Wot I Think: Nuclear Dawn

Frankly, to classify Nuclear Dawn without going “it’s a bit like X” would take a paragraph. Instead, I’m going to propose a simple classification system, to do away with the frankly amazing bollocks that are the arbitrary genres we impose now, in favour of a more rational, long-winded bollocks. On the basis of my revolutionary & hubristic system, Nuclear Dawn is as follows:


or, shorter:


That’s a Science-Fiction multiplayer game that can be played as either an RTS or an FPS but not both. Y’see? Rational. Never again will we argue whether Just Dance is in the same category as Zumba Fitness; we will just have to cross-reference each one in the twelve-volume explanatory exegesis I’ll be selling at a very reasonable price. I firmly believe this is the greatest advance in the rational science of video game classification since the Huey, Louey and Dewey Decimation System used in Duck Hunt.

Anyway, Nuclear Dawn. It’s very similar to the old Savage series (FA*MP*((TD*ST)xor(FP*SH))) or the better known Natural Selection series (AS*SF*MP*((TD*ST)xor(FP*SH)); where AS stands for asymmetric, obviously). (Dan, stop it now – fun-spoiling Ed.) It’s also been in development hell for ever, starting as a mod for Half-Life 2 in 2006 and taking five years to metamorphise into a full game along Red Orchestra’s lines (though the vehicles were dropped at some point in development.)

Though for most players the game is a simple FPS, for one player on each side, the Commander, the game is a top-down RTS. The Commander is chosen at the beginning of the match, from any volunteers, and he/she then goes and sits in the command bunker for the rest of the game. The two factions, Empire and Consortium, are ever so slightly different, but the Commander’s role in each is simple; to build a base slowly across the map to support his team. The team’s job is to get the resources to let him do that.

The Commander uses slowly-growing resources from his team capturing certain in-game positions to build new structures: nodes, which allow him to extend his network; a variety of turrets and artillery; spawn points for the FPS players; certain buildings allowing access to more sub-classes and upgrades for the classes. He can also directly heal and damage players, using aerial drops.

Playing as the Commander would be great fun, if there was any training mode to learn before doing. As it is, you’re likely to get mutinied off the the system pretty swiftly as a new Commander, because a learning Commander is a bad Commander, and a bad Commander loses the game for his team very quickly. When I was kicked out on my first go, it was because I turtled instinctively, forgot to upgrade the troops to siege weapons and just built a line of turrets and artillery instead. My only problem playing as Commander was the range of options of where to build didn’t feel huge; I was restricted by viewpoint a little too much, so found it hard to break out of the alleys near my base.

As for the FPS players, they get to select from four class archetypes, which themselves are broken down into sub-categories, some of which can only be unlocked by the Commander building particular buildings. The massive slow Exos are the fulcrum for any attack, but are highly vulnerable to the glass cannon Stealth classes, who are themselves vulnerable to the Assault classes; the Support class does so many different things that it’s hard to fit him in.

Each class has its sub-categories; for example, the Stealth class has either a SMG and knives equipped version, or a sniper-rifle version, while the Support class can go engineer, medic or flamethrower. At the time of writing, the game is still in beta and is need of some balancing; the larger, slower Exo classes tend to dominate, especially the Consortium’s heavy anti-armour rockets which kill pretty much everything in their blast area in one shot.

Despite that, the combat is good fun. It’s not quite up to TF2’s anarchic melees, but it’s damned satisfying when you snipe someone or run through a squad back-stabbing them all. No class is redundant; the engineer’s shotgun, in particular, is hugely lethal. Ammo tends to run out very quickly, especially for the Exos, but it’s the Commander’s job to drop in supply points as you advance.

There’s a handful of maps, all based around famous cities after some dreadful apocalypse. Not that they bear much resemblance to the relevant cities, as they look like destroyed cities anywhere, save for the occasional tower housing Big Ben looming in the distance, but at least in the Source engine they look like pleasant, cluttered vignettes you might want to spend some time shooting men in. They vary from claustrophobic little structures to huge open maps perfect for snipers and stealths. It’s perfectly pleasant to explore, diving down back allies to shortcut base-defenses, and the maps are easy to learn and mostly tightly-designed.

The team sizes nicely balance the map sizes; a full squad won’t cover the map in soldiers, but will allow for regular encounters with opponents, giving the Stealth guys a chance to backstab them (counterbalanced, of course, by the standard assault class having a thermal vision especially for spotting them). There’s also a squad system, which isn’t really used effectively at the moment, but allows the Commander to direct his team of four squads around the map in different ways.

