Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project Review

By Jeff Mattas, Jul 06, 2010 6:00pm PDT Originally a much-liked release on the PC back in 2002, Sunstorm Interactive and 3D Realms released an updated port of Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project on Xbox Live Arcade on June 23. In it, the meat-headed Duke is back to rescue New York (and its babes) from an alien menace, equipped with a decent-sized arsenal of weapons and his trademark canned one-liners. But the years haven't exactly been kind to the beefy throwback to 80's action movie heroes. Character models and environments retain their circa-2002 blockiness, and some of Duke's quips date the game even further. Jokes referencing the giant-bug movie Mimic (1997) fall flat, digs at Enron seem dated, and Duke's trademark misogyny comes off as more cringe-worthy than charming, this time around.

In essence, Manhattan Project is a 2D shooter-platformer played against a backdrop of pseudo-3D levels. All the action takes place on two-dimensional planes, with preset crossroads along each level's path that attempt to create the illusion of playing in a 3D space. The level design is passable and similar throughout, though the final mission rewards perseverance. Set aboard a low-gravity space station, higher jumps with a floaty feel set it off as something different from the rest.

The default field of view is quite claustrophobic by design, with enemies often able to hit you with ranged attacks before they appear on-screen. The right thumb-stick lets you pan the camera slightly, but ends up being a fairly obtrusive solution. Aiming the game's various weapons is also restrictive: Guns can be fired in the direction Duke is facing, or straight above his head, but not diagonally. Though most of the level design seems to take this limitation into account, jump-shooting is not a satisfactory stand-in for diagonal firing.

The game's auto-save feature is also very problematic. No fewer than three times during my playthrough, I ended up in endless loops in which I would respawn and instantly die because the latest checkpoint activated itself fractions of a second before Duke was blasted into a pile of gibs.

In short, Manhattan Project may stimulate nostalgia for some Duke fans, but with gameplay and presentation that haven't aged that well, it's not likely to expand Mr. Nukem's fan base.

Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project was released for Xbox Live Arcade on June 23, 2010 for 800 Microsoft Points ($10).

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