I always knew Roger Ebert was full of shit.
I was a huge fan of Duke Nukem in middle school believe it or not. Even though I didn’t grow up with his games, Duke always stuck out as one of gaming most recognizable characters in my eyes. From his jacked physique and wise-cracking, womanizing persona, he was everything the 13-34 white male demographic wanted to be. I always knew his character and games were played more for comedy but I still thought Duke was one of the coolest looking characters ever. I never owned Duke 3D as a kid but I did play the Xbox Live Arcade demo almost religious. I swear I studied the first chapter of L.A. Meltdown more than most of my school’s subjects. I think my Duke fascination peaked after the release of Duke Nukem Forever WHICH IS NOT AS BAD AS EVERYONE SAYS IT IS….COME ON NOW IT’S LIKE A SOLID 6/10. After that, though Duke faded from my life more or less, which was due in no small part to Forever to be fair, still he wasn’t as prevalent in pop culture as much. Then in 2016 Gearbox released an updated version of Duke Nukem 3D called “20th Anniversary World Tour” which not only included cut content and a full developers commentary, but an entirely new episode titled “Alien World Order”! I was really keen on getting it when I first saw it.
And then I forgot about it for about 4 years and got it for free 5 days after it launched on the Nintendo Switch eShop for around 500 gold points.
Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour was developed by Gearbox Software and Nerve Software and was intended to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Duke Nukem 3D, which IS something to be celebrated. Duke Nukem 3D is a milestone in the First Person Shooter genre and introduced and refined many gameplay styles and troped that are used to this very day. The games use of vertical aiming and intricate and large level designs were mindblowing back in 1996, as was its environment interactivity and visuals. All of that still rings true to this day and for the most part, Duke Nukem 3D has held up spectacularly well. The first thing that caught me off guard was the aforementioned level design and puzzles because this dumbass meatheaded game actually managed to stump me a few times. Duke 3D’s levels are filled with secrets, little areas, and hidden passageways that are required to find for progression and aren’t always as linear as you’d think they would be. If there’s one word I would use to describe Duke Nukem it sure as hell wouldn’t have been “thoughtful” and “obtuse” but it is and I think that’s really cool.
I was also thrown off by how understated and atmospheric the soundtrack was. I don’t know why but I thought Duke 3D was going to have a real bombastic and rock focused OST and while it certainly has some bangers hidden throughout its tracklist, it tends to lean towards the dreary end of the audio spectrum. While many of the tracks aren’t my thing I can at least appreciate what their going for and I suppose it separated itself from the competition back in ’96. At the very least the soundtrack compliments the visuals very well. Duke 3D has a very grimey and dirty urban aesthetic filled with a lot of grays and dark blues that I actually really like. The aliens as well look supremely detailed for the time and at times, can look pretty freaky and gross (I HATED the face-hugger enemies) and they only get better with the huge and grotesque looking bosses. Overall I think Duke Nukem 3D has a stellar presentation style and holds up far better than many of its contemporaries from back in the day.
I feel like I’m forgetting something….gameplay. GAMEPLAY!
It’s a first-person shooter from 1996 what do you want me to say? It plays perfectly fine and outside of a few cases of wonky perspective with aiming, plays pretty damn close to a modern first-person shooter. If I had any real gripes it would mainly fall onto how it plays with a controller. I had to use aim assist during my playthrough because you just don’t get the precision necessary to play one of these games with if you use a controller. One cool thing the Switch version adds at least is the option to play with gyroscopic aiming and while that would probably fix my issues, I couldn’t really get used to it. I don’t know maybe if I was using the Joy Cons it would feel more natural but using them on a Pro Controller just wasn’t for me. Overall though I thought Duke Nukem 3D was a pleasant experience to go through and a ton of fun to revisit..at least the first three chapters. Unfortunately, I think the final two chapters are much worse in comparison and the brand new one they added was just….Balls.
The Birth (from the “Atomic Edition” release) overstays its welcome by the end of its length campaign and has the most annoying final boss I’ve played in an FPS game since…I guess the Icon of Sin from Doom II? Except its not as cool or memorable as that fight since it takes place underwater with infinitely spawning Protector Drones. “Alien World Order” on the other hand has almost the opposite problem where it’s really short and easy with the LAMEST final boss I’ve ever played against with the Cycloid Incinerator, a boss that literally cannot hit you. You just need to stay like 20 steps ahead of it and it will just Not Hit You. It’s so lame and a far cry from the EXCELLENT, if not easy fight with the Cycloid Emperor at the stadium. That fight had an amazing build-ip and reveal, these fights had mediocrity and frustration. I think if you’re going to play anything in this package, you should just stick with the first three episodes. They’re much more focused and tightly designed than the latter two.
Now before we wrap up I want to mention the elephant in the room here. This is currently the only version of Duke Nukem 3D you can buy on digital storefronts. If you’ve been a PC gamer for a while now, you should remember there being a ton of different versions of this and many other Duke games being available on various digital storefronts, the most prolific one being Deveolver Digital’s Megaton Edition. That version along with all other Duke Nukem games were purged from distribution in favor of 20th Anniversary World Tour and while this is a nice collection that features a lot of cool extras (Modern Duke voice lines, a full developer commentary, 3D map toggling) I think it’s unfortunate and shortsighted of Gearbox to leave all those games in the ether. The Megaton Edition for instance, while missing an entirely new episode, featured a ton of third-party Duke map packs like “Life’s a Beach” “Nuclear Winter”, and “Duke it out in D.C.” and featured amazing customization and mod support thanks to the JFDuke engine it was running on. You can’t even buy the original DOS version of Duke Nukem 1-3D from sites like GOG anymore and I think that’s ridiculous. I get that Gearbox owns the Duke Nukem IP and they’re free to do whatever they want with it, but I don’t think this collection is a good substitute for the option to play the original version of this game and it CERTAINLY doesn’t have the feature-filled content Megaton Edition had.
All in all, while I do think Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour is a fine package filled with great gameplay and some fun extras I can’t help but feel annoyed that it represents a catalyst that got a lot of games removed from being purchased. While this isn’t necessarily the games fault and I’m not going to discourage anyone from buying it if it interests them, it is only $10 on the eShop after all, just be aware of other potentially cooler versions of this game that exist on the internet somewhere. I’ll end this review by saying this: Fuck Gearbox Software, let me buy Duke Nukem 1 and 2 you absolute turbo dicks. If you’re going to keep Duke Nukem and CONTINUE to sue 3D Realms at least do something with the IP that doesn’t involve Bulletstorm. People have forgotten about Duke Nukem Forever, I promise.