The Duke Nukem series has become something of a legend amongst long-time videogame hobbyists and industry veterans. The often overlooked debut has little in relation to modern titles bar thematic. Instead, it’s 1996’s Duke Nukem 3D that created a strong fanbase for the franchise. Since then, a number of offshoots and more experimental titles have been seen, but that long-awaited sequel to Duke Nukem 3D, Duke Nukem Forever, was not received all-too well. So, what about those numerous other outings? Could it be the likes of Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project that save the franchise?
Where Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project fits into the series is somewhat complicated. The newer ports of the game have been developed by an external team. The game itself features a new enemy and an unrelated storyline. Having originally debuted on PC in 2002, Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project made its way onto a console format after eight years. Eventually onto smartphones, too. The side-scrolling Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project is a far cry from the first-person Duke Nukem 3D. A return to the roots of the franchise without forsaking modern technology.
Duke Nukem: Heroic Misogynism
Beginning the campaign with a choice of three difficulty settings, the player is given an introduction to a story that remains largely superfluous throughout the game. As has been the case with every Duke Nukem title. It does of course, take second place to the man himself. Duke is full of one-liners and self-styled idiom, and players who once warmed to his personal brand of chauvinism will have no trouble doing the same again. Every level features a ‘babe’ with a bomb attached, and players must defuse this bomb before exiting.
In addition to the heroics and confident flirting, every exit requires a keycard. Players must find this in order to complete the level, much to Duke’s disgust. Levels range from ten to 30 minutes, and three levels are included in each of the eight chapters. Each chapter features a different theme: downtown, china town, metro and sewers, as a few examples. Almost all follow the template given by that ‘Manhattan Project’ subtitle. Playing through a 3D world on a predetermined 2D path, Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project brings to mind the likes of Viewtiful Joe and Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond. However, Duke’s outing is much more concerned with platform action than style or run-and-gun combat. It’s perhaps due to this additional need for precision that a two-player co-operative mode has been overlooked; a shame indeed, especially when considering some of the more elaborate boss fights.
Duke Deserves a Comeback
As a videogame released two decades ago, Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project carries the visual quality of an early PlayStation 2 or GameCube game. It’s not bad, but certainly not about to rock you in in 2020s. The control system revealing of the game’s roots as a PC title. From a technical level, it’s not aged terribly but at the same time is obviously passed its prime. That said, the developers have made every effort to ensure the game will bring a cheeky grin to players each and every time they play.
The game uses the same menu system as Duke Nukem 3D; obviously a nod for those with fond memories of Duke’s first FPS outing. The usual hidden areas and collectables litter the game, along with more subtle Easter Eggs. Receiving a short tongue-in-cheek pastiche of The Matrix when interacting with a public phone; a disgruntled stripper obviously not enjoying your attention. Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project seems more ready to acknowledge the limitations of its premise than other titles from the series.
Though Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project may be 20 years old, it remains as enjoyable as it ever was. The game delivers exploration puzzles reminiscent of late ‘80s productions and welcoming platform challenges. This is all wrapped-up in a familiar and charismatic aesthetic. That Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project never achieved the recognition it deserved is puzzling. Thankfully it’s still available on a number of formats, and you’d be a fool to ignore it.