All around the world same song
It’s hard to believe it’s been two decades since the gaming world first got to experience Duke Nukem 3D. Developer 3D Realms’ bloody ode to 80’s action flicks was a pioneering effort in the era of edgy first-person shooters, paving the way for such titles as Blood, Shadow Warrior, and Redneck Rampage. Now, Gearbox Software has polished up the original four-episode campaign with a fresh coat of paint and injected an all-new fifth episode created by the game’s original developers Allen Blum III and Richard Gray to celebrate the game’s 20th anniversary.
On the surface, Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour doesn’t seem too different from the Megaton Edition that released last year. The four original episodes of Duke Nukem 3D are present and accounted for, and are just as fun to blast your way through as they were when the game first debuted in 1996. Each stage is filled with secrets to uncover, over-the-top weapons to collect, and a legion of babe-snatching aliens to butcher. And while Duke’s racier elements once again return, they’re considerably less controversial in today’s gaming climate, where showing a bit of skin is already as common as blasting the noggin off an alien invader to begin with.
The star of the show is the all-new episode designed for World Tour. Dubbed “Alien World Order”, this episode takes players around the globe to kick ass, chew bubblegum, and rescue earth’s babes from unspeakable acts at the hands of the alien menace. Players will lay waste to extraterrestrial aggressors in such scenic locales as Amsterdam, Russia, UK, Egypt, France, San Francisco, and Hollywood over the course of its seven stages, and each level is littered with amusing Easter eggs and secrets to uncover.
More than just a re-tread of what we’ve come to expect from the game, Allen Blum III and Richard Gray’s latest selection of stages really is the crown jewel in World Tour’s package. The episode’s first stage, Amsterdam, tasks players with fighting their way through an alien-infested head shop that’s capped off with an utterly stoned Duke battling hordes of baddies over the course of a (literally) killer high. Another leg of Duke’s globetrotting tour de force begins in the booze bottle-filled streets of Moscow on a missions that spans war-torn tenements, the aisles of a grocery store, and even a secret Soviet-era missile lab deep beneath the city streets. My personal favorite moment was when I battled my way through the war-torn streets of London, which culminated with a showdown against a hulking boss smack dab in the heart of the Palace of Westminster. And these are just a handful of the standout moments from the new campaign. Truth be told, these stages are leagues better than the often disjointed feeling stages of the original offerings, and they flow in a much more natural way that’s less likely to leave players lost while still allowing plenty of room for exploration.
While Duke Nukem 3D looked great when it landed on PCs back in 1996, the bloody visuals and flat sprites of yesteryear don’t quite do the job today. Thankfully, Gearbox has decided to use True3D rendering to spruce up the visuals with an added layer of visual fidelity, and each stage has been bathed in plenty of new light sources to breathe new life into the aging engine. These added features don’t make it look like a whole new game by any stretch, but they do a good job of making things easier on the eyes as you paint the globe red. And if they aren’t your thing, you can disable them with the tap of a button on the digital pad, allowing you to play through each chapter using the original Build Engine assets – a feature that even the finickiest purists are sure to appreciate.
Though the visual upgrades may be modest, but the new tracks produced by Lee Jackson, who created Duke Nukem‘s theme “Grabbag” and sound designer for Duke Nukem 3D, are simply fantastic. These tracks stand in stark contrast to the thrash-heavy sounds we’ve come to know from the game and are easily the best to grace the series to date, featuring varied instrumentation that does a great job of giving the game some much-needed atmosphere. For example, the stage set in Russia is accompanied by a haunting operatic vocal track that sounds straight out of The Hunt for Red October, while Duke’s tour of Egypt is accompanied by sitar-laden melodies that bring an authentic sound to the labyrinthine level set beneath the desert’s dunes.
Unfortunately, while World Tour is by and large a blast for nostalgic shooter fans looking to rekindle their love for the genre’s golden years, this port isn’t without its share of issues that might make you think twice before you pull the trigger on this purchase. The most irksome of these problems comes from some serious issues with the aiming system. Simply put, you’ll find Duke doesn’t always like to shoot where you’re aiming. This issue is especially true when it comes to targeting turrets, which seem impervious to fire unless you manage to stand in a sweet spot where the shot will finally register in. At first I thought I may have just been out of range, but I found the same issue to happen countless times regardless of whether I was just a few meters from my target or a great distance away. Duke’s aiming also proves problematic when trying to fight enemies who are facing you from varying heights. There were numerous times I aimed above me at a baddie positioned on a rooftop or high ledge, only to have my shot target enemies who were on my level or below me. This can prove to be a massive headache: Especially when it happens during the game’s challenging boss fights.
Another issue that rears its head all too frequently is the cumbersome way in which players swap their weapons. Tapping the shoulder button allows you to cycle through a menu showing your arsenal of weapons, but there’s no way to simply swap weapons without bringing up this menu. This makes switching to a new weapon a serious headache when you’re in the heat of an intense fight. Given the fast-paced nature of the game, the last thing you want to do is fumble through menus when things get chaotic, making this nagging issue seem like a serious oversight on the part of the developers.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Duke without some online multiplayer thrown in for good measure. Sadly, while functional, what’s on display in Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour is a bit lacking. You can get your fill of standard Dukematch (deathmatch) play against humans or bots, and dive into the campaign with up to eight players for some co-op chaos to relive the LAN party glory days, but that lack of modes does make this anniversary celebration seem a little halfhearted. After all, this is Duke-Freaking-Nukem we’re talking about. The fact that there’s no couch co-op to speak of is especially disappointing given even the Nintendo 64 version of the game sported the feature, and that was nearly two decades ago!
Despite these issues, Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour is still a great way to relive the defining days of Duke before the ill-fated Duke Nukem Forever turned our foul mouthed, cigar-chomping hero into an industry punchline. While technical issues sometimes hobble the experience, it’s still a ton of fun to purge the earth of alien scum with Duke’s crazy arsenal of destruction. And the all new content the new chapter “Alien World Order” brings is without question a labor of love from the duo who first brought Duke Nukem 3D to gamers two decades ago. World Tour may not be a game for the modern shooter crowd, but those looking to take a blood-soaked stroll down memory lane with the King himself should come get some!
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC; Publisher: Gearbox Publishing; Developer: Gearbox Software, Nerve Software; Players: 1-8 (online) ; Released: October 11, 2016 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour given to HeyPoorPlayer by the game’s publisher.