation, as is sadly so often the case, is completely off the mark. As a "remote unit" sent into an infected area of unspecified biomass, it is your job to remove any bacterial threats. Dual-analogue shooters are known for their twitch-gameplay. The fast-paced frantic combination of "move and shoot", with your eyes constantly darting all over the screen looking for threats. Nucleus' gameplay involves none of these aspects and is as slow as a game can get.
When you hit the level select screen, you could be forgiven for getting your hopes up again. This is the best part of the game. Let me reiterate. The level select screen is the best part of the game. Made up of three different coloured blobs, connected by blobby ligaments, it eventually webs out into a quite large collection of levels. Each of the colours indicates a difficulty, allowing the player to skip the green training levels and move on to the blue advanced levels immediately. As you move from blob to blob, they wobble satisfyingly, affecting the levels surrounding them, making them squirm as well.
Sadly, the gameplay itself is nowhere near as fun. Levels consist of four different types: kill everything, collect everything, cell relocation and destroy the Nucleus. Controls make doing any of those things a chore. The analogue sticks are used to move and shoot, as usual. L1 lets you boost forwards very slightly and, considering how slow normal movement speed is, you'll probably be pressing it a lot. R2 shoots your tractor beam, so you can grab groups of cells and L2 launches protein bombs. Cells are usually littering the screen and getting in your way. The game tries to train you into moving them into bigger groups and using them as shields, but this is such a slow process that often you will be killed before an effective barrier can be erected.
After collecting enough protein from dead enemies or groups of cells, you can shoot protein bombs. These are also hard to control, as pressing L2 for longer means it will shoot further. There is no indication, however, of exactly how far it will travel before you fire it. This means that missing the large group of bacteria that is following you happens more often than it hits. Getting protein also feels contradictory to what the game teaches you, in terms of using cells as shields. Destroying large groups of cells is the easiest way to pick up large amounts of protein, though in the process you are destroying your protective barrier.
At no point while I played this game did I feel like I was having fun. The shooting portions are slow and unforgiving and after a while my left index finger began to hurt from boosting so much. With the completion of each level, there is no sense of achievement. Even after having to play the level through several times, the general feeling fails to climb higher than an apathetic "done that, what's next?" Worst of all are the levels that involve moving groups of cells from one area of the screen to another. Words cannot describe how boring this is.
Graphically, this game is all over the place. While the images on the screen aren't necessarily of a low quality, the game suffers from poor design. The developers need a lesson in colour theory. Not a long one, just the basics. For example, dark colours do not show up well on other dark colours. It boggles the mind that dark-blue bacteria swim through a dark red background and you're meant to be able to see them easily. The enemies fade into the background and, more often than not, you will receive damage from enemies that you just don't know are there. The HUD also has some problems. The curved shape seems to enclose the level on either side, giving a clear indication of where gameplay is meant to take place. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The level area goes outside of the HUD and is subsequently hidden by it. This means powerups can get lost in the sidelines and enemies can sneak up on you, simply because they're hiding under the HUD.
In short, don't buy this game. Stick to Super Stardust HD
.PS3 Fanboy Score: 2.0