Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project
The self-styled 'King' returns, but not Forever...
Gaming is a funny business. In terms of the average protagonist, we left the eighties about five years later than everyone else, with shotgun-armed, muscle bound titans being the order of the day until relatively recently. It was not until the release of games like Half-Life that a more cerebral kind of hero emerged. And occasionally, in its shakier moments, gaming lapses back into familiar thinking, and another testosterone-fuelled bodybuilder shambles his way into the limelight. More often than not he’ll come equipped with a variety of one-liners that Arnie himself would be proud of, and a pun collection to match. All of which is well and good, if the purpose of this eighties resurgence is purely nostalgic. In the case of Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project, however, the motivation is rather more ambiguous. The seminal Duke Nukem 3D was released over six years ago, and 3D Realms have done nothing to sate the ferocious appetites of the Duke’s legions of PC based fans. Realising that they’d soon have the gaming equivalent of a Parisian mob on their hands if they didn’t produce at least something, and perhaps also because the coffers at 3D realms were looking a bit bare, the boys in Dallas came up with the sound idea of tapping all that pent up eighties rage by releasing a game that celebrated all the things that were great about that decade. To that end, they commissioned Sunstorm interactive to produce just such a title. It follows, therefore, that Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project would turn out to be a platformer, and would involve killing lots of evildoers with a variety of weapons while picking up keys, blowing up barrels and leaping over big pits filled with spikes and flames. Welcome back, baby! There are all kinds of things here to tickle those nostalgia glands and bring out a smile. There are power-ups, boss encounters, great one-liners, and exploding barrels, hot chicks to rescue and a lot of ass to kick. Throughout it all Duke is as cool as we all remember, although still as dubiously attired, and the sexist attitudes that made him appealing to me as a 16 year old are still very much present. Indeed, they seem to resonate even more now, as I uncover more of the Mystery of Woman (MoW). Anyway, moving on… It’s not all old hat, however. The developers have attempted to update some features of the game to take advantage of new-fangled 21st century technology, and the most obvious introduction is the 3D camera. The game itself is fixed in a two-dimensional plane, but the engine is 3D, and as such it pulls off some surprising tricks now and again. It zooms in and out of its own accord, and follows Duke as he wanders round corners. But do you know, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The frustrations that were endemic in platformers of the bygone era are all too present in this latest incarnation. The camera demonstrates its abilities amply throughout the game, yet it is never under your control, and as such is absolutely no help at all. Making leaps of faith into the unknown is still a staple here, since the only control you have is a zoom-in function. If the developers went to all the bother of a 3D engine in the first place, why not take advantage of it? Its usefulness is entirely cosmetic here. The new 3D engine does admittedly look very nice, however. The models are great looking and detailed, and the backdrops are of similar quality. These environments will be familiar to those of you who played Duke’s previous adventures, with a predictable mix of sewers, skyscrapers and NYC back-alleys providing the stage upon which Duke kicks the ass he was born to kick. Duke is also able to enter certain buildings, with the screen blacking out and re-emerging inside. These sections usually involve some task necessary for progression, or else provide a nice treasure trove of power-ups for Duke to collect. The levels involve the jumping and gunning action we all remember, but with a level of polish that was impossible to provide before. Many of the weapons from earlier Duke games feature here, such as the shrink ray-like GLOPP gun and the pipe bombs, and familiar enemies like the mutant pig cops also make an appearance. There are also some excellent new additions to the cast, including the FemMechs – leather clad, whip-bearing babes devoted to kicking Duke’s ass. As the levels progress Duke must battle increasingly tougher and larger mech-style enemies, until the final confrontation with Mech Morphix himself. These boss battles are traditional old school fare, and require learning the pattern of attack and countering it with big guns of your own. Duke has a total of nine weapons to aid him in despatching his foes, and these are introduced in the usual chronological fashion. Duke begins with his trademark golden pistol, but by the game’s end he is tooled up in a manner reminiscent of Johnny Matrix from Commando. The later weapons are extremely fun to use, particularly the aforementioned GLOPP gun, and the pulse cannon. The GLOPP gun de-mutates Duke’s enemies, allowing him to employ the old favourite – the mighty boot heel. The control system is simple and works well enough. It does not, however, reflect any advance in design that may have occurred in the interim years since we last saw a major 2D platform release. Duke can only fire along defined axis, with no aiming at anything in between, and this can occasionally frustrate – a mouse-aiming feature would have been nice. Occasionally you’ll find yourself unable to kill a particular enemy without exposing yourself to a direct hit, because of Duke’s inflexibility. Generally speaking, though, it’s not a major issue. I enjoyed playing through Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project. It’s well made, and balances the twin motivations of providing something nostalgic and introducing enough innovation to keep the interest. It’s a good-looking game, though far from cutting edge, and far more polished than many big name releases that come our way. The game’s greatest fault lies with its aging pedigree – 2D platformers went out of fashion for a reason – yet there is definitely enough here to hold the interest for a good few hours. I suppose the best advice I could give is this: if you are a big Duke fan, and found the humour present in previous games to your liking, then you won’t go wrong here. If you have bothered to read to the end of this review, then I must infer that this game interests you on some level. I’ll say then, that it will hold no surprises. It’s exactly how you imagine a modern 2D platformer featuring Duke to be. DN: Manhattan Project is loud, brash and defiantly old school, and if that floats your boat, then what are you waiting for - Duke Nukem Forever? “Hail to the King, baby!”