What this game needs to succeed is either a training mode with bots, or some training servers restricted to newbies. The supplied training videos are atmospheric but don’t communicate what works and what doesn’t on the battlefield. Similarly, there’s a lot of obscurity in the levelling system; I can’t tell if it’s persistent or game-by-game and there’s no documentation in-game to tell me. Possibly another good alternative, if they get bots working, would be something assymetric; one RTS player against a team of FPS players, or something similar.

If Savage and Natural Selection were your games of choice you’ll find a natural home in Nuclear Dawn. It still needs a lot of work, particularly on balancing issues, but we’ve waited five years; we can wait a couple more months. Now, back to my syntax.

[Minigame: Which games do you think I think these are? I might give prizes.]


  1. Tom De Roeck says:

    Portal or that chemistry game which I cant remember the name of

    • SoggySilicon says:

      Ohhh X Com good call! Tip of the hat

    • Cerebulon says:

      Jagged Alliance
      Gizmoes and Gadgets

      Wait, one of those is a children’s educational game and another is for consoles…

    • Tom De Roeck says:

      yes, thats the one I meant, spacechem!

    • Richard Beer says:

      No, no. Camp movies! It’s got to be Command & Conquer!

      I’d guess SpaceChem for the second one, but the third one has me stumped. Is an Arcade Shooter something like Defender or Operation Wolf? It’s clearly not FPS.

    • Richard Beer says:

      Long shot, but it might work. Is the third one Chaos Engine?

      That’s going back quite a way, mind.

    • Jubaal says:

      Ah Chaos Engine *Smiles wistfully*

    • westyfield says:

      Command and Conquer.
      No idea.

    • sonofsanta says:

      Third one: Bioshock Infinite? Not sure if it fits with the arcade bit, though…

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      Yep, they were:

      Command & Conquer (any of the series)

      Well done Sub-Program 32, Eleion and Soggy Silicon! Email me about prizes @ grill at funambulism.com

    • LionsPhil says:

      Command & Conquer (any of the series)

      Don’t make me come over there and beat you with a ruler until you repent on abusing the word “isometric”.

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      Yeah, I might have got that wrong. I’m just forumulating the syntax, sorry!

    • Droopy The Dog says:

      Weighing in with Evil Genius as fitting number 1 (spoofing camp bond movies -all- the way)
      Spacechem def no. 2
      Jamestown fits no.3 but didn’t really think of it myself, just saw everyone else’s answers.

  2. SoggySilicon says:

    The Movies?
    Armed and Dangerous? (If for anything it had a shark gun… cmon… a shark gun!?) ;)

  3. N says:

    Sounds cool, liked Savage, loved Savage 2. Used to play a lot as… well, “savage” class lol. And a lot of “hunter” for the beast side. Some games lasted up to three hours, really intense stuff. Not for everyone.

    I think this type of game is the natural evolution for Battlefield really, BF3 won’t provide something like this obviously, but I think future installments will. The commander and the squad leaders will have considerably increased importance over the grunts n stuff.

  4. Gnoupi says:

    From the looks of it, it seems exactly like the Savage games (which are now F2P, by the way: link to savage2.com ).

    On first sight, it looked like just another FPS, but that’s much more interesting. There should be more games like this, strategy games in which your units are other players, playing FPS.

  5. eleion says:

    Beaten to XCOM on the first.
    I think the third is Jamestown.

    This looks like a fun game in the “I would be terrible at this but it would be fun to watch and hear stories about”-way.

  6. BeamSplashX says:

    The first isn’t COTTAGE OF DOOM, but it should be.

    • Wilson says:

      All zombies should say ‘Groo-groo’ (spelling may be wrong there)

  7. halbarad says:

    I can’t see the first being X-COM. Camp-Movies (maybe?) tag etc. Games like Commandos are a bit more relatable to the countless ott movies about commandos

    (Camp*movies)+(isometric*strategy) = Commandos
    (science*SF)+(maths*puzzle) = Space Chem
    (history*SF)+(arcade*shooter) = Jamestown

    • sub-program 32 says:

      Command and Conquer for one! I have no clue about the others, but what else has camp movies that fit all of the other briefs?

      (or is it not isometric…)

    • LionsPhil says:

      Commander & Conquer 2. The first wasn’t isometric and its FMV wasn’t terrible.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      @LionsPhil: It was totally terrible.

  8. sinister agent says:

    Is anyone else really tempted to send an email to that address asking “But what happens if I do?”

