It is crazy to think that the original Duke Nukem 3D was released 20 years ago, changing what Duke Nukem would be forever. For those of you who don’t know, Duke Nukem started out as a 2D side-scroller for the PC and stayed this way for its first two installments. However, in 1996, 3D Realms, following in the footsteps of iD Software and their titles Doom and Wolfenstein, changed Duke into the first-person shooter we have grown to know and love.
In Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour (what a mouthful) we see the re-release of all four original episodes with as little touch up as possible. In this new release, Gearbox added a fifth episode, Alien World Order, bringing us seven new levels. They kept the graphics of this new chapter very true to the original game, even building it with the same tool kits and assets that were used in the original. In the newest episode, Gearbox takes us around the world traveling through everything from Russia and Egypt to Hollywood and Rome all while killing alien baddies along whole way.
Here’s what I liked:
Audio — Since the game was originally released in 1996, almost all the Duke Nukem recordings are pretty rough, so they decided to hit up Jon St. John (the voice of Duke Nukem) and have him record all his old lines again, as well as a few new ones for the new episode. They also reached out to the original composer, Lee Jackson, to write new music so it would have the same aesthetic and feel as the original. These were brilliant choices on Gearbox’s part as it definitely is pleasing to the ears and sounds just like you remember and expect it to.
Keeping it Old School– Gearbox did rework the lighting and textures to brighten it up and smooth it out some, but other than that, it’s damn near untouched. This being the 20th anniversary of the game, no one is looking for a completely remastered, built from the ground up, game. What people are looking for, is exactly what they get, a game that still looks like they remember. Now mind you, I did say that they touched up a couple things, but that is needed as your memory would have been let down without it. You can press down on the d-pad and switch to the original graphics to see how much they changed. As you will see, it isn’t much.
Cheat Codes– I love cheat codes. That’s right, I do – I’m a dirty, filthy cheater. As a gamer who grew up playing games in the late 80s and all through the 90s, things like Game Genie and GameShark were a big deal. They made impossible games like Battletoads possible and made games like Contra even more fun than they already were. Cheat codes are also one of the best things about Duke Nukem so you don’t have to actually be good to “kick ass” and “chew bubble gum.”
Here’s what I didn’t like:
Dukematch — The online scene for Duke Nukem 3D is virtually nonexistent – I waited 45 minutes at some points before I finally gave up. I’m sure this is why they made the bot system, which at first thought is a great idea. Unfortunately, the A.I.’s difficulty is not adjustable, and it seems to only have one set of instructions: run and gun. In 90% of the matches they would pile up on each other in one spot of the map, occasionally venturing off to get a gun or two. This made winning matches easy and boring, just taking my time to grab the pipe bombs or RPG so I could just blow them all up at once over and over again.
No auto-save — As an everyday gamer, I have grown to expect auto-save of some sort in all games. Sometimes it’s at the end of a level, other times at checkpoints throughout the level and some games today even save every step of the way so you never lose more than a few seconds of play. Duke Nukem does none of these, so if you crash, lose power or just leave to go have a life, you better remember to manually save or you will lose hours of progress.
Hard Crashes — I get that Gearbox didn’t want to change much as they were trying to stick to the original feel and look. Though I have to say, not fixing glitches that cause hard crashes, kicking me all the way back to the dashboard, is one memory of the original I could have done without. I was actually able to trigger a hard crash on one specific level by purposely progressing through it a specific way. This is unacceptable. If you add in the aforementioned save issue, this can definitely lead to a rage quit moment.
It feels like me and Duke have been killing alien scum for a long time now, but honestly, we haven’t. We saved the world a few times in the 90s and then it was fifteen long years before we saw him again. As I replay Duke Nukem 3D, I realize that most of what made this game great was only great because no one else had done it like them yet. Crude, rude, tons of pop culture references and lots of easter eggs, Duke was a first of its kind. Twenty years later, untouched and carrying a $20 price tag, Duke feels more like a washed up has-been than the kick ass hero I remember.
Score: Reader’s Choice
Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour was developed by Gearbox Software and was published by Gearbox Publishing. It was released on October 10, 2016 for $19.99. A copy of the game was provided at no charge for review purposes.