Review: Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project

July 26, 2010, Author: Andy Knight

Babes, bullets and bombs! A fantasy lifestyle that many a heterosexual male would wish to have, or a burly lesbo if I’m going to be all politically correct. Fortunately for one particular man, this is exactly how he lives his life, and he is the self proclaimed “King of the world, baby!”. No I’m not talking about Titanic lovely Leonard Di Caprio, I am of course referring to 3D Realms iconic chauvinist action hero, Duke Nukem.

Yes Mr Nukem is back for his second Xbox Live Arcade title, and like the first release (Duke Nukem 3D) it is almost a direct port of its original 2002 PC version by Sunstorm Interactive. However, where Duke Nukem 3D was a first person Doom look-a-like, Manhattan Project goes back to Duke’s side-scrolling roots, but with a slight twist.

At the time of its PC release it is was somewhat ground-breaking for the genre. Eight years on, and some pretty massive leaps and bounds in gaming technology later, it doesn’t seem quite as an impressive a feat. Credit where credit is due though, you have to admire 3D realms ethic of putting Duke in more than just one genre of game style. Question is though, is Manhattan Project the same game as it was back in 2002, and if so, is that a good thing?

Something smells rotten around here!
Duke is back in action and in this game he’s out to save Manhattan, and most certainly its busty inhabitants, from the clutches of the evil humanoid Mech Morphix. Morphix has released some kind of green goop with mutational powers into the sewers of Manhattan, transforming those who come into contact with it into grotesque animal-like killers. Sound familiar? Yeah, throw in some little green turtles and you have yourself a copyright infringement lawsuit. Also it seems that the sick a twisted Morphix has a fixation on kidnapping large lunged ladies and strapping them to bombs; it’s apparent the man has big breast issues.

So with the city in peril, Manhattan turns a the one man who could save the world… Duke Nukem! Holstered up with his Golden Eagle gun and a couldn’t-give-a shit attitude, he dives head on into the action declaring “New York, if I can kill them here, I can kill them anywhere!” You’ll find Duke is well known for his one liners, and in Manhattan Project he ain’t scared to use them.

Hail the king, baby!

Looks like it’s time for me to go… Postal!
The game itself contains eight levels, taking you across Manhattan’s skylines, streets, and sewers before heading out to sea and leading you to a final battle in deep space. The levels themselves are split into three part episodes, but on each you have to achieve the same goals to progress. They go like this… Find the big boobed girl and stop the bomb she is attached to from exploding (that’s a bit of a lie; because they never actually explode, as there is no set time limit within to locate her). You then need to locate the coloured key card, before finishing the level by finding a door and using the key card to progress. At the end of the third stage of each level you exit the door and find yourself in a boss battle.

Along the way you are also given the obvious enemies to kill. They range from pig-like men in police uniforms, to oversized mutant rats in Chinese style outfits, and you’ll even come across a bunch of leather clad robotic women with electric whips. I should note none of the enemies you come across are that hard to defeat, but some odd positional placements on the levels make them more annoying than testing, for example, you’ll constantly find yourself running into them as you go through doorways.

There are secret locations to find, and Nuke symbols to collect. Finding all ten Nuke symbols on each part of a level will give your ego (health bar) a max boost, meaning you’ll take less damage and defeat your enemies quicker. These do give an added element when going across a level, but again to be honest, they’re not essential unless you want to get the accompanying achievement.

2.5D anyone?

There are also a few power ups scattered about a level to give you an extra hand as you progress, these include a force field, a boost that causes you to dish out double damage on enemies, and a jet pack that allows you a limited time to fly about and aid you in getting to those hard to reach places. As for weaponry, you’ll add a new gun type to your arsenal on each level and come the end of the game you’ll have collected a range of weapons. There’s the usual assault rifle, rocket launcher and shotgun, up to the more technological laser cannon and goop gun, which will transform certain enemies into their original form. Each has an individual ammo clip, but you’ll find them all over each level.

