Duke Nukem 3D is a game that has been ported to almost every major platform since its initial release on MS-DOS in 1996. Since then it has come to Mac OS, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Genesis, Xbox 360, iOS and Android, PlayStation Vita, and now again to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PC. This time sporting new visuals and a developer commentary, Gearbox Software and Nerve Software have teamed up to once again sell us a Duke Nukem game.
All four episodes from 1996 are featured, as well as an all new episode with seven levels that picks up where the original left off. You can choose between any level within the five episodes, and between four different difficulty levels presented by Duke quotes. Upon starting the game you can press down on the D-pad at anytime to swap between the original graphics and the update version.
Swapping doesn’t hinder gameplay at all, since even the update engine is simply a better rendered version of the original. Improvements are significant when it comes to building and room angles, and rotation of the skybox in relation to those buildings. Playing in the original engine can be disorienting as models appear to lean and warp depending on the angle of your view.
A developers commentary is available throughout the game, appearing as floating microphone icons activated with the square button. These icons are sparse, generally only in the first level of each episode, and their placement and length sometimes don’t make sense. Three icons can be placed next to each other in the same room, instead of one icon containing all three tracks. Certain tracks will go on for some time, while others only state a sentence before ending. The inconsistency, and overall quality, of this commentary doens’t make it a worthwhile feature to engage with unless you are a die-hard Duke Nukem fan and want to hear developers talk about the various versions of Nukem 3D throughout the years.
First person shooters have come a long way since Duke Nukem 3D, but the core gameplay of shooting is still enjoyable. Using the pistol, shotgun, chaingun, RPG, and more to kill, or explode, enemy aliens is satisfying, given the fast movement speed while running and sound effects. Finding health, armor, and items that can help you both traverse and engage in combat can be fun, although sometimes the levels devolve into mazes where the path to progress further can easily be lost. This also allows them to be littered with secret areas, and sometimes even secret levels, full of prizes for the curious player.
Something that is consistently relied upon is a key card system in which Duke must first find a specific colored key card before getting past its corresponding door. No matter where you are, be it downtown Los Angeles or the desert wilderness, you will need to get a key card to progress at some point. While it is a simple way to gate keep content, there is no attempt to even hide the repetition. While ferrying these colored keys you will also be shooting aliens, pig men, flying brains, sharks, mechs, leaping aliens, and various other foes. Bosses also appear, with grand entrances. Their appearances are generally preceded by a wealth of ammo, allowing you to stock up for the fight ahead.
Should you die, at any point, you can scrub through your playthrough and pick any point in which to start again. Presented like a timeline on a YouTube video or sliders in video editing software, its a very nice way to jump back into the fray right before your deadly mistake was made, or to a time where you didn’t waste a precious item or weapon. While this option can be toggled on and off, I would recommend only those looking for a pure, hardcore experience should turn it off.
You can swap between the classic and miniature HUD, or turn if completely off. Other toggles include crosshairs, always running, mature content, level statistics at the end of each one, and developer commentary. For sound you can adjust the sound and music volume on sliders, and determine whether to toggle between new Duke Nukem lines, legacy voice acting, and ambient noise. The only video options are to change the level of brightness (always all the way up), and true 3D rendering. For those who want full customization, you can also fully change up the controller configuration with remapping buttons. A nice tough is the credits bear icons for Gearbox, Nerve, and 3D Realms to illustrate the combined work from the original and this version.
Useless features are also included, such as a multiplayer mode. On PlayStation 4 there are a total of zero multiplayer lobbies ongoing, no matter when I check. You can always create a lobby yourself, which allows you to choose a level, pick a PvP, cooperative, or Bot mode, and set the frag/time limits. This mode just takes the same exact single player maps and throws in multiple Dukes to either kill each other or fight the aliens together. You can have up to eight players at one time, but good luck actually finding seven others online.
Another strange feature is Shift, Gearbox’s proprietary online service not unlike Ubisoft’s Uplay account. Choosing this option from the menu will bring up the consoles web browser so you can sign in or sign up, neither of which I was willing to participate in. Checking Gearbox’s Twitter for any mention of Shift codes for Duke Nukem being given away yielded zero hits from September to today, so I don’t think I am missing much.
Of course, Duke Nukem is most known for attitude, which is preserved in this remaster. Duke still spouts our lines inspired by adolescence, and are still pretty fun to listen to today. You can give money to strippers and in return get a peek at their bit-censored boobs, and enemies can explode into bits of flesh and blood. It is all very true to what you remember Duke Nukem being, and while it may offend some, that’s exactly what they’re hoping for.
Sadly, even Duke’s attitude can’t save the majority of the game, which is the same Duke Nukem 3D that released 20 years ago, from being a labyrinth of key card doors with instances of fun shootouts. Jumping from platform to platform while shooting an RPG at groups of enemies is fun, but the frustration of running into a locked door and realizing a missed a panel in some room earlier is a hindrance that occurs too often. Remastered graphics helps perspective, though doesn’t do much more than that. Developer commentary is sparse and mostly skippable, while a multiplayer mode was given prominent space despite there being nothing to do beyond bot matches. Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour is a good romp for those who have never picked up one of the previous eleven ports, but doesn’t offer anything substantial for everyone else.