Friday, June 3, 2011

Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project

Even after the release of Duke Nukem: Land of the Babes, Duke Nukem Forever continued its infamous development time. In the meantime, another game was developed by Sunstorm Interactive for PC in 2002 called Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project. After seeing how the last 3 games turned out, I was hoping this entry would at least be an improvement. After playing it however, I must say I was actually blown away by this title.

As with the first game, this installment has a rather simple plot. Duke's new nemesis, Mech Morphix, has created a substance called GLOPP (Gluon Liquid Omega Phased Plasma) that mutates living creatures on contact. Morphix plans to use this substance to take over the world, and it's up to Duke Nukem to stop him. Along the way, he must also rescue babes from detonators while giving his enemies his usual style of ass-kicking.

The game is comprised of 8 episodes split up into 3 parts, for a total of 24 levels. In each one, you must rescue a babe and use a colored Keycard before you can advance. The game itself returns to the roots of the first two games in that it plays like a side-scroller complete with a similar control scheme. However, this game puts a spin on it in that it's more three-dimensional, with some areas even having multiple layers, stretching the definition of 2.5D to its limit. As such, there are times where you can go between the different layers at designated points in order to perform certain tasks to help advance the level.

This game also sees the return of the Ego system from Land of the Babes, except this time it's treated more like Health. You get Ego boosts by killing enemies and grabbing what resemble Health boxes, small ones giving you 25 Ego and large ones 100. You can also gain Ego from vending machines, albeit with limited usage, and Ego is lost from contact with hazards such as lasers, enemy attacks, and uncontained GLOPP. When you exceed your maximum Ego, it will slowly drain until it hits the cap, but thankfully you can still use the extra amount like a shield. Another collectible is Nukes, and there are 10 in each level. If you manage to get all 10, your maximum Ego, GLOPP, and Ammo count will go up.

Speaking of Ammo, this game has a range of weaponry you can use, but unlike Time To Kill or Land of the Babes, there isn't an overabundance of them. Rather, you have a choice between a select few weapons that you pick up along the way, including your starting Golden Eagle Pistol and Pipebombs among others. You also have a GLOPP Ray and a Pulse Cannon, which both use GLOPP to restore mutated enemies to their original, unmutated forms and fire charged lightning respectively. In some sections you are also allowed to use a Jetpack, albeit for a limited amount of time. Other temporary power-ups include Double Damage and Forcefield, which both do as they say until they expire.

The graphics are a great improvement over Land of the Babes, with the character models looking smoother and more realistic. While movement is still somewhat limited, actions are still presented in a very fluid manner and the great AI helps to create a better immersion. The level design is very well laid out and reminded me of my experience with the first game in that you can easily memorize where you need to go and what you have to do to get through each stage. The Save system also improves over the last 3 games in that like in Duke Nukem II and 3D, your progress is saved at well-placed checkpoints and you can save whenever you want to, so that when you die you come back at the last point you saved.

The voice acting here is casted very well, with Jon St. John playing Duke Nukem as sharp as ever. Duke's one-liners are handled better than in Land of the Babes and I would go so far as to say they're a bit funnier. While he does still make pig jokes when facing Pig Cops, a lot of the dialogue is self-referential to it being a game. For instance, when you try to open the exit without having a Keycard, he will make a stab at how frustrating it can be to look for Keycards and how they're required to move on.

While this game was really fun, I must say the bosses were a little easy. Though they can take a few tries to figure out how to beat them, some you can just endlessly shoot if you have enough Ego to spare. Despite this they still provided a good challenge, a few having multiple parts that you need to go through in a single sitting.

Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project is an excellent game that any Duke Nukem fan will enjoy. Though it doesn't have a big legacy like Duke Nukem 3D, it's an excellent throwback to the original games that also flawlessly utilizes the best elements of the franchise. Even on the lowest difficulty it provides a great challange that will make you think harder about how to defeat enemies in a dire situation. If you're a Duke fan or haven't played any of the games yet, I highly suggest you check this one out.

Playing the Duke Nukem games like this has been like seeing the evolution of gaming itself. From the roots of 2D side-scrolling to the transition into 3D, these games have evolved over time and will continue to do so, even with some drawbacks. After 15 years, Duke Nukem Forever will finally be released from development hell into the hands of patient players. To quote the end of Manhattan Project's credits, "Look for Duke next in Duke Nukem Forever."

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