    The game sounds novel. In fact it sounds a lot like a theoretical game idea that Yahtzee chap was idly speculating on a while back. Would be interesting to see how it comes along.

  9. battles_atlas says:

    The commander things sounds like the same problem as the helicopters in BF2. Its a pretty heavy blow to you confidence to find yourself flipping the heli over on your first take-off, and killing the six squad mates in the back. People become very judgemental at such times.

  10. Vexing Vision says:

    1) Dark Eye trilogy – it’s isometric and featuring some of the most camp in-game movies I ever saw.
    2) Lunar Landing – has a lot more to do with math than SpaceChem :)
    3) Castle Wolfenstein 3D – It’s historic, it has Hitler in a combat mech and it’s a pretty arcadey shooter.

    Do I win?

  11. Kollega says:

    The game does sound kinda interesting. Maybe i will buy it. And as Dan noted, it would be nice to have an asymmetric, FPS-versus-RTS mode: an overpowered FPS team on one side and cannon fodder grunts with gunship support masterminded by an RTS commander on the other. I’ve devised the basic concept for such game, but somehow, i doubt this version will ever be realized.

    Oh, also: (Camp*movies)+(isometric*strategy) sounds like Red Alert to me.

  12. kwyjibo says:

    No one is going to buy this, and so it won’t build up a self sustaining community, so servers will be empty/non existent, so no one is going to buy it.

    You know this to be true.

  13. Heliocentric says:

    Vehicles were the only thing about this mod/game that excited me, I miss combined arms warfare.

    • Axyl says:

      Vehicles are to be added post launch. Will see if I can find the link and post it below later.

    • Joseph says:

      As much as it pains me to say it, Empires, which is free and on steam, already has vehicles and big sprawling open maps.

  14. Juan Carlo says:

    Shucks. I was hoping this would be like “Red Dawn” which is rated #1 in the list of movies that gave me nightmares as a child, but once I saw them as an adult I realized were just terrible, absurd, campy, fun.

  15. Jayson82 says:

    If you want to try a game like this before thinking of buying try empires mod on steam same type of game except there vehicles and not as nice looking but the gameplay seams to be the same.

    Its free as its a souce mod and they relased the source engine for free now so anyone can play this.

  16. Persus-9 says:

    I’m going for Red Alert, Space Chem and Jamestown. The first two are my own ideas but I stole Jamestown from eleion. I was initially thinking TimeSplitters for the third but that was clearly wrong.

  17. Spazzo says:

    I’ve played roughly 8 hours of this beta, and the only reason I haven’t played more is cause I don’t really enjoy playing with 300 ping.

  18. LionsPhil says:

    Why have they made the chat text all slanty and blurry and impossible to read.
    Why is this a thing you would do.

  19. Spider Jerusalem says:

    I’ve been enjoying my time in the beta. Pleasantly surprised.

    A solid use of $17.

  20. Axyl says:

    ” the Huey, Louey and Dewey Decimation System”..

    i lol’d so hard. XD

    Overall, I’m enjoying ND. A lil polish and balance, and especially once vehicles are added sometime after launch, and i think this one will be a winner. :)

  21. Agramenauer says:

    Ill go with

    The Movies

    Space Chem


    And what does camp mean??

  22. Koozer says:

    Can’t you get rid of the Facebook buttons and similar rubbish so Dan’s name actually fits?

  23. bear912 says:

    You should really be using RPN, methinks.

  24. iHavePants says:

    “If Savage and Natural Selection were your games of choice you’ll find a natural home in Nuclear Dawn”

    Or Natural Selection 2 even. That game is fun as hell already and is a joy to play through its development.

    Well now it is I mean, it was a piece of shit (as it had all the rights to be) in the earlier stages of its alpha/beta program.

  25. DoctorBrain says:

    1. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
    2. Space Chem
    3. Jamestown

  26. DOLBYdigital says:

    Nice article Dan! I don’t recall seeing your name around but then again I don’t always look for the editor. However I liked your intro and system of classification. Well done :)

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      Thanks DOLBY, if that’s your real name, I’ve written a lot of stuff, but my name has just broken the system so they’ve had to shorten it. Look for Griliopoulos.

  27. busfahrer says:

    The last one is clearly Jamestown!

  28. hunsnotdead says:

    OK, its alright on its own, but is it better than Empires(the Half Life 2 mod)?

    Or Battlezone 1/2 for that matter? Oh, no vehicles? I WANT HOVERTANKS NAO!(and a Battlezone remake/sequel)