“ Publisher: MachineWorks Northwest „
In the absence of the now terminally delayed Duke Nukem Forever, fans needing their fix of the wise-cracking, alien-killing beefcake could do worse than turning to this latest iPhone game. Whilst it might not be a new game as such (it is a port of the very first Duke Nukem 3D game from around 1997), it's still a lot of fun.
One of the many Doom clones that flooded the market in the early days of the First Person Shooter (FPS), Duke Nukem stood out because it didn't take itself seriously. You might be playing the traditional role of a hard-ass who has to save his city from the hordes of invading aliens, but the wise-cracking Duke makes a fun companion to do it with.
In some ways, time has not been kind to Duke Nukem 3D. The First Person Shooter has come a long way since the game was first released, and this game now looks very primitive, with blocky graphics (particularly when close up) and pixellated backdrops. Compare this against a modern shooter from the PS3 or the Xbox 360 and it looks pretty ugly. However, whilst they might not look the prettiest, the big, blocky graphics actually work very well on the iPhone's small screen, allowing you to pick out important things (such as weapons upgrades) easily.
There can be an issue when trying to find your way around some of the levels. Since there is little variety in the graphics, the background scenery and corridors often look very similar, and there were times when I found myself wandering slightly disorientated, trying to find where I needed to go next. This was an issue on the PC too and is just one of those flaws you learn to accept.
The sound has fared a little better. Duke's witticism's have survived the transition to the new platform in tact and will still bring a smile to your lips, although the speech can be a little muffled. There are also some pretty meaty sound effects and, whilst again, they might not be as realistic as modern games, firing the various weapons that you pick up gives a great feeling of satisfaction, and produces some very satisfying explosions.
If the graphics and sound have not aged too well, the game play still has it. Again, by modern standards, this is a fairly basic FPS that boils down to wandering shooting aliens, solving simple puzzles (of the shoot-a-switch-to-open-a-door variety) and locating the exit. Still, at least there are no complicated rules to learn and you can simply get on with hunting down and blasting aliens, which is, of course, fun! The game's off-beat, slightly adult humour still feels fresh and unique to the Duke Nukem games and the ability to do some pointless things (trying to attract the attention of the girls in the strip club) gives an illusion of freedom.
Level design was always one of the strong points of the Duke Nukem series, with the amount of back-tracking you have to do kept to a minimum. There are also some pretty imaginatively designed levels that see you needing to make use of elevators or get access to areas through windows and these add a bit of atmosphere and variety to the game.
So far, so good; but Duke Nukem 3D is one of those games that will stand or fall on its control system, since close, responsive control of your character is critical. The game offers two distinct control systems (analogue and digital) and two different firing modes (crosshairs or tap shooting). Neither is that easy to get to grips with and to get the most out of the game, you will need to invest time learning how to use them. If this is not your cup of tea, then you will throw Duke down in frustration.
The default Digital control system is horrendous. To reverse L shaped blocks at the bottom of the screen are used to control your movement and viewpoint. Other buttons control additional actions, such as jump. The presence of lots of different buttons is unwieldy since it's far too easy to press the wrong part of the screen and do something you don't want to, often with serious consequences. In fairness, you can move the controls around the screen to your preferred position, but there's another issue that this doesn't address: they take up too much screen space and make the play area seem small and confusing.
The second method (Analogue) is much better. The L shapes are replaced by two small circles, which act as virtual joysticks. These are far easier to get to grips with, much less confusing to use and (more importantly) far more responsive, allowing you to react to threats much more quickly. These are also the controls recommended by the developer, so it's slightly odd that they are not the defaults.
Even so, there are still issues. The Analogue control method can still be slightly imprecise and controlling Duke's movements frustrating. This is particularly true when pixel perfect positioning and timing is required to perform an action. Early on Level 1, for example, you need to jump through a window to be able to move on, but pinpoint timing is critical. This is something the controls do not encourage and many people reach this point and simply give up after repeated failed attempts.
The two firing methods are also a matter of taste. In crosshair mode, a small cross shows the area your bullet will be fired into. Again, I found this mode too fiddly; and too often, by the time you have moved your cross hair into position, you have already sustained serious damage from the on-rushing aliens. Far more intuitive is the Tap Shoot mode, where you tap the part of the screen you want to fire at - far easier to master, and much more natural.
Whichever control methods you choose, they will take some time to master and this spoils some of the fun of Duke Nukem 3D. It should be a great pick-up-and-play title where you can start exploring and shooting immediately - this was one of the key factors behind the success of the PC version. However good this emulation of that original title is, the iPhone's touch screen is just no substitute for keyboard controls and this is a serious flaw. If you're prepared to invest quite a bit of time mastering the controls, then Duke Nukem is still a lot of fun to play, but many people will simply give up in frustration.
This port of a fondly remembered PC game does have a lot going for it. The core game play is as solid as ever and the tongue in cheek humour of the game makes it far less po-faced and much more fun to play that many other FPS games. Sadly, the controls let it down badly and the amount of time needed to get to grips with them is a serious potential barrier. Get past that barrier and Duke Nukem will offer hours of great game play; fall at the first hurdle and you'll feel like you've wasted your money. It's your call, but at only 59p to download, it might be worth the risk if you have fond memories of the original.
© Copyright SWSt 2011