Nexagon: Deathmatch

Snap191It’s hard to dislike Nexagon: Deathmatch. The real-time game of gladiatorial combat—reality TV-style—has four interesting sides armed with everything from magic to lasers, and a great sense of humor. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty hard to like Nexagon: Deathmatch. For all its good points, it doesn’t have enough of an identity. Even while you’re getting a few laughs out of certain moments, the whole enchilada fogs your brain to the point where you don’t know how you’re supposed to play the game.

Nexagon is sort of an updated version of Smash TV. It’s set in the 44th century and convicts battle by proxy for freedom. Instead of going mano-a-mano, the brain-in-a-box cons control teams of thralls (called Hordes) who fight three-period matches in destructible 3D arenas called Pits. You earn points and cash for knocking out opponents, invading enemy bases (called Sanctums) and decorating your own for the approval of the viewers at home, and even waving to the cameras in front of sponsors’ billboards.

It’s sort of a cross between hockey, Survivor, and Gladiator with killer robots and gooey aliens. The four teams here draw from wildly different sources, providing real variables to play. Take charge of the Strunar and you’ve got a robotic force that fights like the present-day military, complete with a battlemech that serves as an M1 Abrams with legs. The Olfrum are standard bug-eyed aliens who do neat things with acid and gas. Ghandros robots are reminiscent of the Terminator movies. And the Tekhan seem to have been pulled out of a steampunk role-playing game, considering their spellcasting skills.

Snap181Although the foundation has been laid for an interesting game, Nexagon never comes together. The simple click-fest gameplay doesn’t seem bad on the surface, though the focus is so jumbled that it’s hard to appreciate any aspect of the design. Much of the combat takes place in the Pits between enemy Sanctums, and these areas are too small to make strategizing very useful. So while it’s a good idea to think twice about starting thrall location and routes to attack the enemy Sanctum, you usually just run in headlong and plan later.

After this happens about a dozen times in a match, you abandon the MacArthur stuff and set down the corncob pipe for incessant rushes. This quickly gets boring, even with the destructible environments that allow you to blow things up real good. There are only four unit types available for each Horde, which bogs things down even though the forces themselves have very different strengths and weaknesses. After a couple of hours, it doesn’t matter that only the Olfrum Golem can regenerate, and that the Strunar Drone is the only one with a ranged weapon, because the unit selection is so limited that you can’t get into a rock-paper-scissors frame of mind.

Snap173Controls problems exacerbate the game’s failings in the action department. Multiple clicks are often necessary to move a unit. Pathfinding is so poor that units can’t navigate the narrow corridors of the Pits. It’s impossible to group units and send them to a single destination, as one will inevitably bump into a comrade and wander off. Traps in the Pits further slow you down. The greased-lightning AI doesn’t seem to have any issues with these pitfalls, generally getting in your face within moments of a match’s beginning, but you will. You can’t examine a Pit before the match starts, either.

All of the flaws noted above, plus graphics so gloomy that you can’t make out any details on unit models indicate that the developers should have spent some more time fine-tuning this “could-have-been†concept.

System Requirements: Pentium 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win98

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