True story, despite being the resident “Retro Guy” around these parts, I didn’t play Duke Nukem 3D when it first came out in 1996. I did very briefly get to play the N64 version at a friend’s house in co-op mode, which was a cool novelty back in those days, as he’d borrowed it. Alas, after only a few minutes play, he decided that he didn’t like it and shoved another game in the N64. Sadly, this was also before we got to any of the juicy bits such as strip bars and boobs, but considering it was the 90s, I’m guessing Nintendo would have censored that stuff anyway.
I did get to play quite a lot of Duke Nukem: Time to Kill on the PlayStation though and came to appreciate the over the top violence, in your face sexuality, and snappy one liners that the series has always been famed for. So, when I heard that Duke Nukem 3D was seeing a re-release, along with an extra episode to be added as a violent, bloody cherry on top, I decided it was time to scratch an itch and finally get a chance to devote some actual time to one of those games that had eluded me over the years.
On the whole, I’m glad I did, although I feel my review may not be as glowing as those of reviewers with more personal nostalgia for Duke’s original first-person adventure. One thing that hits you square on the bonce the minute you start playing is how the game does very little to hold your hand. Whereas modern shooters like Call of Duty shepherd you from one set-piece to another, Duke Nukem 3D drops you straight into hostile territory and leaves you to it. The levels themselves do have a defined linear path, but in most cases you will need an access card to move forward to the next section, which will often involve exploration around the rest of the stage.
To Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour’s credit, there are enough secret areas and fun weaponry dotted about that the game never feels like a mere “find the key” quest, which it ultimately could have ended up as if less care had been given to level design. Old school FPS fans will no doubt love playing a game that doesn’t just feel like a ride at Universal Studios, but for players weaned on the CODs of this world, this will be a bit of a culture shock. As someone who has never really sunk that many hours into the FPS genre, I often found myself trudging through areas again and again as I tried to work out what I had to do next. I’ll confess that a couple of times I had to head online for help as I’d hit a brick wall and just couldn’t work out what I was supposed to do.
That being said, the occasions where I was able to work out the next steps on my own gave me more of a sense of achievement than I would ever get from hiding behind a box waiting for my health to recover before going back out into the next designated firefight. That’s not to say that modern FPS games are better or worse, I’ve played the original Modern Warfare’s campaign numerous times, for instance, and still really enjoy it, but this was a striking example of just how the genre has changed over the years when it comes to mainstream consumption.
There’s lots of fun to be had in Duke Nukem 3D, but it will likely only appeal to a certain section of video game enthusiasts. The graphics have been jazzed up from their original state, and the lighting is well implemented. Some of the stages, such as the ones where Face Hugger-style creatures burst from eggs or where giant brains with tentacles lurk in deep waters waiting to leap out at you, are both intensely foreboding and very atmospheric. The soundtrack is excellent and the optional director’s commentary is enjoyable to listen to, although you’ll often find yourself standing around listening to it as it overwhelms the rest of the sound effects and music.
The 8 new missions in the Alien World Order mission pack see Duke visiting different nations around the world and ridding them all of alien scum one shotgun blast at a time. This mode will take you to Holland, Russia, England, and eventually Hollywood for a climactic boss fight. The difficulty spikes pretty heavily in these missions (the Egyptian Maze in particular is a real challenge), but hardened Duke players will no doubt love it.
And therein lies the rub. If you are a fan of the classic FPS genre, you’ll probably love this game, but if you’re not as entrenched in your love for the genre, Duke Nukem 3D is unlikely to convert you.
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: Gearbox Publishing
Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Release Date: 12th October 2016