Monday, March 28, 2011

Duke Nukem: Total Meltdown - Hail To The King, Baby!

Total Meltdown.jpg

If you have ever played a Duke Nukem game in your life, there's a very good chance it was this one. Released in 1996, Duke Nukem 3D was, and still is, the most popular Duke Nukem game on the market. In fact, there still exists a huge following of the PC version's level editor to this day. It's also the game that introduced Duke to the Mature rating, and has consistently remained with each installment. This game was originally brought to the PC through DOS, but has also been ported to the major consoles of the time it was released; it has also been recently ported to the Xbox 360 and iPhone. With so many versions to pick from, I have decided to play and review the PS1 port, Duke Nukem: Total Meltdown.

The story of Duke Nukem 3D takes place immediately after the events of Duke Nukem II, which is explained in the manual of Total Meltdown (the PC version has it on-screen). After the defeat of the Rigelatins in the last game, Duke has hijacked one of their ships, making his way back to Earth for relaxation. As fate would have it, his ship is shot down by unknown hostiles, forcing him to eject. He lands miraculously on the roof of a skyscraper, vowing revenge on the aliens that attacked him.

Like the second game, you get a choice of difficulty settings before you start: Piece of Cake (Easy), Let's Rock (Medium), and Come Get Some (Hard), with an unlockable Damn I'm Good (Very Hard). I played on Piece of Cake, not only for the sake of efficiency, but also because I'm not very good with FPS games. Even then, the game provides a bit of a challenge, often leading me to come up with creative ways to kill aliens on very low health. This game also has an improved Save system, allowing you to Save permanently or Quicksave temporarily at any point. Even on Piece of Cake, I recommend using Quicksave as often as you can, since you can easily die if you're not careful.

You start off the game with a Pistol, but over time, you can pick various weapons, including a Shotgun, RPG, and Chaingun Cannon to name a few. At times, you will see a crack in a wall, so it's good to have the RPG or Pipebombs on standby. You can also use your Mighty Foot as a kick attack, which can also be used on glass or trashcans to conserve ammo. In order to advance to certain areas, you must also gather keycards, colored yellow, red, and blue. Power-ups in the game include, but are not limited to, Portable Medkits, Steroids, and a Jetpack, and can be found not in crates, but in the open, behind secret compartments, and inside trashcans. In a change of pace from the first two games, this third installment is a First-Person Shooter, but remains the only one in the series aside from the upcoming Duke Numen Forever.

The controls are tight and respond perfectly, though it can get a little awkward depending on how you use them. Total Meltdown, even though the box doesn't say, is Analog Compatible (recommended), with the Left Stick for normal movement and the Right Stick for strafing. You can move the camera up and down using L1 and L2, which can lead to the aformentioned awkwardness, especially if you are facing a ledge or tall platform. Fortunately, you can center the camera by pressing both Left Shoulder Buttons at once. Aside from that small hurdle, the controls are, as stated, perfect.

The game comprises three episodes (L.A. Meltdown, Lunar Apocalypse, Shrapnel City), with a fourth one (The Birth) for owning Duke Nukem 3D: Atomic Edition. Total Meltdown has its own fourth episode (Plug N' Pray), but I only played the first three as they are universal to all versions. Each episode is comprised of many levels, 7 for the first and 11 for the other two, each with a couple of secret levels. Each episode has its own challenges, but you can also find videos on YouTube on how to progress through each level much quicker, given this game's massive following. Every episode also has a Boss at the end, the first two of which you must find, which prove to be quite a challenge, and can take some time to figure out how to kill in the most efficient manner.

A notable thing about this game is the number of movie references it makes. For instance, the cover is a reference to Evil Dead, and at one point you encounter the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, you actually have to know the references in order to get them, and a couple of times they are required in order to advance in the level. At one point early in the game, you see a poster that covers an obscure pathway. I didn't know this was a reference, let alone that I had to go through it, so I had to find that out with an online walkthrough. I was aware of the 2001 reference, but I didn't know I had to go through it, and again I found that out through a guide. Newer players, like me, are likely to miss a lot of these references, so they are more prone to looking them up in a walkthrough. Still, the jokes are funny when you know the references.

The graphics are a big improvement over Duke Nukem II, although they are sort of pixelated in Total Meltdown compared to what I've seen of other versions. To create the 3D effect, levels are constructed in the style of DOOM, with enemies, women, and objects being rotating 2D sprites. Despite the downside of the PS1 port, they're still rather impressive, and still seem to hold up to this day. Since the music seems to change depending on the version, I will say that the music of the Total Meltdown variant is pretty well-done, and you are able to to listen to a few of them by using the PS1 disk as a CD (though the manual warns against playing Track 1 because its really a data file). The voice of Jon St. John suits the Duke Nukem character quite nicely, and it's nice to know that he treats this role with great admiration and respect. My only complaint about it is that some sounds that should be playing at the end of each episode are left out of this port, so I had to look for them on YouTube in order to know what they were.

One last thing I should mention is that this game has a multiplayer function called Dukematch. However, since Total Meltdown, the only version I have, requires two PS1 consoles, I am unable to comment since I only own one.

Duke Nukem 3D is a game I would whole-heartedly recommend. It's fun, even for those like me who don't excel at its genre, and provides a bit of a great challenge. As said with the first two games, it has a lot of trial-and-error gameplay, presented in an enjoyable and satisfying way. It's good to play the first two games so that you know the story better, but this can still easily be one you can pick up and play. As said before, this is a game that has a large fanbase to this day, and chances are, after playing it, you will become part of it.

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