Nuclear Dawn, developed by InterWave Studios, is a cross-genre multiplayer action game attempting to blur the line between first person shooting and real-time strategy. The concept is simple enough – each side has a commander who builds structures, manages resources, and issues commands ala RTS interface, while the rest of the players engage in first person combat against their opponents. Though this may sound exciting on paper, the implementation leaves a bit be desired, and the whole thing just falls a little flat.

Visually, the game has very high production values. Terrain looks realistic, the environments are fantastic, players are rendered well, and weapon special effects look like they’re supposed to. Similarly, the game’s sound is satisfying and immersive. However, I found that the user interface, while adequate, could easily have been improved upon – for example, the mini-map is a little small, the icons to determine friend from foe are unintuitive, and there’s a bit of a learning curve when figuring out what sort of commands a player has been issued by his commander, or where he should be going on the battlefield.

And that brings me to one of my big gripes about this game – Nuclear Dawn has no playable tutorials at present. Even though there are a few excellently composed video tutorials that explain the basics, I personally have always found short playable tutorials to be vastly superior to videos in regards to introducing a player to the features of a game, such as the user interface, controls, gameplay design, class handling, and others. For a game like Nuclear Dawn, which has a fairly unique command structure and RTS gameplay element, I find the lack of playable tutorial to be inexcusable, and an unnecessary handicap that new players must overcome in order to really sink into this game.

With that aside, the gameplay itself is still highly enjoyable, albeit a little unremarkable. The basic concept of gameplay is similar to what may be expected in a typical shooter – each team fights for control of various strategic points, and each point yields a value over team, helping your team to turn the tide of battle, and ultimately win the war. This somewhat tried and true formula is spiced up through the implementation of build-able defensive structures, though I personally felt like the developers could have pushed the envelope a bit more with the introduction of a few more destructible buildings. As it stands, the battlefield just doesn’t quite seem dynamic enough, and the buildings that a commander can construct are visually underwhelming at best.

Nuclear Dawn has four standard classes, each of which has access to a number of different load-outs. As an example, the light class can choose either a light machine gun “infiltration” kit, or switch to a long range sniper build. Unfortunately, beyond being able to select different load-outs and minor item tweaks, there really isn’t much depth to the customization available to a player – which, for a game like this, is a real shame. However, it’s important to note that each of the four classes serve surprisingly well defined and balanced roles, and help give the game something of a rock-paper-scissors sort of feel. Heavy beats medium, Medium beats light, light beats heavy, and support does what it can to keep everything from falling apart.

Nuclear Dawn does have an unlock system, enabling the player to level up, earn new enhancements for their weapons and devices, as well as gain unique achievements along the way. Each match played yields experience points, and what the player accomplishes in a mission determines how much experience they earn – as an example, killing other players yields a small amount of experience, while killing a player with a headshot yields more. Similarly, the player gains experience for completing tasks, capturing points, and destroying enemy infrastructure. There are about 60 levels at present, so even hardcore players will find themselves capable of spending many hours working on unlocking all of the game’s content.

The lifeblood of any multiplayer shooter is in variety, and unfortunately, Nuclear Dawn feels woefully lacking in that department, especially in regard to map variety and distinction. At the time this review was written, only a handful of maps are available, and each map available is thematically very similar – tight winding corridors through vaguely urban settings, with chest high boxes scattered throughout. I feel that the lack of map diversity really handicaps Nuclear Dawn, because, after all – there’s only so much fun that can be derived from playing a set of maps that all play the same. Hopefully future maps employ a little more vertical design, and break away from the hardline symmetrical corridor combat, maybe even adding a few maps that have a more open feel to them.

With my criticisms aside, I would like to reiterate that I feel Nuclear Dawn is a refreshingly polished product, making excellent use of the Source engine. I didn’t encounter any glaring bugs, never once crashed out of the game, and truly can’t remember seeing any oddities regarding graphics or physics. The controls are responsive, intuitive, and simple, while the gameplay itself is easy to understand and easier to enjoy, even if playing Nuclear Dawn gives the overall feeling that the whole thing could somehow be improved upon. The game also comes with all the major features considered to be standard in a modern shooter, such as iron-sight aiming, a sprint button, realistic ballistics, and momentum / crouching effecting accuracy, giving Nuclear Dawn an overall modern feeling to it.

All things considered, I would say that I think Nuclear Dawn will be a difficult sell at the current price-tag. In this era of gaming, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see either the price come down or even more likely, see the developers adopt a free-to-play business model for this game, similar to Global Agenda, League of Legends, or Team Fortress 2. Furthermore, so far as I’m concerned, Nuclear Dawn would be an absolutely perfect title for the free-to-play market, and because of that, I’d say the game is still worth buying if you’re interested in a different gameplay experience.

Is Nuclear Dawn a game for everyone? No, probably not – but it’s certainly original enough to warrant any gamer’s time, and fun without a doubt – even if it’s impossible to ignore that this is a game with room to grow.

Great game. Fun to play and above average in quality. You should try it.An ambitious game with high production values, though still leaves a little to be desired.