Review: Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project

The future looks grim for Duke. With games that are consistently either delayed year after year or cancelled outright, the franchise seems to be slowly dying. And this breaks my heart. After spending countless sleepless nights with Mr. Nukem under the watchful eye of my father (who muted the speakers and told me I didn’t need to hear) with Duke Nukem and Duke Nukem 3D, I grew up expecting much, much more. Unfortunately, I’ve been relegated to flops like Duke Nukem: Time to Kill, Duke Nukem: Land of the Babes, and the travesty Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project. None of them ever came close to capturing the hilarity or feel of the first classic “3D” shooter. In spite of that, Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project has somehow made its way from its home on the PC way back in 2002 to the Xbox Live Arcade. It didn’t impress me back then, and now I only fear what tomorrow holds for my favorite wise-cracking, gun-toting action hero.

Manhattan Project attempts to fill a different niche as a 2D shooter/platformer featuring pseudo-3D backdrops. This should be your first clue that you should stay away. Essentially, players never stray from a two-dimensional path save for predetermined areas where Duke appears to walk “into” a building or small nook nestled between the skyscrapers of New York. Little aiming is actually required in order to conquer the various enemy types, as your only real options are shooting straight ahead or right above Duke. The restrictive manner in which you’re forced to dispatch the baddies feels claustrophobic, especially with the stuffy camera and stodgy control gleaned from using the right analog stick. This results in flak straight to your face because of the advantage off-screen Pig Cops have when sticking it to you. And they will, mercilessly.

Each level contains three sections and a boss encounter at the very end, which you will be quite thankful for after laboring to pull switches, rescue women, and defuse bombs. Oh, and finding keycards. A whole lot of them. It might be one of the earliest and most familiar conventions of gaming for me, but I have never enjoyed being forced to scour an area for the correct keycard. Blue, red, yellow, green, they’re all the same to me. The game isn’t fun simply panning straight through a level without taking any detours. Forcing a player to soldier on when they reach what should ostensibly be the end of an area should never be acceptable. But I’ll chalk that up to its age and the conventions of the period, because I know them well. Still, it’s not an enjoyable process.

The same things are continually asked of you: jump to different ledges, shoot, and collect babes/keycards. Granted, this comprised most of the game that ignited my love affair with Mr. Nukem, but it’s done so shoddily and terribly in this installment that forcing myself to play through all three parts to a mission just to reach drawn-out boss fights became more like doing a difficult math problem rather than gaming for enjoyment. I don’t care to platform with a man who should for all intents and purposes be blowing his way through Manhattan rather than strapping on a jetpack and wondering where to go next when the boring, uninspired maps give little or no indication.

If simply forcing yourself to press on weren’t enough, then being trapped in a hellish loop of respawning should seal it. Three times throughout my adventure I found myself dead, alive, dead, alive, and dead again for what would have been hours on end had I not restarted the game. Sometimes this glitch will resolve itself in a few moments, but otherwise you’ll need to suck it up and start over — not something I wanted to do for any reason. This wonky auto-saving could have very easily been converted into a save-anywhere system, preventing such moments, but why attempt to fix only one part of an obviously very broken game?

Perhaps I’m being far too rough, though. Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project isn’t entirely FUBAR. It’s simply not up to par. It doesn’t offer anything new to rope in fledgling Duke fans or to convince gamers that Duke Nukem Forever is even warranted, nor does it master the basics of simple platforming. If it can’t be what it aspires to be, which is completely different from the Duke legacy (if we don’t count the horrific Tomb Raider-esque detours), then what is it? Either stick to the formula that works or ensure that your new mechanics are up to snuff with other, similar adventures on the market. At this point, Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project might as well be Fluffy Bunny Man: Restaurant Chain Tie-In game. It’s that derivative and that underwhelming…and about as memorable.

Established Duke fans, you’re not missing much here. However, I would like to point out that there are two avatar awards available should you save a babe or complete the game. A T-shirt and jetpack await — for females, at least. That may be incentive enough, yeah? Otherwise, spend your hard-earned cash elsewhere…like Duke Nukem 3D for a cool 400 points.

Comments are closed.