The year is 2049. A third world war has ravaged the planet, splitting humanity under two banners – the totalitarian Empire, and democratic Consortium of Free States. Nanite plagues have stripped most major cities bare, and fighting rages in every territory across the world. The biggest gun I have ever seen – seriously, it's huge – is inexplicably mounted on Big Ben.
That's the setting for Nuclear Dawn, a class-based multiplayer shooter that manages to take all the best mechanics of Team Fortress 2, but strips it of its cartoony silliness and adds a layer of serious-face real-time strategy over the top. Most of the time, you play from an FPS viewpoint as a footsoldier in one of the aforementioned armies, battling over a series of checkpoints that generate a steady stream of resources for the side that controls them.
These resources can be spent by a commander – one member of each team, randomly selected from volunteers – who can build turrets, resupply depots and spawn points anywhere on the map. These structures have to be powered, and it's vital that your team protects the power infrastructure.
The classes are diverse. The Stealth character can choose a knife-or- sniper-based loadout, is quick, and can cloak. The Exo has a huge stack of hitpoints and can choose between a minigun or a 'siege' loadout – good for taking down the buildings the other team magics up, but weak against other players. The Assault class has assault and sniper rifles, as well as a grenade launcher kit and the ability to detect enemy Stealthers. Finally, the Support class can choose between playing as a building-repairing Engineer, a flamethrower-toting 'BBQ', and a healthpack-pooping Medic.
The maps are extremely well designed, and evoke a strong sense of place. The compensating-forsomething Big Ben is the centrepiece of a London-themed map called Clocktower. Silo is a mountainous, snowy, missile house, Oasis puts you in a Middle Eastern city with plenty of open space to snipe and be sniped. My favourite, though, was Hydro – set in a wind turbine power station where it's perpetually raining. Reminds me of home.
There's a few rough edges here and there. A levelling-up system is in place that unlocks certain 'gizmo' perks, but it's muddled and unclear at the moment. There's no way of practising commander mode except in a real game, so the first time you step into that chair, you'll be shunned by your peers for your ignorance. It's also often tough to tell what you've been killed by.
But those negatives are far outweighed by the inspired map design, the surprisingly complex technology tree, and the fun of throwing yourself against, or sneaking around behind, enemy lines. It's well worth dropping in on Nuclear Dawn: despite frayed edges, it deserves a community explosion.
A surprisingly deep and well-designed FPS/RTS hybrid. A Team Fortress 2 alternative that needs a community to thrive.