Nuclear Dawn is finally here, and it's good. That comes as welcome news to shooter fans who have been waiting for the game to emerge in a final, commercial form since it initially arrived way back in 2006 as a Source mod. Those with patience have now been rewarded with an innovative and exciting hybrid game that welds real-time strategy and first-person shooting together into a (mostly) cohesive whole. There are some rough spots when it comes to presentation, and the lack of interactive tutorials and single-player modes make it hard to get into. But seen at its best with experienced players willing to work together (and follow orders), the game is an impressive, intense multiplayer shooter with tactical depth.
From down in the trenches, Nuclear Dawn looks and plays just like any other FPS.
At its heart, Nuclear Dawn is a fairly traditional multiplayer-only shooter based on a generic story of a postapocalyptic war between two factions called the Consortium and the Empire that roughly resemble Yanks and Commies. (In case the comparison isn't totally obvious, the Consortium is the blue team and the Empire is the red team). It is the late 21st century, and the world has been pretty much wrecked, presumably by the nukes of the game's title, but the two factions are still battling over the irradiated rubble. The lone mode of play currently available (the developers have promised more) is a Warfare option in which teams composed of up to 16 players per side fight for control of resource points that give commanders the energy needed to construct buildings as in a usual RTS game. Victory is earned by fighting through the enemy lines and obliterating the bad guy's bunker.
The basic design is smooth and professional. The four available classes have been well thought out, with each having particular skills and vulnerabilities that slot nicely into a rock-paper-scissors formula. You have the heavy-gunning and armored but sort of slow exo vulnerable to the quick and cloaked stealth operatives; assault troopers with visors that spot those sneaky cloaked guys; and support soldiers who heal and repair. Kits within classes let you further specialize. So support can choose to be medics, engineers, or even flamethrowers; assault can trick out an infantry SMG, a sniper rifle, or a grenade launcher/shotgun combo; exo can pick between the standard chaingun and siege rocket launchers geared to take down enemy buildings; and stealth can trade off arm knives for sniper rifles. Most of these additional weapons become available over the course of play as long as your commander is doing his job in the bunker and researching them.
There are no overpowered weapons and no killer classes to unbalance the game, yet you'll undoubtedly get a bit frustrated at times by cloaked stealth troops insta-killing you with arm knives, and enemy grenades that arrive without any warning or audible sound effect. The moat glaring exploit is with EMP grenades used by engineers. These nifty little devices totally shut down buildings for lengthy periods of time. Use them effectively, and you can pretty much close off spawn points and mess with a team by preventing its troops from spawning back into matches. You can battle this tactic by building spread-out spawn locations, although this presupposes that most of your team is aware of the EMP tactic at the very start of the match and is prepared to counter it. Otherwise, you can be taken completely off-balance, and your match can be ruined by just one or two engineers sneaking through the lines and getting into your main base. Fail to tackle these sneaks right away, and you're almost guaranteed to lose. EMP grenades are also problematic when it comes to new players who don't know anything about this strategy, because you can enter a game and find yourself unable to spawn for a minute or more.
Frenzied battles around resource points are a huge part of the fun in Nuclear Dawn.