Come Get Some… New Lighting And Levels!
HIGH: Even better than the original.
LOW: Finicky aiming system, plus nonexistent multiplayer.
WTF: Duke in Amsterdam coffee shops.
I may very well be the best and worst person to review the re-release of perhaps my favorite videogame of all time — Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour.
Why the love? 3D Realms’ original Duke Nukem 3D was everything that today’s gaming can’t be. It was unabashedly offensive and gory, it earned a Mature rating that wasn’t higher only due to pixilation, and it sports a frustrating difficulty that – even on lower settings – is apt to make one scream. It was rude, vulgar, and bold, and I loved every minute of it.
For those new to Duke, let’s just say that he likes the ladies — especially the ones who appreciate tips. He also takes pride in cutting aliens’ heads off, kicking things apart, and interacting with items in public restrooms.
Play-wise, Duke Nukem 3D was gaming excellence. Its four-episode level design – while seemingly simplistic – was anything but. Around every corner lurked guaranteed death thanks to enemies that attacked in swarms with firepower poor Duke could never match, and he respawned time and time again in a title that I desperately wanted to put down, but simply couldn’t. Due to this irresistibility, Duke’s original 3D Realms level designers (Allen Blum III and Richard “Levelord®” Gray) retain my highest regards two decades later.
Given my unabashed affection for the original, I can only see that this reissue is an early birthday present to me from Gearbox.
In this 20th Anniversary World Tour Edition, the biggest changes are a whole new (selectable) lighting system and an entirely new episode. Technically, the look, feel, menus, and the smallest aspects of the presentation are all beautiful and beautifully authentic. An expanded HUD system also makes aimlessly wandering for access cards a lot less frustrating.
As for the new content, it’s amazing. The original development team was willing to construct eight new stages, and backed them with sporadic commentary to explain design choices. Lee Jackson, Duke’s original composer penned new music. The icing on the cake is Jon St. John returning to voice Duke, now remastered. Hail to the King, baby never sounded so gooooood.
So the new content has cred, but how does it play? Duke’s adventures are both wacky and retro awesome, and mesh seamlessly with the original episodes. It’s hard not to appreciate the subtle nuances of the Moscow supermarket, the ridiculous signs in Paris, a peculiar series of submarines in San Francisco, and Duke’s newfound obsession with Amsterdam coffee bars. While not all of the new stages are perfect, the commentary is a must listen.
Another notable aspect of Duke Nukem 3D is the ability to jump between stages, regardless of episode. This encourages exploration and alleviates any potential frustration. Fed up with a certain stage? Go on to the next one, or one in another episode entirely. I wish more games would possess this feature.
While so much of this new Duke is win, I do have some criticisms. The first is that the aiming is finicky, although the game is generous with hitboxes. Related, the weapon changing via a shoulder button takes far too long to execute, leaving Duke desperately kicking to defend himself while he slowly switches guns.
Also, I would be remiss in not re-referencing the potentially offensive content. LAPD cops are literally pigs, and the infamous OJ Simpson Bronco chase is prominently featured on a television screen. Duke loves strip clubs, and doesn’t shy away from marijuana. While intended as social commentary, Duke Nukem 3D can and will offend the unprepared — heads up before purchasing this title.
Finally, multiplayer mode is present, but it’s pretty dead. There’s either no one on the servers, or the servers don’t actually exist. A shame, as multiplayer Duke in the past was a great time. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the multiplayer to take off, so come to it for the solo content.
All in all, Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour is the perfect homage to the original by capturing the essence of the classic while adding new visuals, audio and levels. Moreover, its humorous social commentary remains a welcome presence in a current scene that is sorely lacking it.
Disclosures: This title was developed and is distributed by Gearbox Software. It is currently available on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PS4. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single player mode and it was completed. No multiplayer matches were able to be found at the time of review.
Parents: Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour is rated Mature by the ESRB and contains Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs, and Violence. It is not recommended for children. I mean it!
Controls: Aiming inversion and sensitivity adjustment is possible, but there are little-to-no custom controller mapping options available on PS4.
Colorblind modes: No colorblind assistance or modes are available.