While other classic first-person shooters have flourished over the years, Duke Nukem has been nothing more than a punchline. The well-publicized long development cycle of Duke Nukem Forever, and the critical beating it took when it was finally released, has essentially put the franchise into retirement. In a move perhaps designed to renew interest in the series, Gearbox Software has decided to release Duke’s best known adventure once again. The celebratory Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour is designed to appeal to both new to 3D Realms’ forgotten hero, as well as those who grew up wanting to be him.
Originally released in 1996, Duke Nukem 3D is one of the most important titles in the FPS genre’s history. It’s non-linear level designs set it apart from its contemporaries, while the use of X-Rated humor appealed to teens and manchildren alike. Fortunately for gamers, and maybe a little unfortunately for Gearbox, there have been plenty of opportunities to play the title in the past. It’s on everything from PSX to Game.Com, and the 2015 Megaton Edition was arguably the best version of the title available. So, what exactly makes the 20th Anniversary Edition worth checking out?
For starters, original designers Allen Blum III and Richard “Levelord” Gray have returned to create eight brand new levels for Duke Nukem 3D. The Alien World Order episode takes Duke everywhere from the abandoned Red Square in Moscow to the destroyed Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and back to Hollywood for one final boss battle. Rather than use modern design tools, the duo instead designed each of these levels to feel like they were released back in 1996.
The best thing I can say about these levels is that they do feel like they belong in the original Duke 3D. The team at Nerve Software, as well as Blum and Gray, understand what made the levels of the first game so enjoyable in the first place. While I’m not sure that they are as big as some of the original levels, they’re still pretty damn big. These sprawling, labyrinth-like levels are a treat to explore. These new levels help make up for the fact that, disappointingly, none of the content from the various Duke expansion packs made the cut here.
The gameplay in general holds up pretty well. Part of that is due to how simplistic it is, but I think most of it has to do with the fact that 3D Realms crafted such a well-put together shooter that not even age can really dull it. I do think there is a certain quality that comes from the large levels, though. These twisting, but cleverly laid out, stages are still a rarity in modern gaming. Too many games merely create big levels, but forget that bigger does not necessarily equal better. There’s nothing fancy about this, but Duke was never one for flair, I suppose.
What hasn’t held up so well, though, is the tone of Duke 3D. If there was ever a game that I would describe as distilled 1990’s, it would have to be this. Macho, quippy hero? Lack of any sort of relevant female character? Edgy humor? It’s all here, but it hasn’t exactly aged well. I’m not offended by it, mostly because it’s too stupid to be offended by it, but it just isn’t that funny.
Besides the single player campaign, the re-release also features some decent multiplayer action. You can either face-off with others online in Dukematch, or team up with some friends to tackle online co-op. Much like the single player, these options feel like a relic from days gone by. Unfortunately, while the simplistic gameplay is fun for playing by yourself, it’s not nearly as engaging on the multiplayer front. It reminds me of the multiplayer suite found in this year’s Doom. Fine for those who want it, but I’m just as fine without it.
For the 20th Anniversary Edition, Gearbox has given the original Duke Nukem 3D a slight facelift. The publisher created the True3D Rendering mode specifically for the title. While it still runs on the same game engine, several visual aspects have been improved. The lighting has been significantly upgraded, and textures as a whole look much cleaner. Instead of looking like a game from 1996, it looks like a game from 2000. For those that want the original visuals, though, you can always switch between the two modes with a press of a button.
The audio component of the game also sees several tweaks and additions. Gearbox was able to bring in the original voice of Duke, Jon St. John, to re-record old dialogue, as well as record some new lines. Even if the one-liners begin to grate after awhile, St. John’s voice is perfectly suited for the character. The new music composed by Lee Jackson also suits the intense action that unfolds around you real well.
One of the highlights of the remaster comes from the developer commentary sprinkled throughout the game. Various members of the Duke team came together to record their thoughts on it, as well as tell some stories from the title’s development. Whether they’re describing the production or talking about the game’s impact, these little snippets of commentary are fascinating. The only issue is that these audio logs only pop up during a few levels. I’m not necessarily expecting every level to have fresh commentary, but it would have been nice to have some more to listen to.
While modern gamers may scoff at the simplicity of it, Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour is a welcome trip down memory lane. The fast-pace frenetic gunplay is as solid as ever, and the sprawling level design is still unique. The biggest strike against the title is that since there are already so many ways to play it, it’s hard to necessarily recommend this one over another. If you already own the Megaton Edition, I’m not sure there’s enough new content here to justify a purchase. For those that have yet to experience Duke’s unique charms, or only know him from *shudder* Duke Nukem Forever, though, this is a world tour worth taking.
This review was based on the PC version of the title, which we were provided with.
The "charms" of Duke Nukem might not be as potent as they were in 1996, but the frenetic gameplay and clever level design make Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition a worthy celebration.