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September is just about up, and the PC market has not seen much happening in the world of mutiplayer gaming. Aside from the release of Gears of War 3 on the 360, September has been pretty tame.
Alas the sun has begun to rise, and we're starting to catch the glorious rays of some of the multiplayer heavyweights due for release very shortly. Battlefield 3 and its subsequent public beta beginning in October, Modern Warfare 3, RAGE, Saints Row 3, and a few more notable single player releases are helping shape October and November into some very exciting dates.
However, November hasn't started yet, and gamers are itching for some new action. Aside from Railworks Train Simulator 2012, not much has been happening as of late.
Nuclear Dawn was quietly released today by small time (independent) developer "InterWave Sutdios". At a glance, Nuclear Dawn (ND) doesn't seem like it has too much going for it. It's a 32 player, class based, multiplayer first person shooter with very straight forward capture-the-objective-by-standing-next-to-it based gameplay. Nothing too interesting or anything that we haven't seen done before countless times already.
The lads and ladies at InterWave Studios have attempted something that hasn't been seen since the glory days of Natural Selection back in 2002 -- A First Person Shooter + Real Time Strategy hybrid. It aims to provide players with a fully fleshed out FPS experience, whilst also offering a fully functional top-down commander based position with all the bells and whistles that you would expect from a standard RTS game -- And, with the slogan "Combining FPS with RTS without diluting either side", you'd certainly like to hope it delivers on that front.
ND is a very bare bones, budget oriented title. This is clearly evident the first time you load into a server. At times it feels more like an incredibly polished Source mod, rather than a complete "retail" game. With that said, however, for $25, the price of admission is neither too high nor too low, and thus the prospect of severe disappointment does not seem so bad once you drop the cash and give it a try.
Gameplay, for the FPS portion of the game, is fairly straight forward. Two factions, 4 classes each (all with their own various weapon types and weights), battling it out in decently large maps. Objectives in game hover around two different goals, with the ultimate goal being the destruction of the opposite team's command centre.
The severity of achieving the goals fluctuates depending on what the opposite team are doing, and the way that your commander manages team resources. This is where ND begins to distance itself from other shooters in the market.
FPS players are required to traverse the map and capture nodes. Once a node is captured, a resource boost is delivered to the commander -- This results in your team's commander receiving greater resource income. The more nodes in your team's possession, the more resources the commander gets to play with.
With said resources, your team's commander is then able to deploy equipment to the map. This comes in the form of power stations, automated turrets and rocket launchers, forward spawn points, resupply stations, radars, commander abilities, artillery, and more.
It's a delicate balance wherein the commander relies on cooperation on the ground level, whereas players on the ground level rely on the support of their commander. The system does not, in any way, work if one part of the equation ignores the other. Ergo, commander needs players to capture nodes for resources, while players need the commander to provide them backup while making advances into enemy territory to capture said resources.
For instance, if your teammates are pinned down by the opposite team's turrets, you'll need access to the Siege class to take them down and progress further into the map. To do so, your team needs to capture nodes to provide resources to the commander. Once those resources are obtained, the commander can then research "advanced weapons" in the command tree and unlock the ability to use heavy weapons for all ground players, thus facilitating the push.
To this end, ND places a very heavy emphasis on teamwork. Outside of the relationship between ground players and the commander, each class also plays its own role on the map. Classes are as follows,
Exo - Plays the role of the "heavy". Otherwise known as the "bullet sponge" and "the pain dispenser".
Assault - Plays the role of jack of all trades, master of none. Versatile, fairly nimble, and effective at making a push.
Stealth - Plays the role of harassment. Invisibility, speed, instant backstab takedowns.
Support - Plays the role of... Support! Healing and repairing are the main directives of this class.
Then comes the role of the commander. At the beginning of a round, players are given the ability to apply for the position of commander.
Unfortunately there may only ever be one commander at a time on both sides, meaning that only 2 of the 32 players on a server ever have access to this feature. If you fancy yourself as an RTS buff with absolutely no FPS experience, you may find yourself annoyed when other players constantly gain access to the commander role while you're left in the dust.
With that said, the commander's role in the game is extremely dynamic. As mentioned above, the commander relies very heavily on resources. Without resources, nothing is possible... And if nothing is possible, you may quickly find yourself frustrated and bored as a commander with an incompetent or careless team.
The building meta-game is fairly straight forward. As the commander you must build power stations on a constant basis. Once power stations are built, you may begin to build repeaters (towers which transport electricity further into the map), as well as other structures such as forward spawn points and automated turrets. These structures cannot function without power, and further to that, they cannot function without having a direct line of sight to a power source.
This quickly turns the commander role into a meta-game wherein you're constantly attempting to expand further into the map, whilst maintaining your power and repeaters. Without one or the other, your structures become useless.
This also provides a layer of strategy, as the enemy team can begin to surgically target your power sources as a means of disabling all of your equipment and moving safely through the map without having to waste time on destroying multiple turrets, one at a time.
ND does not come without its issues. Gameplay is extremely unbalanced in some regards, whilst some of the commanders abilities (namely the ability to instantly kill any enemy on the map without warning or delay), get very tiresome very quickly.
Controls for the commander are also quite clunky, slow, and unresponsive. The Source engine was clearly not intended to be used in a point-and-click application, and this is evident in the way that the commander camera responds, as well as its limited movement options and viewpoint manipulation.
With all said and done, however, ND is an interesting experience and worthy of its $25 admission ticket. At best, you'll discover a new genre of shooter to waste dozens, or even hundreds of hours on, and at worst, you'll at least have tried something different for a few hours.