Sunday, July 12, 2015

Level Up: Duke Nukem Manhattan Project

One video game character I wish understood more is Duke Nukem. He seems to have a legacy that follows him and honestly I just don’t get it. I might have been a little too late to the party), but even looking back I still don’t get the history of the Duke. From what I’ve gathered he had 2 platform games, then a 3D game that must have been REALLY good (or people really enjoyed his meathead persona ironically) and then Duke Nukem Forever took over a decade to come out and became a joke among the industry. But even then, I get confused since there’s a fair amount of spin-offs and mobile games, some of them coming after Forever’s announcement? Why do those games get ignored when Duke Nukem comes up (people don’t ignore Mario RPG games when talking about Mario)? To do a bit of research and experience it first hand, I have Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project for the PC today.
One of the reasons this might be ignored could be because this is a side scroller platformer rather than an FPS (which actually makes it more like most of the games in the main series). In terms of game play, its not too bad. You’ll walk around as Duke, shoot monsters with various guns and jump around future New York. You have secrets to find, items to collect and babes to rescue. It also controls really well.
But despite having really well polished game play, it feels like there’s nothing done with it. The game design is uninspired and it becomes repetitious very quickly (it’s a bad sign when a slot for key cards is on the main HUD). That’s not to say the game doesn’t have a lot of content- in fact it might have too much: levels drag on even without trying to find all the secret areas. Replaying this game for the review, the first level of the game took me over 12 minutes, and I still missed a secret area and collectable item.
Speaking of the collectable items, they aren’t useless: collecting them all in a given level gives you a permanent stat boost. However, it gets screwed over by the save system. If you’re like me, you might beat some levels without collecting everything, and decide to come back to them later on. However, you don’t get this stat boost once you return to your previous progress: you only get it if you continue on to the next level. So collect everything the first time, replay the level right away or forget about the boosts.
The graphics are kind of the same story as the game play: technically they look great. Even for the PS1 era style graphics, Duke is really well done and I like the quality of everything (even including backgrounds). But most of the imaging is brown and gray. It’s not really pleasant to look at much and I wish they had some vibrantly colored mutants or settings.
But while everything has been in the “potential not realized” category, the audio is just plain annoying. While I did expect Duke to have some good one liners, they really overdo it in this game and he seems to have to talk after each kill he makes. And it’s pretty bad for a fan of Spider-man Shattered Dimensions to say “I’m annoyed at the amount of chatter.” It would help if they were funny, but those are few and far between. Luckily the quality of the writing in cut scenes and Jon St. John’s classic Duke voice are the saving grace. The music has nothing going for it though: It’s over bearing and doesn’t match the gameplay style (it might have been better for an FPS). It matches the bleak nature of the backgrounds I suppose, but that’s not a good thing.
It might be obvious, but maybe starting with a spin off game probably wasn’t the best way to get the appeal of the Duke Nukem series (especially one that’s not in the style that’s the game that made the series known). Apparently the story isn’t even typical of Duke Nukem, since it deals with Mutants instead of Aliens. It still has a lot of one liners that could have been straight out of any Schwarzenegger movie, but I don’t get it, is that really the big appeal? I felt like I should have liked it more than I did as it gets kind of tiresome quickly (at least in this game). And really, that’s this whole game in a nutshell. Sunstorm Interactive didn’t develop something incompetent here, just unpolished and uninspired. If you took the same smooth gameplay, made the maps smaller, maybe add a little variety and over hauled the backgrounds and music, this could be a really fun game. This is a spin-off that’s entirely skippable, but if you choose to play it, it won’t be a bad experience, just a dragged out on. I give Duke Nukem Manhattan Project for the PC 7 levels out of 10.

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