The storyline is standard sci-fi fare (“For millennia mankind has searched the stars for signs of intelligence and a sense of purpose. We should never have looked…”) delivered in a drop dead gorgeous introductory movie. However, it seems that the entire scripting budget was spent on this and this alone. For the rest of the game, you may as well skip the plot, interspersed as it is with the most abysmal voice-acting. Whether it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek or serious is inconsequential – it manages to miss the mark on both counts. For what it's worth, the year is 2110 and you play the part of Marcus Cromwell, space pilot extraordinaire. There are wormholes leading to a far-flung corner of the galaxy, hostile alien races and….. heard this anywhere before??! The game itself comes on two CDs together with a highly uninformative 48 page instruction manual that is about as much help as a pair of sunglasses to a blind man. Although the first sentence clearly states: “This manual is designed to aid you in playing Nexus: The Jupiter Incident ”, you are better off plunging straight into the game, as it does ease you in gently with a lot of hand-holding. Missions come in a variety of flavours (assault, stealth, rescue, etc) all revolving around manoeuvring your ships (numbers ranging from single vessel engagements to small armada battles) in a giant three-dimensional chess game in space. It is possible to pause the game at any point in order to study the current situation, browse the battlefield, issue orders, or make another cup of tea. And while you're at it, make a whole pot of the stuff – you could be some time! Be under no illusions, this game is as slow as it is pretty. And unless you can get into a suitably sedate frame of mind, then you may begin to feel the frustration creeping in.
These frustrations all stem from the lack of direct control you have over every aspect: from movement to combat. The game focuses on advanced planning and tactics over split-second timing, and this takes some time to get used to. Rather than just hammering at every enemy ship until it explodes, Nexus: The Jupiter Incident instead asks you to examine your opponents systems in order to establish the chink in his armour. Every system and subsystem can be individually targeted by each of your ships individual weapons. For example, you can set your energy-based weapons to drain their shields whilst your lasers lance into their flak cannons and your gatling cannon hammers their engines. Your battle-barges must gently manoeuvre into a position where they can get the specific weapons to bear on their designated targets – adding further to the feeling of a ballet between bohemoths. The subtlety of these different weapon types and their effectiveness against specific systems is another cause for frustration. Between missions you are allocated a number of resource points to spend on upgrading your hulking spacefaring vessels. This should be a lot more fun than it actually is. You are being given the opportunity to strap bigger lasers, stronger shields, and more powerful engines into a ship the size of a small country, and yet somehow this fails to satisfy. The ships systems are all nicely categorised, and it is possible to get a vague idea of what each upgrade does by its description and a brief rating summary. However, only actually installing a mod and testing it in battle can give a full picture of its true usefulness. This is simply not good enough, though with enough trial-and-error it is possible to get a decent array of weapons sorted out.
The sheer number of small niggles this game has within it (mostly due to assumptions and omissions on behalf of the game designers) build up to an almost unbearable point, until you reach a moment of clarity. The only reason these niggling points are really grating on you is that they are the tiny holes in this otherwise really rather innovative game. It is so slow at times you may find yourself forgetting whether or not you have paused the damn thing, but it is unlike anything that has come before it. It contains a number of brilliantly executed features in addition to the aforementioned weapon targeting system, and most of these are so subtle they are overshadowed by the glaring negatives. Although lacking any sort of 3D map in which to get your bearings, the numerous sidebars allow you to focus the camera on any ship, friend or foe, with a simple mouse click. The screen can be zoomed in or out an obscene amount, allowing you to review your tactics from afar before sweeping the camera right in to see your motherships blast hot beams of death into the hull of the enemy battlebarges before disgorging squadrons of fighters to fend off incoming missiles. The game also ships with editing software in order for modders to have the tools with which to tweak the Black Ruler engine. Solar systems can be created from scratch, new missions scripted, and unique models imported.
Effectively, this game can be played as if through the eyes of a movie director. You position the actors, tell them what to do, then sit back and admire the results. Images of previous engagements will stay with you for a long time after the last enemy hull ruptured and your battle-scarred fleet warped out of the area. Nexus: The Jupiter Incident takes a great deal of time to get used to, as it is not a game that can be played intuitively. But it is definitely worth trying – gigantic spaceships with huge lasers rank right up there with big stompy robots in the league table of things that make a game worth giving a go.
6 out of 10