Duke Nukem has seen better days. After more than a decade of waiting, Duke Nukem Forever arrived in 2011and was promptly, and deservedly, buried. Gearbox, however, owns the franchise and needs to do something with it. So, Duke is back, with the original beloved game, and, well, maybe Duke shouldn’t have come back.
In theory, the game has been “remastered” in the sense that the graphics have been upgraded with lighting effects and shaders, in something Gearbox is calling True3D. In practice, though, you won’t really notice much difference between the two modes. While playing I switched through multiple times and wasn’t entirely sure what the difference was supposed to be. And really, aside from the menus, that’s it: They even keep the grainy, strange sound effects that were clearly recorded on the street with a Radio Shack microphone.
Let’s not kid ourselves here. Innovation isn’t the name of this game, and they’re not pretending that it is. That said, there is an entirely new set of levels put together by the original level designers, new music from the original team, and Jon St. Jon is back to voice a few new Duke one-liners.
Duke’s jump to modern consoles isn’t a perfect translation, especially with the controls. You’re going to have to poke around and fiddle a bit with them before you get a handle on all the different functions. That said, once you grasp the controls, it’s relatively intuitive. Honestly, Duke plays better with a controller than he does with a mouse and keyboard.
The main problem is that this game is 20 years old, and you feel it with every frame. It’s certainly fun for a level or two, but this is in many ways a museum piece, from the “daring” humor that hasn’t been funny in years to the clumsy controls. It’s easy to get cynical “remaster” trend, but many of them at least make a sincere attempt to go back and address mechanics issues and design flaws in the games they’re updating, or apply new ideas. Duke Nukem 3D has absolutely no interest in that, which frankly is just outright strange for what’s clearly a bid to see if there’s any interest at all in a new game.
Granted, to some degree, Gearbox is doing this out of nostalgia, as its roots lie with 3D Realms, the embattled developer of Duke who ultimately sold out to Gearbox in a strange legal drama. But it didn’t have to take us down the lousier parts of memory lane.
There’s no DLC or anything, but you have to question this game being $20 considering it’s basically the original game, some graphics filters, and a new level pack. You can literally buy three whole Doom games on Steam for what Gearbox wants, and have five bucks left over for some tacos.
Duke Nukem Forever was a disaster in part because it refused to take the franchise forward, and this rerelease bizarrely repeats that mistake. In a year where iD Software revisited Doom and successfully welded old-school ideas to new approaches to game design, Duke just looks creaky and old. If you’ve got an intellectual interest in the history of gaming, or a strong nostalgia for the good ol’ days of loading shareware off a floppy in your Compaq Presario, this might be worth it. But it can, and should, have been more.