Set in Earth's distant future, Nexagon: Deathmatch challenges players to lead a squad of convicted criminals through a grueling sereies of gladiator-style battles to win their freedom. The real-time action takes place in 3D arenas, suspended in the sky and built for battle. The squad must gain victory through a long progression of battles to actually earn freedom, but each win brings prize money for upgrades and improvements that can help prepare for the next fight. Each squad maintains a home base, which can be destroyed in combat and rebuilt or improved between matches. The player's squad is made up of distinct personalities with various abilities and the warriors carry over from one battle to the next, allowing for skill improvements and character development.
The best games usually offer richly imagined worlds that immediately suck you in. Nexagon: Deathmatch doesn't offer that. Instead, you merely get a forgettable little backstory in the game manual. Sadly, this sort of cut-rate approach tends to typify the game. There's no real need to read the story, anyway: All you need to know about Nexagon's theme is that it's yet another stab at the old "televised gladiatorial games of the future" cliché. Some clichés can feel cozy and comfortable despite being threadbare, yet when the subject matter is handled clumsily, like in Nexagon, they just fall apart. With Nexagon, you're more likely to be frustrated or bored than entertained.
To say Nexagon gets off on the wrong foot would be an understatement. The game opens with a reasonably cool intro movie filled with flashy animations, but you're then forced to sit through a seemingly interminable loading screen. If you've been meaning to repaint your house, now's your chance. You should be able to finish off another room each time you boot up the game.
The first time you play Nexagon, the game will ask if you want to run through a tutorial, but this non-interactive tutorial is a recipe for confusion. It merely offers boring screens that pop up from time to time and only vaguely describe important concepts. For some of the most vital concepts, like base building, you're simply cast adrift at first and left to figure things out on your own.
Thanks to the feeble tutorial that leaves you in the dark at least as often as it illuminates things, along with a clumsy manual, you'll need to learn much of the game through tedious trial and error. Basically, what Nexagon boils down to is this: In a campaign mode or single matches versus the computer or online opponents, you control small teams of little robots or genetically engineered creatures as they battle in pauseable real-time across little 3D arenas called pits. Each team tries to smash enemy units and infiltrate their opponents' inner sanctum and destroy a glowing ball there.
You use money you earn from successful matches to buy new units, called thralls, and to shore up your base with various walls, ramps, traps, and potted plants. Potted plants? Yes, for some strange reason, Nexagon throws a bit of Martha Stewart into the mix. You'll set up pretty palm trees and decorative plants in your base to impress some imaginary audience that you have no reason to care about. Equally lame concepts, like desecrating tombstones and posing in front of tiny billboards during matches, give Nexagon an even more jumbled feel. Ridiculous thrall names like "Shortribs" and "G-String" further add to the sense of silliness and sloppiness.
Controlling your thralls during matches can be a chore, which is surprising since they only have a few basic commands, like move, attack, and defend. They also only have three basic combat stances, like full-out aggression or total passivity. During each match, you try to take advantage of each thrall's strengths (high speed, ranged attacks, and so forth) or special abilities, like being able to fire a mortar. Few of the units are interesting, though, and pathfinding problems often making controlling them a hassle.
Nexagon manages the weird feat of being both chaotic and tedious at the same time. Because the game plays in hectic real-time, you'll need to repeatedly pause the action at awkward moments to stay on top of things, which implies that Nexagon might well have worked better had it been designed from the ground up as a turn-based game. Even when the action is rolling along without pause -- and that's a rarity -- the gameplay tends to be numbingly repetitive and monotonous. Combat, for example, often boils down to a couple cartoony little characters swinging repeatedly at the air in front of each other until one falls down.
Nexagon's presentation is on par with its gameplay, which is to say it's not too hot. The graphics are competent, yet they're generic and forgettable. You won't often get a good look at them anyway, since you'll need to have the camera zoomed out most of the time to get a good handle on what's going on tactically. For that matter, the camera itself stinks. The controls are clunky, and you can never get a really useful view of the action. Zoom out, and the camera forcibly shifts to an overhead view. Zoom in, and you get a head-on view akin to that of a first-person shooter. What you really need is a way to zoom out and still be able to pan, tilt, and rotate the camera in any direction ... and it's not here.
The audio doesn't fare any better. The limited music treads the fine line between mere mediocrity and grating lameness, frequently stumbling into the latter camp. At least you can create a folder of custom .mp3's to relieve a bit of the monotony and enjoy good music while you're not enjoying the game. The sound effects also leave a lot to be desired: you get some generic bangs and crunches for combat and some cheesy sportscaster-style voiceovers for totally unconvincing ambience.
Somewhere inside Nexagon: Deathmatch, there's an interesting concept trying to get out, but the arena combat, base building, and futuristic sports theme never gel. The lack of clear instruction, the fun-killing load times, frequently lame combat, and some bugs and pathfinding problems don't do the game any favors.
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