Saturday, July 31, 2010

Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project (Xbox 360) Review

Eight years ago, Duke Nukem made his return to PC gaming, but not in the form everyone expected. Duke Nukem: Forever was (and still is, laughably) in development hell, and people had long since stopped waiting for it. Instead, this was a time when gamers were playing the latest shooters, real time strategy games, and consoles were slowly coming into their own. So when Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project came along it was regarded as something of an oddity. It was Duke Nukem in a 3D engine for the first time, but the game was a shoot-em-up side scroller, not a first person shooter.

Despite getting solid reviews, the game did poorly at retail simply due to its genre; gamers didn't really care for side scrollers. About a year after its launch, I was able to pick up a copy dirt cheap and I found myself pleasantly surprised. Developed by the now defunct Arush Entertainment, Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project really did capture the spirit of Duke Nukem in the form of babes, bullets, and bombs, and it actually proved to be a very entertaining title. I played through the game a few times, and then traded it in for something else. Now we flash forward to summer 2010, and 3D Realms has ported the game to Xbox LIVE Arcade. So how has Duke held up? Not too bad.

Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project sees New York under attack by Mech Morphix, a mad scientist who has developed a substance called G.L.O.P.P that mutates animals into killer mutants. Not only that, but he's strapped bombs onto a bunch of busty babes, and of course, only Duke can save them and crush Morphix's mutants under foot, literally.

The game takes Duke through several locals beginning on the rooftops of Manhattan, to Chinatown, and other expected and gritty Big Apple settings. The game looked good then, and taking into account its age, it looks good now in proper widescreen. The environments are colourful, Duke and other character models are crisp and clean provided you don't get too close, and stuff still blows up good.

Duke picks up a variety of weapons along the way to deal with the baddies, including his signature Pistol, a Shotgun, Pipe Bombs, etc. Like earlier games, Duke can even use his Mighty Foot to kick or slide kick enemies, and stomp on them once they've been de-mutated. In many respects, the general mechanics you recall from Duke Nukem 3D are all present, save that your moving left and right on a fixed path in third person.

I remember when I was first playing the game years ago, I was rather impressed with how the side scrolling was handled. You moved left and right, of course, but the levels could have you moving in interesting directions instead of just the usual back and forth. Duke can climb ladders, duck, double jump, and there are some even more unique or situational specific scenarios with some of the boss battles at the end of each chapter. There's also a reasonable amount of interaction in the levels. See cracks or holes in walls? Blow them open with a Pipe Bomb to reveal secret areas that may contain Nukes. Collect enough Nukes and Duke's Ego (health) goes up as does the max ammo he can carry. Each area has 10 Nukes so be sure to keep your eyes peeled.

Not only are you looking for Nukes, but you must find and free the Babe in each level, as well as find the keycard to exit the area. Also scattered across the levels are three different kinds of power ups that you can use for a limited time: A Jetpack, Shield, and Max Damage. All of them are placed in areas where you can quickly use them to get the most out of each item.

Of course, what would a Duke game be without Duke Speak. His signature comments and witty one-liners are so bad they're great, and I couldn't help but smile at the tactless humour and stylized voice. They just don't make heroes like Duke anymore. The game's music gets pretty repetitive rather quickly, but the rest of the sound effects and basic voice acting is well done.

One thing that really irks me about the Xbox LIVE Arcade version is the lack of a Quick Save, which I'm sure the PC game did have. Sure, it auto-saves whenever you reach a key point or move to a new section of the level, but that doesn't always help when you're trying to jump over a stupid spike in platformer fashion, only to nick it and horribly die. I forgot how ridiculous collision detection in some of these old games are; very, very frustrating. The gameplay of Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project also gets rather repetitive after a bit. Sure, you're in different environments and there are some clever puzzles around, but when it comes down to it you're really just shooting the same enemies through similar levels. It's not horribly repetitive, mind you, but I honestly found the game could have been a little shorter to get rid of this feeling.

Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project also features two Gamerpics to unlock, as well as two Avatar Rewards in the form of an Avatar T shirt and a Jetpack Prop. Not too shabby. You can also earn all 11 of the 12 Achievements in a single playthrough if you do things right.

So how does Duke's trip to Manhattan rate? Well, it's generally fun, humorous, and cheesy, and due to it's genre some will like it and some won't. My advice, try the Trial version to see if it's your thing. If it is, you'll really enjoy yourself for the bulk of the game. If not, pass and save your Microsoft Points for something else.

As for me, it was a great trip down memory lane that lasted several hours, so I certainly got my play time out of it.

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