Multiplayer first-person shooters were a different kind of beast back in the days of Quake and Unreal Tournament. There were no fancy class load-outs, weapon attachments, or perks, just your knowledge of the arena, weapon spawns and a whole lot of circle strafing. Arena shooters were all about getting the biggest gun and causing as much mayhem you could before the opposing team got a lucky shot in. Nexuiz brings back that old school feeling with solid classic gameplay elements and interesting modifications that literally change the way the game is played. That's the beginning and end of it, pretty much.
Nexuiz is an arena shooter through and through. Originally released for the PC in 2005 (and last updated in 2009), the remade Quake mod delivers everything you would expect in terms of gameplay in this Xbox Live Arcade re-polish. Matches are four-on-four team deathmatch or capture the flag where each team starts off on symmetrical arena maps. Weapons are spread out in specified locations making the name of the game memorizing the locations of the best power-ups and weapons, getting to them immediately and delivering rockets to people’s faces.
Most weapons feature primary and secondary firing modes with some having short and long range options or bouncing projectiles. For example, the standard shotgun shoots the usual spread shot with a press of the right trigger and secondary shoots a single slug by pulling the left trigger.
This ability to instantly have access to the secondary fire makes each gun a bit more versatile than you might initially expect. Effectively using a combination of primary and secondary firing options can give the opposing team some trouble. We particularly enjoyed using the rocket launcher, which has the ability to detonate a rocket in mid-air, and exploding projectiles near enemies who were hiding behind cover. Other weapons bounce energy blasts, or grenades off walls and around cover, detonate on impact or unleash a spread of gunfire in one shot. There is definitely a decent variety of weapons and fun ways to kill the opposing team, but the entire experience can get tiresome in the long run, especially with only two gameplay modes.
But Nexuiz does mix up the gameplay with power-ups called Dynamic Mutators. These act like instant mods which are activated by players and disappear after a short time. The mutators can affect the player alone, the player’s team, the opposing team, or everyone in the match. Some of them are as simple as a bonus to armor or damage, but the best ones really throw a monkeywrench into the action.
Once a player picks up the Dynamic Mutator item on the map, three random mutators will be available to activate. These can be anything from wackier effects like having low gravity across the map or equipping everyone with jetpacks to more strategic modifiers like freezing the flag in a block of ice or leaving a weapon locker at your spawn point. There are over 100 different mutators that seem to randomly drop as players activate them. Having so many unexpected variables popping in to the game never becomes an annoyance but rather makes each match feel different from the last. And honestly, it's the biggest standout.
The map layouts work well for four-on-four arena matches. They are always small enough that you will always be able to find the action but never too small where it would create complete chaos. Each is outfitted with various spring and launch platforms that will bounce you to higher levels or shoot you across the map. They make for a great way to traverse the stage and can either make you a wide open target or set you up for some fantastical aerial kills. However, the environments are about as fresh as Unreal Tournament 2003. They either fall under bland outdoor environments set in overgrown ruins or generic, Halo-esque alien structures. It's not "retro" in a good way.
Along with the environments, the rest of the presentation is easily forgettable. The generic electronic beats certainly best a silent menu, but do nothing to enhance the experience while you're trying not to become hamburger. The sound effects altogether fall flat. Explosions are hardly audible and the gunfire from the alien weapons has no significance whatsoever.
Nexuiz is good for a visit back to the days of the arena shooter and at 800 MS Points, it’s a fun diversion from today's XP-grinding shooters. The gameplay is solid, and can keep you and some friends entertained for a few hours, but ultimately, there's not much left to it after you've seen all of the Mutators. It's hard to forget that even after the numerous PC updates, you're playing a nearly seven year-old game, and after a few hours, it feels that way. If you are looking to take a trip back to the glory days of Quake mods, Nexuiz is what you are looking for. Just don’t expect to stay for long.