Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project Preview

The king is back! It's not exactly Duke Nukem Forever, but the next best thing is almost here.

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Duke Nukem will return sooner than you think. While the world waits for Duke Nukem Forever, a small development company called Sunstorm Interactive (creator of the recent Carnivores: Cityscape) has been building Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project. In this new chapter in the Duke saga, everyone's favorite red-tank-topped Übermensch is enlisted to defeat a new foe named Mech Morphix, who is infesting New York City with a toxic substance called GLOPP (gluon liquid omega phased plasma). Duke must explore the Big Apple from its rooftops to its subways to rid the city of Mech Morphix and once again make the earth safe for exotic dancers. He'll have an arsenal of weapons and snappy one-liners at his disposal. The only catch? Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project will be a return to the series' side-scrolling action game roots.

Duke will once again have to make the world safe for strippers.
Duke will once again have to make the world safe for strippers.

Following the success of 1990's Commander Keen (the first game from id Software), Apogee released the first Duke Nukem game in April 1991. Like Commander Keen, the game was a colorful side-scroller inspired by games on the SNES and Sega Genesis. Duke Nukem was a relative success, and a sequel followed in 1992. But it wasn't until the third game in the series, Duke Nukem 3D, that Duke became a household name. Flush from the success of Duke Nukem 3D, Apogee slowly transformed into 3D Realms, and Duke Nukem Forever went into its infinite development cycle. But Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project is almost here, and it may tide fans of the series over until 3D Realms declares its long-awaited sequel "done."

GameSpot was given a nine-level press version of Manhattan Project for the purposes of this preview. The demo shows off the first three episodes of the game: a series of skyscrapers, Chinatown, and a set of mutant-infested subway tunnels. And though Duke has appeared in a series of mediocre spin-offs, Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project promises to be more than just another in the long line of Duke Nukem-licensed games. It's a good-looking modern update of the genre, with enough bells and whistles to make you forget that you're basically playing a high-tech version of Elevator Action.

Key cards. You'll have to find lots of key cards.
Key cards. You'll have to find lots of key cards.

The first level serves as an easy introduction to Manhattan Project. You begin with just a pistol, and you'll immediately be up against the mutant pigcops that will be familiar to any Duke fan. You run to the right, jump from fire escape to fire escape, and grab power-ups to make your job easier. Power-ups include a double damage upgrade, a force field, and a jetpack that lets you zoom up and over to hard-to-reach ledges. There are secret areas to find, and you'll have to free imprisoned strippers and grab "nuke" symbols that act sort of like the coins in Sonic the Hedgehog or the bananas in Donkey Kong Country--get all 10 in a level and you'll get a special surprise. And, in keeping with age-old side-scroller tradition, each episode ends with a boss showdown.

As you progress, you'll find new weapons and monsters. There's a whip-wielding mechanical dominatrix, a monkeylike acrobat, and huge cockroaches than grow from GLOPP. Duke will pick up the typical first-person shooter weapons--a shotgun, a machine gun, and remotely detonated pipe bombs. There's also the GLOPP gun, which fires a blast of green energy at enemies and shrinks them to an adolescent form. Pigcops will become little tusked piglets, and the mutants will become insects. After shrinking them, Duke can stomp on them, resulting in a satisfying squish. Though not present in the demo, the game will also include a rocket launcher and a pulse cannon.

Back to Basics

In keeping with side-scroller tradition, there'll be plenty of boss battles.
In keeping with side-scroller tradition, there'll be plenty of boss battles.

The first three levels are diverse enough to make us excited about the full game. While the first demo level, Rooftop Rebellion, is pretty straightforward, the second adds some twists to the formula. In Chinatown Chiller, you'll have to dodge traffic, running back and forth between lanes to avoid oncoming cars and trucks. The third, Metro Madness, gets even more complex, allowing you to explore huge subway stations with several paths to choose from. You can climb up to and jump across beams, as well as go down through the floors and explore the tracks. Just exploring a single level in Manhattan Project takes a good deal of time, and while the gameplay is basic--run right, shoot, jump--the twists keep things interesting. In Metro Madness, you'll have to run across a subway car, jumping over and ducking under beams. Each new level brings a new challenge to the table, which is what separates a great side-scroller from a bad one.

As you'd expect from a side-scroller, the game is all about Duke's moves. You can perform a double jump that makes Duke do a little flip and gain some extra distance. You can grab onto ledges and haul yourself up. You can swing with your arms across beams and strings of lights. Sunstorm has updated the game for a modern audience, and the view zooms in and out and occasionally swings up above Duke to give the best view of an area. It's a 2D game in 3D, much like the excellent PlayStation game Klonoa: Door to Phantomile, and though you primarily move on the X and Y planes, you can occasionally move on the Z plane to get to a door or area. You can choose from a wide variety of color depths and resolutions, and the game features nice lighting effects, such as the green glow of a GLOPP spill in a darkened subway.

1992 gameplay with 2002 graphics. In a good way.
1992 gameplay with 2002 graphics. In a good way.

It wouldn't be a Duke Nukem game without snappy one-liners, and Duke Nukem 3D was famous for its jokes ripped from the mouths of characters in of Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness and John Carpenter's They Live. Manhattan Project's one-liners aren't from any obvious source, but they are just as hard-boiled. After taking out a female enemy, he'll shout in his trademark gravelly voice: "I'm an equal opportunity ass kicker!" Some of the best one-liners come after dying, like, "I could do this all day!" And when he frees a trapped stripper, Duke boasts, "I go where I please and I please where I go." Even in the demo, the one-liners start to get repetitive, but each level introduces a few new snappy comebacks. Other hallmark elements of the Duke Nukem games are included as well, such as being able to run into restrooms to replenish your health.

The controls are straightforward. You can use a gamepad, but the keyboard works just fine. You move right and left with the corresponding arrow keys, aim up with the up arrow, and crouch with the down arrow. You jump and fire with the Ctrl and Alt keys. It's the kind of simplicity that's been missing from PC games lately, as developers seem to be focusing more and more on huge, big-budget extravaganzas rather than on games that are just enjoyable diversions.

Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project is most assuredly going for the latter. From the demo, it's clear that Sunstorm isn't trying to redefine action gaming. Manhattan Project will do little more than give a face-lift to a classic genre, but it shows promise for providing some brainless fun. The game will be released this spring, and then it will be time to judge whether Nukem can be, to quote Isaac Hayes from another story of trouble in the Big Apple, "the duke of New York, 'A' number one!"

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