Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 09/24/08 | Genre: FPS
“A babe, a stogie, and a bottle of jack. That’s what I need right now.” With lines like that it’s easy to laugh at the sheer absurdity of misogynic alien executioner Duke Nukem, but at the same time it’s just so darn hard not to love him. Duke Nukem 3D is the latest in the line of old school PC shooters that have found their way onto the Xbox Live Arcade, and as everyone knows, a once great franchise doesn’t always equal success when ported over to a whole new platform. But luckily 3D Realms (the original developer of Duke Nukem 3D) has done a commendable job of transferring such a beloved FPS without trying to make too many enhancements. This act of preservation does keep the core experience of the game endearing, but in other ways causes a few limitations that keep the latest iteration of the Duke a few pieces of bubblegum short of perfection.
The single player portion of Duke Nukem 3D arrives in its entirety as any previous fan will remember it, spanning four different episodes can be completed in any order desired. The story follows our hero the Duke through the streets of Los Angeles to orbital space stations as he blasts pig headed aliens, saunters around with exotic dancers, and delivers one-liners that are so cheesy they could only be said by the atomic nobleman himself. The usual assortment of weapons are all here, along with firearms unique to the franchise such as the Shrinker and Microwave expander, both with their own gory and hilarious results. Obviously old-time Duke fans will be familiar with the gameplay, which revolves around navigating levels in search of key cards, partaking in some light puzzle solving, and all while unloading lead onto hordes of aliens.
Control wise the game handles like almost any other 360 shooter, XBLA or not, with the Left Trigger activating the melee kick, Right the firing button, and the bumpers for cycling weapons. The A button will allow you to jump, X for interacting with the environment, Y to crouch, and B for activating items in the inventory which can be accessed through the D pad. The aiming and looking is something most shooter revivals on XBLA never get right, and Duke Nukem 3D isn’t without its own faults. There’s a great degree of control over movement (which can be sped up by activating the run function) but I found the aiming sensitivity a little too high, so some players may need to do a bit of tweaking.
One thing that I found very impressive was the amount of interactivity possible within the environment for such an old game. Nearly everything reacts to being shot at, and even of the minutest objects yield some sort of reaction, like knocking around billiard balls on a pool table. So of course anyone in their early 20’s will be habitually looking over their shoulder to make sure mom doesn’t see what they’re playing, but 3D Realms have instituted a few advancements with the XBLA version for a new generation.
The biggest change comes with the new saving system. Progress can be saved at any point in time, but if players do happen to take a few too many hits the game reverts to its playback feature. From here it’s possible to rewind to an earlier point of play, or respawn immediately where you left off. This degree of freedom made things a little too easy, as I feel that dying in any game should at least come with some form of penalty. These playback videos are in fact not only a saving tool, but can also be uploaded to Xbox Live and shared with friends, the only problem is they can’t be edited like in Halo 3, making the feature not all that tempting to use.
A few more hours can be gleamed from the single player campaign by posting scores in the online leader board or acquiring unlockable concept art, but the most fun anyone will have with the game lies within the cooperative mode. Here you and up to seven other friends can form an army of Dukes and take on the entire campaign either online or through system link. All of the co-op sessions ran well, but instead of getting a cushy save feature like the single player mode, gamers will have to contend with no saves at all, forcing them to play catch up with their friends by respawning all the way back at the beginning of the level. No actual progress is lost but the jog back to the front line can be a pain.
The adversarial multiplayer is sadly a very meager offering, with only two modes; one on one and deathmatch. It’s too bad since more modes have been included in other iterations, such as the Atomic version that contained Duke Tag (Capture the Flag). The general gameplay is quite frenetic, but it’s still pretty shallow and lacks the modern day trimmings most Arcade shoppers expect to receive, even from old school rereleases.
Thankfully 3D Realms hasn’t done what other developers do when resurrecting a shooter from another age, and that’s give us a widescreen re-modeled look that often feels very uncomfortable to play (see Marathon Durandal). Instead Duke Nukem 3D is presented in all its pixilated glory on a small square screen, and while some may be unhappy with the game not taking up every inch of their expensive new set, this method really does make the game easier to play, and provides a more authentic presentation in general. The game’s sound has received an upgrade with modern MIDI tools, so the music and weapon effects all come in very clear. Of course the highlight of the sound department is the over-the-top dialogue delivered by Duke Nukem, who despite his age still manages to evoke plenty of laugh out loud moments.
3D Realms has certainly succeeded in delivering an XBLA version of Duke Nukem 3D that’s very true to the original, without too many changes. This might be good for the single player, but on the multiplayer side a bit more could have been done. The very barebones component we received comes with no broad appeal, dragging the title a little too far back into the realm of nostalgia. That’s a shame because when it comes to the rest of the game any player will enjoy the action, even though it can get to be a breeze in the single player due to the playback system. Despite being over ten years old the core gameplay and whacky personality behind Duke Nukem 3D hasn’t lost its appeal to vets that have already been there, or newcomers just discovering this classic shooter, proving the world is still ready to accept another Duke Nukem game, no matter how long it takes.