Of course though, it isn’t quite as simple as run along killing guys and then getting to the end of a level. With the 3D element to the game you’ll find the camera angle shift giving the perspective of Duke running toward you or away from you, and of course there are higher levels to climb to and lower levels to jump down into. Whether you want to see it as simple camera trickery or a smart game engine ability, it adds to the experience and definitely gives the game a different dimension so to speak. There are also the puzzle elements which will take a bit of grey matter to figure out. These will need to be solved for Duke to advance with his mission and have that final encounter with Mech Morphix.

Controlling Duke is as basic as it comes, and you’ll be blasting pig cops in a matter of seconds. The left and right movement as expected is on your left analogue stick, pushing up makes Duke look up, and down makes him crouch. A is the jump button, with a double press for a higher and longer spinning jump. Right trigger serves as the weapon fire button, and the left one offers a kick or stomp. The bumper buttons both scroll through your collected weapons, and Y throws a grenade or two (depending on how many you have). Finally the right analogue can move the camera angle about so you can get a view of above and below, this is helpful when looking for those sneakily hidden Nuke Symbols.

All this would make for a fun experience however I did find quite a few game-breaking flaws. For example, I found that toward the end of my play through some environmental elements of the level were totally invisible. You may forgive this if it was just background filler, but as you need to use these parts of the environment to move forward in the level it’s pretty much unforgivable. It’s not the only flaw either, as again, toward the end of game levels become very glitchy. Duke will often get stuck on, in and under parts of the platforms. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself needing to look at a youtube video to figure out just how you’re meant to get through when you come to the end game.

He likes makin' bacon

Your face, your ass, what’s the difference?
Graphically Manhattan Project shows its age. There has obviously been a bit of a clean up on the textures, but still, these are 2002 textures which means even with some 2010 polish they still look very dated. There is no evidence of your current generation console being put to work here, and sadly this only adds to one of the games many flaws. For one there are constant screen tears when making Duke jump and the camera angle has to pan rapidly.

Another odd element is the HUD. Sprawling along the bottom of the screen, you don’t really get a sense of what exactly gauges what. It took me until almost the last level to finally workout what was what. With no tutorial to ease you into controls and HUD readings it really is quite baffling. By the time you have figured it out, like me, you’ll probably wonder why felt they needed have it displayed at all.

He's not scared to spray his goop

My name’s Duke Nukem
The one redeeming feature for Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project is the same as in the entire franchise; that would be the man, Duke, himself. Rather than worry about a ton of different soundtracks to compliment the game, they rely on Duke’s one line repertoire to keep you entertained. From the brash and almost offensive chat-up lines when saving the babes, to the riotously amusing quips as he blasts full clips into his adversaries, his dialogue is nearly always welcome. The grungy metal beat that doesn’t change throughout the game is hardly noticeable as you are constantly waiting for Duke to deliver another put-down. Look around on the internet you’ll find many a Duke Nukem soundboard packed with all his classics, as well as a few he has borrowed from a few famous films. Duke doesn’t seem to care if it’s an original or not, if it’s witty and serves a purpose, he’ll use it. So, Yippie Kai-yay Mother Fu… Sorry, on with the rest of the review!

Duke likes a babe... or eight!

Duke Nukem Forever?
That’s about as complex as it gets for Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project. With no multiplayer to concern you, you can concentrate on working through the levels, collecting, discovering and killing. To complete the game it’ll take you roughly around eight hours to get Duke to the final battle with Morphix. The problem, however, comes with a lack of mission variety, making it a real chore around the half-way point. So unless you’re desperate to unlock all the achievements for the game, you probably will start to question why you’re bothering to continue. Throw the glitches I encountered into the mix, and I’m really going to be struggling to recommend why you should even bother trying it.

Duke’s sexist outlook and foul mouth wit do make playing entertaining until the voice track start to repeat, and it really isn’t enough to save Manhattan Project. This game should have stayed back in 2002. I can’t help but feel 3D realms put this out to remind us that Duke Nukem is still a big franchise for them, but with the infamous Duke Nukem Forever still nowhere in sight of development with the franchise in the middle of legal battles, this arcade release only shows how badly Duke needs to have that next generation game if he’s to remind us why we should “Hail the king, baby!”


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