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Free games. Everyone likes free stuff, and we all like games. So, naturally it would be logical to assume that we also like free games. Trouble is, as the saying goes, “nothing’s free” — and to a point, it’s true. To compound the sad realization that nothing’s really free, most “free” things are typically not worth having. However, there are a few exceptions that prove the rule, and I’m going to talk about one of them today.

Introducing: Nexuiz

Nexuiz is a free first person shooter. Rather than re-writing someone elses’ words, I’ll let the Nexuiz development team speak for itself:

Nexuiz is a 3d deathmatch game that has been in development since the summer of 2002. The goal of the project is to create a high quality first person shooter that can be played freely across all platforms in one package: PC, Mac, and can be even included in Linux distributions. The game is entirely open source, with the sources of the engine, gamecode, map files, and compiling tools, all included with the download, all under the GPL license. The gameplay is deathmatch with the most excessive possible speeds and weapons, giving incredibly intense fast paced action. Along with deathmatch, there are multiple gamemodes such as team deathmatch, capture the flag, domination, and many mutators and weapon options like rocket arena and instagib. The user can fight through the single player campaign, going through over 20 levels, or play online with our server browser.

Sounds promising, doesn’t it?

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What you see is what you get

The graphics engine behind Nexuiz is none other than some of John Carmack’s finest work: the Quake1 graphics engine. We all know that Quake is very old, but some of you may not know that the source code to the Quake engine was released many years ago into the community. Since that time, many software developers have spent time improving the Quake engine and adding new features. Indeed, the Quake II and III engines are also based on the original Quake game engine, so this is not an unusual path for game development to take. Some of the features supported by Nexuiz include per-pixel dynamic lighting and shadows (similar to that found in Doom 3 and Quake 4), advanced particle effects, high-resolution textures and models, and many other graphics features you will find in modern games.

With the support of high-resolution textures, the quality of the environments in which you do battle are vastly improved over what you might expect from the Quake engine. However, one criticism I have is that the level design can be limited: it seems as though despite the rendering improvements, simple architectural features like round corners do not exist in this game. Thus, while level design can be as complex or as simple as any other game, the lack of rounded surfaces makes everything appear quite blocky. The same problem seems to exist with player models also, as they are typically lacking rounded human-like shapes and are still very reminiscent of Quake III-era player models.

One hidden benefit to Nexuiz’s graphics engine heritage is that when the details are scaled right back, this game can realistically run on very old systems. The minimum requirements are 1Ghz CPU, 512Mb of RAM and GeForce 2 or better graphics card. More than likely, it’ll run great on just about any system you care to play it on.

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What you hear is what you … hear

Likewise with the graphics engine, the sound engine has been improved: supporting 7.1 surround, it’s sure to immerse. The sound effects are good quality, technically speaking, but many sound quite generic. This is fine, but not a major plus for the game. My major criticism though is with the sounds of explosions: they’re quite dull. As many of the weapons are energy-beam types, you don’t always have a rocket launcher with you – but when you do, you want it to sound deadly. Sadly, it doesn’t.

Fortunately though, this lack of exciting sound effects is made up for by the variety and quality of the music. It is best categorized under the blanket genre of electronic music, though it ranges from house to chillout to hard techno. There are only a few tracks, however, so you’ll probably want to turn off the game music and play along to your own.

Gameplay: it’s fast

In short: very fast. Nexuiz aims to provide a hair-trigger gaming experience that prompts you for fast thinking and even faster reflexes. All of the old style cheap tricks are there to be learnt, like bunny hopping, rocket jumping, 180 degree mid-air turns and all that good stuff. However, don’t despair if you’re worried about not being fast enough. Due to the variety of weapons, there’s one to suit nearly all tastes, which means that you can find one you’re the most proficient with to vanquish your enemies.

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Gameplay modes see you blazing through cramped multi-story deathmatch arenas, running across open plains or jumping through space to capture the opposing teams flag, or sailing casually through the air on large, open-area low-gravity instagib matches. Like all other games of this type, there is a myriad of gameplay configuration options, and you need only choose your favourite game type, map and gameplay modifiers to start the frag fest.

Online vs offline

There is a single player ‘campaign’ mode which effectively sees you progress through a series of predetermined levels of various gameplay types and at increasing difficulty. Essentially, it’s a bunch of “instant action” matches stringed together. You don’t need to complete the single player to unlock any maps or weapons, so it’s totally optional.

The AI of the bots is fairly good, though there have been times where a bot would repeatedly move to the same spot on a map only to be gibbed again and again in the same spectacular fashion as before. When you ramp up the difficulty it mostly just decreases the bots reaction time and increases their accuracy, but that kind of thing simply can’t be avoided with this type of game, so it’s acceptable.

Multiplayer is as you would expect, with severs available for the popular gameplay types and matches. I have found that due to the comparatively smaller community of Nexuiz players vs, say, Counter-Strike or COD that the majority of players are quite friendly and mature, as opposed to the multitude of whining, swearing and annoying little kids that you see playing most other popular games. Don’t take that the wrong way, though: Nexuiz’s lack of popularity is by no means a detractor to the online gameplay experience, but you may find that it’s difficult to get a decent game going at weird hours of the day.

Conclusion

Nexuiz is a free, fast-paced FPS which is targeted towards the average gamer while allowing for the hardcore/pro players and newbies alike. Its main selling point is its cost: nothing. The graphics and sound are good, but not as good as you’ll see in commercial products. Likewise, the online community is active and constantly growing, but lacks the population of more popular titles (though some may see this as a positive – I know I do). Due to the community-developed nature of this game, all of the above problems will eventually be improved and fixed. In six months’ time, a review of this game will read completely differently!

But the best part about this game is: it’s free. Instead of reading this review, you can jump onto the Nexuiz website and download it yourself!

Rating Category
7.0 Presentation
Good quality graphics, but not up to scratch with the most recent titles
7.0 Gameplay
Tried and tested. It fits the bill for deathmatch, capture the flag, and variations thereof.
6.0 Sound
Lacklustre sound effects, supported partially by good music
8.0 Longevity
This game will last as long as people interested in FPS games exist — it’s developed by the community
7.0 Overall
One of the best free games available in this genre
  1. I really, really want to try this game out now after this review. Nice work!

  2. Brilliant First article Owen! :)

  3. Wow, that’s one damned fine looking freeware game

  4. avatar phos

    A 7? The game is great for its time. Of course the graphics and sound aren’t going to be up to par with “recent titles” but thats because people who work on it have a budget. Grade it for what it is, a freeware game, and a damn fine great one as well.

  5. I thought I qualified my grade in the comment – it is one of the best free games in its genre. Inevitably, comparisons will be drawn to commercial titles as to some, money is no object. So I thought I would simply shortcut the issue and grade it against commercial titles from the get-go. Hope this explains my grade. :-)

  6. avatar Joseph G

    Great review! =) I don’t mean to be a stickler but Nexuiz is actually Free Software/Open Source and not freeware. Those two are very different things. We actually cover the game in my latest podcast so if you want to take a listen… http://www.opengamingnow.com

    Our podcast covers FOSS (Free and Open Source) games and gaming so if you like great games with zero cost it’s for you.

  7. Hi Joseph; I understand where you’re coming from, but I didn’t wish to mar the review with political undertones – anyone who is interested enough can read for themselves about the philosophy of open source via resources on the Nexuiz website.

    And by the way, the game was played and the review written wholly in Linux. ;-)

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