Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Back to Basics with Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour

(Version reviewed: PlayStation 4)

A little more than 20 years ago, the skies over Los Angeles danced with flames as ‘80s action star amalgam Duke Nukem came crashing back to Earth. Duke bailed out of the wreckage of his ship, slapped on his sunglasses, and declared war on the alien maggots who had taken over the world in his absence. Thus was born one of the most influential action games of the ‘90s, arguably toppling the aging DooM franchise from its perch as king of the first person shooter hill.

Duke’s fallen on hard times recently, with longtime industry joke Duke Nukem Forever finally hitting store shelves after a 14-plus year development cycle to nearly universal criticism. But after a little R and R, it seems Duke Nukem is ready for more action: Gearbox software is hoping to rinse the taste of Forever out of our collective gaming mouths with Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour, an enhanced rerelease of the alien ass-kicking original.

But less than three years after the content rich Duke Nukem 3D Megaton collection nuked its way to PCs and the PlayStation 3, why would anyone plunk down $20 this?

Sweating the Small Stuff
For starters, World Tour is a far cry from the buggy mess that was Megaton collection on PS3. Also, the rewind feature is back from older console versions, meaning that players need not constantly save their game in fear of losing progress.

Disappointingly, the new “3D” effects promised in promotional materials are nothing special. This new look is supposed to make the game in “true 3D” according to the trailer, but frankly, I sometimes can’t tell the difference between this and classic mode. However, these enhancements truly shine with lighting effects (pun intended). Enemy laser blasts illuminate dark hallways, explosions glow with heat, and atomic health shines with, uh, radiation I guess. You can swap the new graphics with the original look and vice versa on the fly by pressing down on the D-pad.

The director’s commentary is interesting but out of place. It’s a nice addition to be sure, but impractical when mixed with Duke’s run ‘n’ gun gameplay. I started with commentary on, but after getting murdered several dozen times while standing around listening to programmers talk about minutia, I switched it off. (Guess I’ll use God Mode one of these days and do a commentary run.)

All Out of Gum?
The game’s biggest draw is the new fifth episode, Alien World Order. Created by Duke 3D’s original level designers including “Levelord” Richard Gray, this is probably the main reason why World Tour is $20 while the earlier Megaton release – which includes more content overall – can be had for half the price.

The new levels look great and play well, with large, complex areas you’d be hard-pressed to find in the original game. I don’t want to say a whole lot because I don’t want to spoil your experience, but the end boss is probably the most disappointing thing in this release. Remember the Cycloid Emperor, the final badass in the original Duke 3D? He’s back, he’s red, and he’s a huge pushover. What a joke.

Alien World Order also features an exclusive new “fire fly” enemy and the incinerator weapon. The new gun is ok, acting more like a short-range lava launcher than a flamethrower and damaging enemies over time. A crumby firing arc makes it an impractical choice; it’s more fun than effective. And it’s really lame that this just a red palette swap of the original freezethrower.

Finally, Jon St. John, the legendary voice of Duke Nukem, recorded new lines and freshened up the old ones for this release. If you’ve played the hell out of Duke in the last two decades, this is really jarring at first, and the new recordings lack the gritty quality of the originals. Also, St. John’s crisp 2016 voice overs seem out of place with 1996’s muted explosions and grainy, Sega Genesis-like speech clips.

So while the majority of your time playing this episode will be a pleasure, it leaves you wondering: after going through all the trouble of getting the Duke 3D band together, why couldn’t more time have been spent polishing things up?

Who Wants Some?
What World Tour is really offering is a very, very late expansion pack to the same DN3D you’ve been playing for two decades. Considering that I paid $25 for the one-episode “plutonium” upgrade in 1997 and that didn’t come with the original three episodes, Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour is worth my gaming dollars. Then again, I’m an unapologetic Duke devotee and enjoy any excuse to jump back into the oversized, atomic boots of Mr. Nukem.

If you’re satisfied with your older version of Duke 3D or think that sprite-based shooters are better left in the ‘90s, World Tour isn’t going to be the game to change your mind. Also, PC gamers might have little reason to pick this up when they could just play any of the million user levels that have been available for free since 1996.

For everyone else, World Tour is the definitive console version of the classic Duke Nukem 3D. If you’ve got an itch for some alien smashing action, come get some!

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