Tuesday, 09 May 2017 00:00

Project Nimbus Early Access Review

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Who wouldn’t want to rocket around in a mech suit, getting into dogfights and blasting everything out of the sky?

A small indie developer from Thailand seeks to answer that question in Project Nimbus by means of high-speed, fully three-dimensional, challenging gameplay centered on giant robot suits – and for that part of the game, they nailed it. However, some of the game is unfinished, which causes the experience to be imperfect.

Project Nimbus is a work in progress. Some parts of this title feel unfinished because, simply, they are unfinished; Project Nimbus is still an Early Access game. It was partly Kickstarted and partly self-funded, but it’s been in Early Access since 2014, so progress has come slowly. The new content reviewed here is technically the latest mission plus a few tweaks. Mini-review: this latest level is hard. My hand hurts from mashing keys.

The rest of Project Nimbus is good enough to deserve a proper introduction, though: You find out through the first few missions that, in a previous war, collateral damage from newly-made weapons caused the sea level to rise to the point that people started living in flying cities – and fighting in mechs.

This plot is interesting enough to keep your attention with its twists and turns, though it’s nothing revolutionary. And while you get a vague idea of what’s going on from the different conversations you hear between characters. As you switch between playing soldiers from both sides of the war, your understanding of events could easily end up being a little cloudy.

This is because the dialogue suffers on several levels. The writing, voice acting, and even grammar need some serious work. It’s understandable that a small indie developer in Thailand wouldn’t have a lot of resources to put towards getting a quality script and voice acting in English, but still, the plot is obscured by this shortcoming, so the title has to rely on its gameplay.

The satisfaction is real

Luckily, the gameplay is addictive and satisfying. This is definitely a ‘one more level’-type game, and it will give you carpal tunnel. The extreme difficulty of some levels is the kind of challenge that can be appreciated; your fingers will fly to try to eke out a win, and when it finally does happen, the satisfaction is real.

The enemies and weapons are also varied enough to keep it exciting from one level to the next. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself wishing for another weapon option, but certain characters have crunchy-feeling machine guns or massive, one-shot attacks that pack a gratifying punch. It’s also satisfying to tear through a cloud of weaker enemies, then get into an intense dogfight with an enemy ace.

The levels that are frustrating, and there are some, are the same kind they put in every action game: escort and defend missions. Project Nimbus tries to be creative with its level design, but eventually you’ll have to protect something, and it will be terrible.

But, the physics, combat algorithms, and mechanics of this title have to be respected overall, especially coming from such a small developer. There seem to be no major glitches in the gameplay, and it runs smoothly enough to make for an exciting, rapid, and nerve-wracking experience.

Project Nimbus is sometimes beautiful, other times not.

In terms of the visuals, there are certain points where you’ll have a chance to look around, and you’ll see some breathtaking views. Chaotic dogfights with lasers crossing in front of you, bombs exploding all around, and lights flashing in your HUD – it looks impressive at times. On the other hand, there are large chunks of time when it’s difficult to see the artistic details of the tiny mechs flying in the distance, or of the landscape far below, since you’re way too busy with combat.

The good visuals don’t always compensate for your actions even when you can see, though. In one level, you get a complete change of scenery when you have to watch a girl crawl slowly towards a distant goal. She moves agonizingly slowly, and you’re forced to wait for her, waiting even longer if she gets exhausted and can’t move. There’s a point to dragging this scene out — the drama — and it’s effective, but it drags on too long. This is a level with a beautifully done setting as well, with simple contrasting colors that add to the atmosphere, so it’s a pity that it quickly becomes tedious.

These are the kinds of things that make this title feel unfinished, but simultaneously, Project Nimbus gives you hope. Of course, you further hope that the developers will find more ways to showcase the artwork of their mechs and landscapes, and for small tweaks as well, such as a menu that’s easier to use. Some toning down of the difficulty level would be nice too; the beginning missions are sometimes too easy, and the late game is often extremely difficult.


The Verdict

Project Nimbus is an impressive effort from such a small studio, but it’s very much a work-in-progress, and it’s been that way for a somewhat long time. The gameplay is excellent – addicting enough to burn through countless hours unnoticed – but the story is lacking. The voice acting, translation, and dialogue writing do not serve this title well, though the battles carry the gameplay enough to make it worth the time. If this kind of heavy combat in a robot setting appeals to you, give it a try, and hopefully the issues will clear up by the time it’s finished.

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Nicholas Barkdull

Nic is a writer and narrative designer with a PhD in Social Research and Cultural Studies. He thinks real time strategy games are still a valid form of e-sport, that true RPGs should be turn-based (with huge casts of characters), and that AAA games have a long way to go before they earn back our trust. He is the Lead Writer for Pathea Games's My Time at Sandrock, and his work can be seen in Playboy, South China Morning Post, The Daily Beast, and many other places.