Nuclear Corps is certainly an experience.
Inspired by the real life nuclear disaster in Fukushima (2011) – which was the most severe incident since the infamous Chernobyl (1986) – Nuclear Corps follows the aftermath of the tragic event. You control a group of three old folks – old heroes in fact – as they look to rescue civilians and stop the escaping nuclear radiation.
You do this by dealing with puzzles, utilising each character in real time, to work your way through a number of stages.
So how is the game? A bit of a disaster – to be honest.
Total (tonal) disorder:
You’d be forgiven for thinking that a game based on such a recent tragedy might be a tad distasteful. Nuclear Corps deals with the gravity of the issue in a pre-Newtonian way, with a colourful aesthetic and upbeat score completely juxtaposing with the severity of the games subtext. I found this incredibly strange.
Levels consist of cartoony monsters, including charging bulls, aliens and even dragons. The overall design is incredibly cartoony and undermines the serious background to the games events. This approach just didn’t work for me.
Even your characters themselves feel more like ‘memes’, with the grappling hook pensioner, boxing Grandad and Rick from Rick and Morty? Well, maybe an alternate universe Rick.
I just don’t understand what tone the game was trying to achieve, and the absence of cutscenes or any sort of personality from the characters – beyond their cartoony design – made me feel incredibly detached from the experience.
The wrong kind of difficulty:
Difficulty in gaming is a fiery topic that contains many polarising and clashing opinions. Soulsbourne titles reward player patience, with death being a key component to the experience. Roguelikes follow somewhat of a similar philosophy, with trial and error being encouraged to push player skill. Other games, like the recent Assassin’s Creed titles, create difficulty through settings. Higher difficulties beef up enemies’ attack and health – something that I personally hate.
Regardless of how you feel about the difficulty debate, each approach has its merits. As long as there is a sense of fairness and the experience is still enjoyable, things are good.
Nuclear Corps doesn’t have optional difficulties. Instead, each mission becomes progressively more challenging; more enemies, more puzzles and more resistance for your three playable characters.
The biggest problem with the gameplay is that it actively feels like the game is working against you. Each character feels incredibly sluggish; movement is clunky and aiming – for the character with a gun – is awful. I didn’t enjoy controlling these characters.
The levels themselves are fairly short and do present some interesting challenges, which require you to use each of the characters in a certain order to progress. Each character has a particular skill set suited to dealing with any given situation. One character has a grapple hook that can help her reach areas the other two can’t. Another character can concuss enemies and block lasers with his shield. And Rick has a gun. To be fair, I’m underselling it: Rick is the most useful character by far, as he can actually deal with every enemy.
I liked that the game was in real time, because this presented a certain risk to using each character. Whilst you’re controlling one character across the other side of the map, another one of your characters might be in a position to get absolutely stomped down by some enemies. There is always a risk to using each character, which is compounded by the fact that when one character dies the whole mission resets.
That being said, boss battles are unfortunately a complete let down. One particularly awful battle involves you trying to use the grapple hook against the boss in a tiny arena. This experience was especially tiresome because the game does a poor job explaining how to use this mechanic. Other boss battles, whilst not as challenging, are just boring. The first boss in particular involves you just shooting a single spot and occasionally avoiding a few bombs until the bosses large health bar is eventually withered away.
Nuclear Corps is a game that feels unfocused, unpolished and at times, unbearable. Whilst there are elements of strategic play to be found, owing to the games real time approach, the absence of a compelling story, awkward gameplay and lack of progression make it a hard one to go back to.
Regardless of if there is a case for making a game based on such a recent tragedy, Nuclear Corps undoubtedly fails to justify using such source material. And as a fundamental gaming experience, it misses the mark.