GDC 2009: Duke Nukem Trilogy: Critical Mass Hands-On

Duke is back. For real! This time on the PSP and DS with Critical Mass.

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Duke Nukem: Critical Mass
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Believe it or not, there will be at least two Duke Nukem games coming out this year, not counting the perennially delayed Duke Nukem Forever. Apogee Software--which is now a completely separate entity from 3D Realms--has PSP and Nintendo DS adventures lined up for the tough-as-granite game icon, and we managed to get some hands-on time with both today.

Duke Nukem Trilogy: Critical Mass is the first of three planned games for the DS and PSP, and though they may share the same name and some story details, the two are completely different beasts. Although we know only a little of the story so far, we do know that Duke somehow finds himself responsible for the destruction of the entire world (with a little help from aliens, of course). The misogynistic tough guy now has to set things right, travelling back and forth in time throughout the course of his three new game adventures in an effort to foil the evil aliens' plans.

Apogee Software says that the PSP version of Critical Mass will be the more adult-oriented of the two, although both will still carry Duke's typical tough-guy quips (albeit with lesser blood spray and violence on the DS version). The PSP version is a third-person shooter, with the default view perched a couple of meters behind Duke's back. However, a press of the PSP's D pad will switch you to a closer over-the-shoulder position if you want a more intimate view. Holding down the left shoulder button puts you in aim mode, whereas pressing the right shoulder button fires Duke's weapon. During our hands-on, we noticed some autotargeting kick in, switching from one foe to another as you progressively fill them with hot, burning justice. You can also make Duke take cover behind certain objects by pressing the circle button in the PSP version. From here, Duke could fire blindly around corners, laying waste to the hordes of pig cops (yes, they're back!) from relative safety. The level that we played took place in what looked like a ruined New York City, with plenty of abandoned cars that could be set on fire with a few well-placed bullets.

After this level, we took to the skies with Duke wearing a jet backpack. This section was on rails, automatically moving Duke through the city while jetpack-wearing pig cops flew in his path. This section was still rough-looking and felt more than a little restrictive, but an Apogee spokesman told us that the final game will also contain some free-roaming flying. Overall, the game looked decent on the PSP, although it lacked the graphical polish of other recent shooter games.

As for the DS version, the third-person view is ditched in favor of a 2D side-scrolling action platformer. The level that we saw was once again set in a ruined New York, with Duke travelling from street level to ruined buildings. The D pad is used for navigation, with the four face buttons mapped to jump, fire, and melee attack (in this case, Duke's big boot). The DS's touch screen can also be used to map some of these functions, letting you assign different weapons to different positions for ease of use.

Even though the action moves on a 2D plane, the environments themselves are in 3D; pressing the left or right shoulder buttons angles the camera left or right, letting Duke see upcoming enemies or obstacles. The action will also occasionally switch perspectives. For example, taking cover in front of certain objects will let Duke shoot at enemies in the background of the screen. Duke will also be able to use a sniper rifle in some areas. Doing so will change the screen to show the rifle's reticle, and you use the touch screen to move your aiming target.

From our brief time with Critical Mass, it certainly seems like the spirit of Duke is alive and well in these games, with the aforementioned pig cops and bikini-clad babes just two of the throwbacks to earlier games. We'll have more on Critical Mass in the next few months.

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