Nexuiz review: Red, blue and borrowed

When it comes to futuristic arena shooters, two names quickly come to mind: Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 Arena. Nexuiz borrows liberally from both, employing exotic arenas and out-of-this-world weaponry. In fact, Nexuiz only does one thing to expand upon the formulae set down by the genre's heavy-hitters. The question is whether that's enough to set Nexuiz apart.
%Gallery-148730% If you've played any Unreal Tournament or the various versions of Quake 3, you'll slip right into Nexuiz. Players take up the role of one of two alien races. Both races have their own spacey-sounding names but, for the sake of convenience, let's just call them red and blue. That's all that really separates them anyway.

As a member of either race, you scurry around arenas gathering health, armor, weapons and power-ups, all while trying to defeat the opposing team and defend your own. In team deathmatch, the first team to score fifty kills -- or the highest number of kills before time runs out -- wins. In capture the flag, it's the first team to score ten points or have the most points at the end of the round. And ... that's it. Those are the only two modes in Nexuiz, and both are tied directly to the selected map (three CTF maps and six team deathmatch maps).

Nexuiz's one outstanding feature is a system of dynamic mutators -- semi-random power-ups that can instantly change the rules of the game. Mutators are nothing new for arena shooters, but Nexuiz takes a novel approach in applying them. Rather than setting them up before a match, mutators are acquired and activated during play.

These have numerous effects on you, your team, the opposing team or both teams. Mutators can be picked up on the battlefield or earned through kill streaks, and either method offers three options that can be selected via the D-pad. Once selected, the mutator is added to the queue and put into play.

Mutators make for some of the best moments in Nexuiz. For example, you might find that everyone on the field is suddenly restricted only to melee attacks. Or perhaps every weapon and power-up disappears for a set amount of time. Maybe your flag sprouts thorns, making it damage any enemy who tries to pick it up. Or, you're just running along and, boom, now everyone has jetpacks.

Beyond that, it plays nearly identically to any other arena shooter. There are no true standout weapons, and even the alternate fire options tend to be uninteresting. You've got the same old shotgun, grenade launcher, sniper rifle and, yes, a rocket launcher. There are a couple of unconventional weapons, like the Electro, which fires explosive balls of electricity, and the rapid-fire micro-missile launcher, the Hagar.

Play is geared toward speed, with each arena littered with armor chips, weapons and a single Strength power-up. For the most part, controls are spot on, though movement is a bit too slippery for my taste. Still, within a few minutes, the traditional thrill of constant locomotion and finding the best routes clicks into place. There aren't a lot of bells and whistles -- no loadouts or character customization here -- but it's hard to deny the simple joys of quickly getting a bead on someone, taking them out and narrowly avoiding death yourself.

Of course, none of this matters without a solid online component, and matchmaking is where Nexuiz truly suffers. Players can create a party in a lobby before entering the matchmaking queue but, beyond that, there are only quick match and private match options available. There is no way to choose from available sessions and, as far as I can tell, there is no way to join a match in progress, so you're stuck waiting in a lobby until enough players arrive. Not only that, but the system waits until at least six players are in the lobby before starting a match. Even with four players waiting in a lobby -- enough for an even match -- the system waits for six. Speaking of which, Nexuiz is currently limited to six players for some reason, though it was built to support eight. Developer Illfonic promises this will be fixed with an upcoming update, but it seems like a strange problem right out of the gate.

Once in a match, there are still handful of issues. Lag can occasionally be a problem, as players blink from one location to another or run in place. I experienced one entire match that slowed down to a twitchy crawl, with even the music dragging out like a broken cassette player. It only happened once, but it was enough to be disheartening.

Most matches are stable, and Nexuiz is certainly a competent shooter, though it does very little to differentiate itself from its competitors. With a better matchmaking system and more multiplayer options, it would be easier to recommend. As it stands, with so many quality shooters in the budget download market (or even the free-to-play market, for that matter), the few intriguing pieces of Nexuiz aren't enough to lift it above the crowd.


This review is based on the Xbox Live Arcade version of Nexuiz, provided by THQ.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.