Your Weekly Kusoge
Usually when someone makes a disastrous decision, they learn something from it: that way they make less disastrous decisions in the future. Imagine if your best friend got caught dealing drugs, went to jail, got out, and then instead of doing something less illegal, he decided to rob a bank next. You would lock him in an asylum and throw away the key.
Rainmaker Software had the same backwards mindset in 1995. Feeling they hadn't yet embarrassed themselves enough with Isle of the Dead, Rainmaker followed it up with the even more abysmal Nerves of Steel.
Yes, even more abysmal than Isle of the Dead.
Go read the Isle of the Dead article right now, then take a moment to let that sink in. Take a few more if you already looked at the screenshots for this article.
In the near future, the laughably named Kim Dung Moon - future dictator of future North Korea -- plans to take over the world with an army of cyborgs, Frankensteins, and ninjas on loan from COBRA. You are a special forces "tunnel rat" sent to infiltrate Moon's fortresses and eradicate the threat in the name of Amurricuh. In other words, it's three episodes of shooting guys with guns. Their first mistake was not allowing us to be the buxom army babe on the awesome box art. Listing this as the first of Nerves's problems is like starting a biography of Adolf Hitler with, "He wasn't a very good painter."
From top to bottom, Nerves of Steel is probably the worst FPS ever made. It is three long, dreary, glitch-tastic episodes that don't even bother to convey that the player is in North Korea, or even Southeast Asia. In fact, they don't remotely resemble any conceivable location on planet earth: they better resemble the toxic fever dream of a nuclear plant worker dying in the midst of a cataclysmic meltdown. Most of the maps are comprised of the same rooms copy-pasted over and over again with lazy abandon, and all of them are wallpapered - completely at random - with the worst textures ever conceived. You can't tell what any of these walls are supposed to be. Smeared graphite? Pipe organ pipes? Raspberry flavored alien poo?
Whatever slipshod engine Rainmaker used for this game must have had severely limited sector effects, too, because doors are almost nonexistent. Instead we get "ghost" walls you can walk right through into the next room (many of which look exactly like the surrounding walls, forcing you to check your map every five seconds). You might run into an elevator sector once every three maps, thrown in for a little variety, but the levels are generally static. The only interactivity comes on the form of glitchy switches that flicker between off and on states until they finally work and open a level object somewhere, and teleporters that sometimes drop you outside the level boundaries and force you to restart.
Enemies are basically identical apart from their ugly sprites -- badly rendered 3D models or badly drawn scans from somebody's sketchbook. Even better, they move by "teleporting" every few feet while constantly shooting you, sometimes moving through walls to reach you because nobody playtested this train wreck. When killed, they drop a completely random item or weapon regardless of what they were armed with. You might kill a pistol-packin' office clerk and get a new gatling gun for your trouble, asking yourself "Where was he hiding this thing, anyway?" and "Should I wash my hands after handling it?" Theoretically you can end up with the game's entire arsenal by the end of the first level.
They couldn't even code the main menu right: every laggy attempt to move the cursor or select an option feels like the game is about to collapse into a seizure at any moment.
Nerves of Steel has one or two little grains of potential. Some of the guns are nice and percussive, and enemies have different death sprites depending what weapon you kill them with. Some walls and objects are destructible when you shoot them. The legendary box art was produced by Daniel Horne, who made a career out of producing illustrating for various role playing and deck building games. Between each nonsensical map is an intermission screen graciously finger-painted by a first grader, which is just adorable.
But this isn't nearly enough to outweigh the fact that Nerves of Steel is a nuclear disaster of game design. Every single decision Rainmaker made was the wrong one: the programming, the engine, the physics, the sound, the music, the graphics. Their worst decision was to not license the Doom engine. At least then this ugly mess would have been functional. It is mind-boggling that they didn't do this in the first place, and invest their remaining development time in other areas, like a better graphics or level design department.
It is unfathomable that any game could be released in such a broken, unfinished state. Where exactly did all their development time go? Not the box art, which was clearly outsourced; not the marketing, because nobody's heard of it; not the engine, because it's too buggy to be considered anything but an alpha state; sure as hell not the graphics and level design, which were quite obviously thrown together as an afterthought. It's as if Nerves of Steel was made on a bet that Rainmaker couldn't produce a full game in a single week.