Despite his recent fall from grace, Duke Nukem is considered a grandfather of the first person shooting genre. Duke existed before Duke Nukem 3D, but 3D Realms’ foray into first person is what put Duke on the map. It’s with pleasure that I say that Duke 3D is back, and better than ever. While Duke Nukem 3D World Tour doesn’t succeed in every aspect, it’s a great reason to return to the series. It’s been 20 years and Duke still feels fun and refreshing to play. Let’s dig into why that is.
Firstly, we need to examine Duke as a character. Unlike other popular series at the time (DOOM, Wolfenstein 3D), Duke was a brash and machismo main character. Spouting one liners and (at times) misogynistic remarks, Duke Nukem embodied the 1980’s action star perfectly. Despite his blatant sexism at times, Duke is actually kindhearted. He just wants to rid of the world of aliens and save Earth’s women along the way. “No one steals our chicks, and lives” is a quote from the beginning of Episode 2. It captures Duke at his core, a sexed up action hero kicking alien butt and having fun. This resonates with the level locales as well. The game plays out across four main episodes, with the addition of a fifth new episode. Across these episodes Duke 3D explores a bunch of various awesome locations. Movie theaters, alien ships, banks, football stadiums, and much more are all realized in classic FPS visuals. Although there’s no real meat to the story, the overarching progression ensures you’re never staring at repetitive environments.
This ties perfectly into Duke’s presentation upgrade. At first glance, nothing seems inherently different about Duke 3D. That’s because Gearbox Studios has done a great job taking our nostalgia vision and realizing it in the update. Environments are truly 3D rendered now, instead of rendered through the old engine. It seems like a small change until you toggle between the original build and the World Tour build. Like “Halo Remastered”, you can switch the visual style at any time, which was a great addition. Beyond the true 3D rendering, each of the game’s 40 levels have been re-lit with new lighting effects, and better colors. It doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb, but gives a nice new coat of paint on the original design. Visually the game is great, and its quirky 90’s style still holds up today.
The main difference between Duke 3D and other classic FPS games is the weapon selection. The game prides itself on the ridiculous variety of weapons you can wield. You have standard shotguns, pistols, and machine guns. However, you also have shrink rays, ice blasters, flame throwers, and cluster rocket launchers. Pair this with the quick and reflexive nature of the game-play, and the weapon variety really adds a ton to the experience. For newcomers to the game, the old formula of game-play might come off as repetitive. Each level is linear, and usually requires picking up a couple keycards, unlocking color coded doors, and finding the exit. There’s some exceptions here and there with light puzzle elements, but for the most part the structure stays the same. The environments manage to keep things fresh, but those who like large set-pieces and scripted sequences might find the game dated. If you like fast paced shooting, you’ll probably enjoy it enough. For those who aren’t as quick on the trigger finger, the game has an excellent respawn system. Rather than respawning you at a placed point, the game allows you to rewind your game-play, and restart from any point in the level you deem fit. It’s a great feature that makes deaths less frustrating.
The main place that Duke 3D World Tour stumbles is the online multiplayer. The Xbox 360 release of Duke 3D handled its multiplayer better, so it’s disappointing to see the Xbox One port inferior in that regard. The multiplayer is based off of a lobby system. You can search or host a lobby for a specific level, game mode, and various options. There is a lack of quick-play or game mode specific matchmaking though. This makes jumping into a game quickly almost impossible, as you have to specify the game options, save the settings, and then search for players. Only then can you ready up and jump in. The entire system is functional, but barely optimized for modern standards. The lack of pictures of the various levels is a small gripe, but I would’ve liked to see the levels before searching for a specific one.
Overall, Duke 3D World Tour is an excellent celebration of Duke’s 20th anniversary. The inclusion of updated visuals, director commentary, and the excellent rewind feature make it a great game for both veterans and newcomers. While the multiplayer matchmaking is lackluster, all the pieces are still there to enable you and your friends to have a great time online. The brand new episode is funny and fits perfectly in the tone of the original four. With over forty levels of fantastic FPS action, Duke 3D World Tour is a great purchase. I recommend picking it up at full price.