It’s the mid-nineties. The chances are if you’d experienced bursting the devil’s playthings like exploding meat bags or John Wick-ing your way through Nazi bases as Blazkowicz you’d almost certainly heard of a crew-cut-wearing, cigar-smoking, all-American hero with a profound fondness for the ladies and cheap toilet humour. It’s the mid-nineties, John Romero and id Software along with 3D Realms had the industry firmly by the balls; redefining, reshaping, revolutionising and popularising the shooter genre. While the iconic Doomguy stomped ten tonnes of shit out of the finest Hell had to offer, Duke charmed us with all the glitz and glamour of an A-list Hollywood movie star.
The forever charismatic protagonist urged players to indulge in their chauvinistic side; with a parade of off-the-cuff catchphrases and an indisputable love for defending his country from invading alien scum. Love him or hate him, most couldn’t help but be seduced by the charm of this shotgun touting everyman. With a remastered version of the 1996 classic, we were once again offered the chance to step back into the iconic boots of Nukem, and what a fine pair of boots they are.
Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour: Xbox One, PlayStation 4 [Reviewed], PC
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: Gearbox Publishing
Release Date: 11 October 2016
Price: £15.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Never one to ignore the big fat elephant hiding in the corner of the room but Duke Nukem Forever was a largely forgettable experience for the majority that took the time to a) pay good money for it b) play it, before most likely putting it back down again rather abruptly or seeking a refund. While the recent reboot of DOOM received plaudits and messes; Wolfenstein: Old Blood and New Order garnered praise, you couldn’t help but feel that Duke Nukem deserved an entirely new entry if only to forget the mediocre Xbox 360 title of the mid-2010s. What we got instead was a remaster of Duke’s first glorious 3D outing to commemorate its 20th anniversary. Initially released in 1996, Duke Nukem 3D was the toast of the industry post release with its level design, speed and multiplayer mode celebrated. One question remained though, could this version be as successful as the original and would it still be relevant in today’s market?
We’ve come a long way since the early 90’s. With 4K gaming on the horizon and virtual reality allowing for fully immersive worlds, it would be all too easy to forget those that came before it; the foundations of the genre, the innovators and ground-breakers. To stay relevant in this competitive industry you have to learn to evolve, but that isn’t to say that you can’t still skip down memory lane or restore those you hold dear to new forms of glory, Duke Nukem 3D World Tour is a fine example of exactly that. 3D World Tour boasts 5 excellently designed episodes to blast your way through and an assortment of creative weapons at hand to ensure your stay remains as chaotic as humanly possible as our hero traverses the world, using and abusing it as if it was his own personal theme park. Duke Nukem 3D World Tour as the name implies, takes in a wealth of locations from the newly designed seedy x-rated city of Amsterdam to London and even Eygpt in Duke’s quest to rid the planet of swarms of extraterrestrials.
The simplistic nature of gameplay ensures that Duke Nukem 3D World Tour remains as fun a shooter as it ever was post release – 1996, and while it doesn’t come fitted out with all the extras Megaton Edition boasted before it, it still exudes the energetic fast-paced action and large impressive explosions that made its original introduction such a grand gaming spectacle 20 years ago. Echoes of id’s Doom ring out as Duke armed with first a pistol, then shotgun, then whatever comes to hand struts around a beautifully designed labyrinth of corridors levelling anything with a pulse, while occasionally stopping to tip pixelated strippers or wipe dog shit from his boots. One of 3D World Tour’s biggest lures as a first-person shooter is its distinct lack of safety or feeling of comfortableness when attempting to survive the never-ending swarm of enemies coming at you from every angle, forcing players to move and think quicker than ever before to avoid becoming just another statistic or pool of bloody mush on the floor. With his back firmly against the wall and bullets in short supply, watch in awe as Duke pumps himself up with steroids like an Olympic weightlifter for a high octane killing frenzy before dropping a hologram of the man himself to distract the admittedly stupid enemies to their death.
The addition of an all-new fifth episode to Duke Nukem 3D might have left some fearing the worst, however rather than feeling like a cheap tacked on cash grab, Duke’s foray in the colourful city of Amsterdam, before landing in England and eventually winding up in the deserts of Eygpt fits perfectly with the original 4 episodes and doesn’t for a second look out of place when stacked up against the games original standout level design. “World Tour” comes from the introduction of this extra episode and the cigar smoking protagonist jet-setting all over the globe only serves to feel like the release of an extended cut movie on DVD rather than not-so-funny outtakes you’d rather you hadn’t seen.
Does Duke 3D have a place in today’s market?
No-one is insusceptible to age and time catches up to even the best of us. Opting to forgo a complete graphical overhaul Duke Nukem 3D World Tour lovingly embraces its aged pixelated look, its flat sprite enemies so synonymous with its hey-day, another feature that made the game so great and will undoubtedly pull back players once more to kick some alien ass. An added option sees players actively flirt between the game’s original look and its current form thanks to the simple flick of the control pad; allowing for an excellent perspective of the game’s redone textures and improved lighting without overly compromising its classic look. For a game re-introduced into an era where high resolution, high-quality textures and high framerate take overwhelming precedence, it’s good to see the level designers merely add a delicate lick of polish to ensure the game remains bright but still in keeping with its original state. To answer that question, Duke will always be relevant to the industry, there’s a reason the game popularized the shooter genre in the mid-nineties and that still makes sense in the current market even if its graphics don’t quite come up to par with today’s forward thinking technology.
Speaking of those pesky level designers: Original design pair Allen Blum III and Richard “Levelord” Gray return to provide a director’s commentary that adds a further layer of nostalgia; as the two revisit a game they poured so much collective love into all those years ago. Listening to Duke 3D‘s original level designers discuss the reasons behind so many of the games tidbits and less amicable moments is most certainly worth it, and a real treat for hardcore fans if they can somehow activate the small trickles of audio in-between getting their arse handed to them on a silver plate. As if they weren’t already boiling over, the games nostalgia levels reach fever pitch as original voice actor Jon St. John returns to reprise his role as Duke with re-recorded voice acting preferred to the original audio. With an all-new episode to enjoy it was almost inevitable that new voice recordings would happen but despite St. John seemingly not missing a trick, I can see why the die-hard fans might find reasons to argue with the re-recordings, although this can be turned off.
Duke Nukem 3D 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour is a great package that allows players fond of mid-nineties classic shooters to hop inside a time portal and be transported back to a time when it was fun to kick seven shades of shit out of unwelcome aliens. Duke is Duke, a man not for the changing and a new entry or remastered version of a classic; he remains as rude and charismatic as he always was. The addition of a new episode, subtle graphical upgrades, director’s commentary and returning voice actor Jon St. John ensures that this re-release doesn’t feel like a bad port or cash grab for a current generation console. So what are you waiting for ladies and gents? Don that crew cut, spark up that cigar and get ready to take on the world like it was 1996, Nukem style! Hail to the king baby!