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Game Over Online ~ Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project

GameOver Game Reviews - Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project (c) ARUSH Entertainment, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project (c) ARUSH Entertainment
System Requirements Windows, Pentium II 350MHz, 64MB RAM, 200MB HDD, 3D Accelerator, 4X CD-ROM
Overall Rating 81%
Date Published Friday, May 17th, 2002 at 12:47 PM


Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

I recall vividly that last year, some network television producers or Hollywood moguls complained that a lot of shows took place in New York. After the tragic events late last year though, there was a complete 180-degree spin with people urging others to do their business, television shows, movies and what not in the Big Apple. Indeed, the cinematic Spider-Man movie took place there and now, Duke Nukem leaves his hometown of Los Angeles to take in the sights of Manhattan. Naturally, wherever Duke goes, there's going to be trouble and lots of it.

Manhattan Project puts Duke through the usual New York backdrop as he leaps across the Manhattan skyline in search of Mech Morphix, his arch enemy who has been using New York to hatch a legion of cretins, enhanced by a mysterious substance known as GLOOP. Duke chases Morphix and his minions through eight locales, each consisting of three or so levels and all ending with some special boss battle either against Morphix himself or his lieutenants. It's a wonderful romp through some of the dingy areas of New York, including a visit to Chinatown but curiously, a lot of the real landmark monuments have been left out. The developers have opted to place most of the action in anonymous run-down industrial places or in the myriad of New York subway tunnels.

The game plays out as a sideways scrolling platformer. In spite of the commendable 3D engine, which features some flashy lighting and explosions, gameplay is strictly a two dimensional affair. Using the left and right keys, you basically traverse between the whole map and the controls are fixed rather than relative to the camera. This makes it easier since Manhattan Project features some Resident Evil style shots and in a fast paced game like this you don't want to be running backwards and suddenly find yourself running towards a rocket when the viewpoint changes. For the most part though, Manhattan Project is simply a classic 2D platform game with a little depth and some cute cinematic shots. Unlike Resident Evil, there isn't a heavy-handed director's presence and often, you can control zooming and simple motions of the camera yourself. The biggest benefit of this simplistic approach is the ability to bypass any 3D camera issues. Instead of fighting the camera, you can spend time fighting Duke's numerous enemies. Special places you can enter are highlighted with a green up arrow and if you press up, you'll automatically enter a new building or switch to a new path. It gets kind of clumsy when the path leads down the screen and you have the press the up key but that's a relatively minor quibble to an otherwise excellent interface.

The weapons Duke carries are also easy to master. There's one ammunition count for all bullet related weapons, so on and so forth. Some of Duke's favorites have returned like the GLOPP ray, which turns the overgrown pig police into tiny pigs and such. It's a neat weapon but more for show, just as Duke's mighty boot kick has returned. You shouldn't expect Duke to be much of a martial arts expert. He answers questions much better with a gun.

For almost every obstacle posed, the correct response for Duke will probably be to shoot it first. That seems to work for most impediments. The levels are a mix of the usual platform puzzles. They include some fancy acrobatic jumping, throwing a few switches or the infamous finding a key card puzzle. Usually, the puzzles are not that noticeable and generally blend in to the game itself. The action is maintained at a brisk pace and that's why for the most part you won't find yourself thinking there are any puzzles involved. The double-jump, a process where Duke jumps once and then another time in mid-air to increase his jumping height, is something totally unrealistic juxtaposed against the gritty real depiction of New York buildings. The key cards are a poignant reminder of the original Duke games; the platform ones that came before Duke Nukem 3D. But in general, they aren't a pain to find. Usually, the key cards and switches are on an adjacent path or just a little ways beyond the door or forcefield you need to open so there's very little in the way of backtracking. Since movement is kept at a brisk pace and there are plenty of monsters to blow away in Manhattan Project, backtracking isn't as much of a chore as you would think it would be.

The very name Manhattan Project is a spoof on the nuclear bomb project during World War II. This tongue-in-cheek attitude persists throughout the entire game, helped most by Duke's many one-liners. Duke's ability to charm us really comes from the single irony he generates. He, like us, knows he's stuck in a game and the irony generated from the fact that the rest of the characters don't know that's true is where the charm lies. Duke's one-liners here are a mix though. When he grabs a machine gun, he says, "Life is like a box of ammo" which is a spoof of the Forrest Gump line. Another lacklustre one is when Duke says that 'the only that needs to be said is die'. Some of these are either too contrived or cliché to be really humorous. But others aren't. If Duke dies during the game, he returns saying, "So there *is* life after death." Or in a particular scene where Duke is dodging cars, he tips his hat to the classic Frogger with "What am I-a frog?" When I wrote a preview of this game not too long ago, a lot of the speech was not included so there must have been quite a bit of last minute reworking. The payoff is pretty good. When Duke enters Mech Morphix's tanker ship, he takes advantage of some recent drama: "Mech Morphix's GLOPP tanker is gonna go down faster than Enron!" For me, it couldn't get funnier than that and it's a shame those types of references weren't included more often. It's a purely North American reference but then again, the egotistical Duke was spun off from North American culture.

Overall, Manhattan Project manages to convey the sense of character Duke Nukem embodies. Much of the score given here in this review is really due to the fact that Duke hasn't made a proper appearance on the PC platform for some length of time and my affinity towards it is probably indicative that his appearance was long overdue. The game itself, on the other hand, is entertaining. It manages to keep a brisk pace of action that Duke Nukem games are known for. With respect to the platform genre as a whole, the developers have used their 3D engine to add depth to the platform game but it'll take them another game or so to really hone this technique. For example, some of the alternate paths given during the Chinatown stages led to pointless bonuses. You also are unable to aim diagonally. However, it's a refreshing evolutionary step for the platform game without play devolving into a third person behind-the-back affair.

For the creative among you, you can rectify some of these faults by using the built-in editor to create new levels. While the editor looks pretty intuitive, it's not exactly a drag and drop affair. It resembles more like the editors people used to edit BSPs or UnrealEd. The accompanying documentation has a few holes in it since the editor is unsupported. Still, it'll be interesting to see if fans can add some custom content to extend Duke's stay in New York just a little longer.

Manhattan Project is very much a direct to DVD release like the home video follow-up sequel to the theatrical Aladdin. In that sense, it's a very good one. The production values are not as sharp but the atmosphere and zeitgeist of the original is maintained. For Duke Nukem fans, here's a rare chance to relive Duke's exploits in the primordial genre he came out of. People who can remember that far back will have fun for an afternoon or two with this game. It's a short ride but as Duke himself says, "it's all bullets, babes and bombs," and no self-respecting Duke Nukem fan could say no to that.

 

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Rating
81%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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