Editor Note: the review was written before the release of the 6.0 update.
Whether we are talking about an insufficient number of fans or about the fear of combining very distinct genres, experiments like Nuclear Dawn are very rare in the AAA space (the most known representatives of the “genre” probably being Natural Selection, along with the Savage and BattleZone series). That’s because hybrids have generally took easier and safer paths, the most walked of these being the insertion of RPG elements in most other genres.
Nuclear Dawn was actually born in 2006 as a Half-Life 2 mod, a much more appropriate space for risks involving the combination of an FPS with an RTS. And even if you couldn't tell from the very limited number of players on the servers, it seems there is a public that can justify moving the game in the commercial space after all. An exercise that had some draw-backs, but considering its chances of success, came out surprisingly good in the end.
Eye in the sky
Looking at the courage needed for an FPS/RTS hybrid, Nuclear Dawn is a perfect example for the merits of planned simplicity. The two combined genres are very clearly delimited and intersect only as much as needed, especially from the commander's side.
A commander that is chosen by the game when there is at least one application from the combatants, favoring the ones that have finished the tutorials. He will be in charge of building defensive, offensive and auxiliary structures, but also assisting his teammates or annoy the enemy soldiers with poisonous gas or artillery. And if among the brave grunts there is at least one unsatisfied with the actions of the tribe leader, a vote can be initiated for his dismissal. Something that happened to me after approximately two minutes in the first match in which I occupied the commander's chair.
Considering the welding of the two genres, I started the tutorial series for commanders very skeptically, yet came out positively surprised in the end. A very clean interface with no useless trinkets allows for the very quick accommodation with the point of view and construction options. The developers have generally not taken any useless risks and so it would seem that the RTS part is boringly conservative, but until the game takes more radical steps, this attitude will only do it good.
The commander issues orders from the bunker of one of two post-apocalyptic factions that have survived a nuclear holocaust, a bunker which must also be destroyed to win the match. The first buildings that will help his teammates are usually defensive turrets and an Armory that allows class changing without respawn and the research of new technologies. After that, there's usually a Supply Station that offers soldiers ammo or healing and one or more Transport Gates, through which they are teleported closer to the enemy base, unable to choose for themselves the place of respawn.
To be able to build and research, the commander needs… Resource, all maps having three types of structures that produce it, the biggest of these being unique per map. Because of this, the last of these structures usually ends up as being a primary target alongside the enemy bunker, the commander's abilities depending a lot on its control.
The ways in which the commander can directly interact with the soldiers are pretty limited: he can heal them or issue attack and defend orders, their accomplishment depending of course on everyone's possibilities and mood. So if a skillful and quick commander is absolutely essential for a good match, this is also true for those under his “service”.
Rock – paper – flame-thrower
Those who choose war at the level of post-apocalyptic grass embody one the four archetypal classes, each of them divided in three additional sub-classes. Personally, I consider the Exo (the Heavy class type) to be the most unpleasant. Every time I stumbled on one of them I panicked, trying to run as fast as possible, although I admit that when I played as one I wasn’t ashamed to camp a bit, helped by the special ability of the class, named Lockdown. This practically turns you into a human turret, unable to move, but compensating with higher firing accuracy.
Against the bulky Exos, the most efficient would also be a rocket-launcher carrying Exo, but for the more subtle ones a Stealth would be appropriate, having daggers that can apparently pierce through any armor, if implanted in the back of the neck.
As Stealth soldiers can become annoying thanks to their cloaking ability, you can oppose them as an Assault, a class that has a special view mode dedicated to revealing the former hiding in the shadows. Since Assault is the standard attack class, it has available the most standard-varied arsenal: rifle, shotgun and a grenade-launcher, very efficient against buildings.
The Support soldiers carrying a flame-thrower are also very dangerous against buildings, a class that doesn't really have a definite place in the “food chain” that the other three fight in. Those of them that are not pyromaniacs come to the aid of their teammates with first-aid kits or help their commander by participating in building repair. They are also a big threat to enemy structures because of their EMP grenades: a Support that got in your base and throws grenades left and right is very bad news.
Soldiers can “climb” 60 levels on a rank scale not so well amazingly balanced. Not only the second global upgrade is available at level 5, which is attained pretty hard, but soldiers cannot unlock new weapons; if you are used to the Call of Duty/Battlefield model (as most FPS players are by now), it might seem that the game is actually poorer in this respect, even though that’s not the case.
Only the commander can offer access to the entire arsenal in every match and most of the time, if you enter a game two or three minutes after it has started, you have immediate access to any sub-class… and therefore any weapon. And even if the 12 sub-classes are enough to ensure variety, the fact that soldiers cannot gain new weapons through the upgrade system might affect the game negatively in an artificial manner.
Most of the upgrades for the FPS mode allow for higher speed, more ammo or weapon damage, among which you'll find some timid scopes or silencers. Because of this, most of them are totally unessential until pretty late, when you get to their second level, where applicable. A problem in which Nuclear Dawn is really not alone, because the bulk of useless upgrades is present in almost any other known FPS, but here the issue is more poignant due to the lack of new weapons in the gizmo (upgrade) system.