An apology for Forever
I’d be hard pressed to find a game I have more history with than Duke Nukem 3D.
Although there had been several projects before it that so heartily embraced the mod community, it was the first time I had really connected with that scene. I would go to swap meets and buy mods off of CDs, bring them home, and spend an entire summer afternoon playing over 100 levels. It was also the first LAN game I played in my home, having helped my family set up our network, after an uncle had gifted us a PC, a router, and CAT-5 cables.
And as I’ve mused before, to circumvent the parental lock, I used to uninstall the game, reinstall it, play with the lock off, then swap the password so my parents would think it’s a glitch and restart the cycle anew.
Nostalgia and long-winded story aside, I’m glad Gearbox didn’t half ass Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour.
Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: 3D Realms (original work), Gearbox Publishing, Nerve Software
Publisher: Gearbox Publishing
Released: October 11, 2016
Since I already discussed the fundamentals of Duke 3D in my Megaton review, I’m mostly going to talk about the new fixin’s here. Instead of basically porting over the original, a few coats of paints have been splashed over this one, without neutering the absurdity of it all.
In fact, the first level of the new “Alien World Order” episode (designed by original developers Allen Blum III and Richard Gray) is a weed shop in Amsterdam, which is a good way to showcase some of the new one-liners from original Duke voice actor Jon St. John. The whole episode bends the level creator just enough to still feel like a ’90s shooter even if it employs some modern tech, and the locales themselves are somewhat based on the experiences of Allen and Richard’s world travels — something you can pick up on for yourself with the new commentary tracks.
Every level (Amsterdam, Russia, UK, Egypt, France, San Francisco, Hollywood) is worth playing, and is still loaded with secrets and some crazy challenges, especially on tougher difficulty settings. This type of labyrinthine design is a lost art in an era of linear Hollywood shooters (which are fine in their own right), and outside of the really disappointing, easy re-skin of a final boss (it’s a modified Cycloid Emperor from the Stadium fight with a flamethrower), I was just as addicted as I was all those years ago. Oh, and unlike the Megaton release, you can skip to any level you wish in any chapter from the start. And one thing to keep in mind — the PC edition has Workshop map support, which is something I wasn’t able to test on console.
Speaking of the commentary, it’s great…when it’s present. To trigger it, you just toggle it in the menu, and interact with little floating microphone icons deliberately placed in the world — I love this method because it’s like a guided tour, highlighting close and relevant landmarks. There’s some really cool inside-baseball type coding stuff in there that provides some insight into why, say, a random object is in a certain place (to free up a few frames to keep the game running smoothly), as well as some social influences that you probably didn’t think of back then.
I mentioned that caveat because a lot of levels almost completely lack commentary, and most of it is front-loaded into the initial stages of each episode. Really though I’m just surprised that World Tour is so true to itself when they had the opportunity to take out things if they wanted. All of the irreverence is still in there, and Jon St. John’s new lines are noticeably better in quality than the legacy audio (you can toggle both at any time).
For those who are wondering, the rewind feature that lets you dial back to any point in a run after a death returns from Megaton, but it’s accompanied this time by a visual toggle that swaps to the “True3D” effect upgrade. No, it’s not going to bring Duke into the modern era as it still looks dated as hell, but the swap is noticeable, especially in terms of the lighting effects. World Tour sports a newer, more minimal UI that can also be toggled (here’s a comparison shot). Equally dated is the multiplayer element, which has concessions for deathmatch, co-op, and (dumb) bots — every mode is online-only outside of the latter, and there’s no split-screen support. Oddly, there’s no Duke Tag (CTF), a feature that was in the Megaton release.
I got swept up in Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour, and although I had initially planned on just checking out the new chapter, I ended up beating the entire game over again. There’s a reason that these classic games like Shadow Warrior and Rise of the Triad still hold up, and it’s mostly due to strong level design that very few developers are striving for. If you like a side of getting lost in mazes with your shooter main course, Duke is ready and waiting.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]