I think I’m a little young to really remember Duke Nukem in its prime; the original game was released in 1991, four whole years before I was even a twinkle. Considered one of the pioneers of personal computer gaming, from what I gather, the franchise helped put first person shooters on a map largely dominated by Mario. Of course, I knew long before I picked up the game that I’ll be reviewing today that Duke Nukem is notoriously daft, filled with sex and drugs and blood and guts and no shortage of pop culture references. But that’s the fun of it, really, and even though the franchise is borderline nonexistent by now (some 20 years later) it’s hard to imagine that this formula for success has changed all that much.
Oh he must, must he?
I asked my friend – who had played a little of the original games – to summarize what I could expect from Duke Nukem: he described it, and I quote, as “like Doom, but with more strippers.” And I suppose this is fairly accurate, given that the main premise of both games is to blast your way through aliens (or demons) until you reach your final objective. The 20th Anniversary World Tour edition is in terms of core gameplay identical to the original, sticking to the same arsenal of weapons and inventory items, and that is absolutely fine.
The close environments and lurking enemies remain as challenging as they were 20 years ago, and I was shocked to discover that I even found myself occasionally taking cover or retreating to find health. I’m not saying that Duke Nukem requires tactics, but I will admit that I was expecting to be able to waltz through the levels without difficulty. If anything, I found the game dragged a little when a puzzle was in need of solving, and that occasionally the quantity of bad guys was lacking, particularly in the levels from the original game. Duke Nukem shines the brightest when you’re firing volleys of rocket-propelled grenades or shotgun slugs at anything that moves.
“Daaaamn, I’m looking good.”
This 20th Anniversary World Tour edition of Duke Nukem 3D comes with a few extras alongside what was to be found in the 1996 version. This includes a brand new set of levels, designed by the original game developers (that’s Allen Blum III and Richard “Levelord” Gray for those of you who don’t know), each taking Duke to a different country as he saves the world by traveling it. From Amsterdam all the way through Egypt and then back to Los Angeles, these were by far the best levels, both to play and to look at; it was obvious that their design had been recently concocted, and with a more frantic edge than some other episodes these trips abroad were where I got a real taste of the Duke Nukem way.
Now why on earth would Duke Nukem ever visit Amsterdam?
I’m not going to discuss the plot, because Duke Nukem doesn’t have one worth mentioning, but that’s always been the way: this is a game tailor-made for mindless entertainment and as such does not offer a decisions-based branching plot system (unless you count deciding whether or not to give the strippers money, I suppose). What I will commend is the outrageous humor that permeates the entire game, as it pokes fun at just about every film ever made. References to Full Metal Jacket, Star Wars, Alien, Lethal Weapon, Indiana Jones, as well as its contemporaries in a sly wink to Doom, to name but a few, are what make Duke Nukem so damn funny, particularly – I’d imagine – for those of us old enough to get every joke.
This is the Incinerator. No points for guessing what it does…
I’m not going to discuss the graphics, either, because let’s face it, even in this 20th Anniversary World Tour edition, the game looks as though it belongs in 1996. But once again, that’s entirely the point: the nostalgia trip would not be complete without the original pixelated 3D world, populated using 2D sprites for just about everything. Any claims that Gearbox Software might make regarding optimization for next-gen consoles is – to be frank – a load of rubbish, because you can’t polish a turd; as it happens, however, this particular turd doesn’t need any cosmetic attention to appeal to anyone with an itchy trigger finger.
Rancor from Return of the Jedi + SAM turret = THAT.
I’ll admit, it took me a little while to really see the appeal of Duke Nukem. In a world of profoundly moving plots and intricately balanced gameplay, a game as 2-dimensional as this seems a little out of place, particularly seeing as to all intents and purposes Duke Nukem is well past his sell-by date. This 20th Anniversary edition is proud of its heritage, however, and is dead set on proving that even though it may not look or feel like a game fit for the 21st century, the 1990s can still pack one hell of a punch in terms of pure, unadulterated enjoyment.
This review based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.