When it comes to first person shooters, there’s a holy order – a metaphorical Mount Olympus where the undisputed all-time greats sit upon their golden thrones and look down on all the others. We’re talking the Dooms, Half Lifes, and Quakes of this world, and among them sits the 1996 classic Duke Nukem 3D. A title famed not only for its rip-roaring gameplay and clever level design but a brilliant tongue-in-cheek tone that knows just how absurd the genre inherently is and milks it for all its worth. It’s something that works – something that works so well I feared any attempt to remaster it would be nothing short of a travesty. I was wrong. Duke Nukem 3D: World Tour is an absolute treasure, and easily the definitive way to play one of the best games of all time.
Duke Nukem 3D: World Tour is less of a remake of the game, and more of a bonus edition – give it a new coat of paint, add in some new options, and maybe throw in a handful of levels. As such, if you’ve played Duke Nukem 3D before, you know what to expect – some alien bastards shot up your ride and are kidnapping all of Earth’s women, and it’s your job to save the day with as much gratuitous 80s cheese and machismo as possible. The story to Duke Nukem 3D is pointless, sure, but Duke Nukem himself is an irresistibly appealing character, one who walks the line between being both an over-the-top badass and walking punchline to the game’s big joke so well that it’s impossible not to love him – he’s every action hero cliche and glorious one-liner imaginable all wrapped up into one comically Schwarzenegger-esque body.
Of course, much like Homer Simpson or Darth Vader, much of Duke’s appeal comes from his fantastic voicework from Jon St. John, who got all his classic lines as well as some new ones re-recorded to fit modern audio quality. For the most part, they’re great, but I will admit a few lines just sounded a bit ‘off’ compared to the original, almost like they were being done by a Jon St. John impressionist rather than the real deal. Thankfully, this is where the aforementioned bonus options come into play – at any time you want, you can switch the audio tracks back to the original, and have Duke just like you remember way back in 1996.
The graphics also get a total revamp here, but unlike the voiceover, I have no idea why you’d want to change it back. Not only does the lighting get a complete overhaul, but you also get new particle effects such as flying shell casings and ‘True 3D’ mode, which makes everything look more angled rather than just sticking straight up. In fact, it’s such a noticeable improvement that I found switching back to the original graphics (which you can do with a single keystroke à la Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary) to be incredibly jarring with everything looking way more narrow. Here’s an example – I took two screenshots of the same area from the same place without moving the mouse in the slightest, and yet they don’t line up correctly. Take a look.
See what I mean? The update on the left just has more depth to it – it doesn’t look like just two plane shelves at eye level like the original on the right does. Again, which you prefer will certainly vary based on your personal preferences, which is why I applaud Gearbox’s decision to dedicate a key to switch in and out of new and old rather than making you navigating through cumbersome menus to get to your desired look.
However, as far as additional options are concerned, my absolute favorite addition is the developer commentary. Taking a note from Valve’s playbook, certain levels such as the iconic Hollywood Holocaust and the entirety of the new mission pack have icons to interact with to get some information on the creation of the level in question, with some really in depth notes on what went into making them. While I certainly would’ve enjoyed to get more of these helpful tracks, what we’ve got is still pure gold for anyone interested in learning about game design in the 90s or level design in general.
The biggest injection of new content in the game comes in the form of a whole new seven level episode called ‘Alien World Order’ which follows Duke Nukem along his titular world tour starting in Amsterdam and ending back where the story started in Hollywood – hitting locales such as Moscow, London, and Paris along the way. Each level is expertly crafted and has a unique hook to it, from taking a boat to travel back and forth around the shattered Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to stalking through tight, protozoid slimer-filled corridors in Egypt.
No matter what the theme of the level may be, at the end of the day, you’re still playing Duke Nukem 3D, and World Tour has kept the fantastic flow and combat of the original in for the trip. Duke still glides across the map like Sonic the Hedgehog on speed, packing a back-breaking arsenal of everything from tri-barreled submachine guns to shrink rays and beyond to combat all sorts of unique alien types. The ‘replay’ feature from the console ports of Duke Nukem 3D is here as well, allowing you to rewind time back to a safe point after dying to try again in the place of manual quicksaves. While it certainly is handy, the purist in me prefers good ol’ quicksaving, and you can switch between the two systems at any time.
The only truly new tweaks to the gameplay in Duke Nukem 3D: World Tour come in the form of a new weapon and enemy, and while they have their ups and downs, they almost don’t feel necessary. The new weapon shoots hot lava at enemies to burn them, leaving a status effect on them for awhile as they toast. Of course, this also works two ways, as if you end up hitting yourself, good luck on surviving the ensuing inferno. This weapon goes hand-in-hand with the Firefly enemy, an alien that can shrink down in size to become incredibly hard to target before popping back to full size and using the aforementioned flamethrower against Duke. Strangely enough, the Firefly doesn’t actually appear much in the campaign outside of a few small sections, and is – much like the flamethrower – seemingly pointless in the grand scheme of things.
As far as serious problems with the game goes, only one sticks out to me — despite Duke Nukem 3D: World Tour being the only version of Duke Nukem 3D currently available to purchase, it doesn’t include three of the expansion packs — Duke it out in DC, Duke Caribbean: Life’s a Beach, and Duke: Nuclear Winter are all noticeably absent from the game, and I couldn’t find a way to make any of the old files from either the 1996 original or the Megaton Edition work with it. And that’s a shame, because with the exception of Nuclear Winter, the missing expansion packs represent some of the best content old-school Duke has to offer, and I’m truly sad to see them be abandoned by Gearbox like this.
Despite the issues, I admit it’s hard for me not to feel extraordinarily giddy about Duke Nukem 3D: World Tour. I fiercely believe Duke Nukem 3D is one of the finest shooters ever crafted — and seeing it get a revamp as wonderful as this is nothing short of mesmerizing to me. Even without the expansions included, I have no doubts that Duke Nukem 3D: World Tour is a must-play for Duke newcomers and die-hards alike.
Duke Nukem: World Tour may lack some of the expansions of the Megaton Edition, but the fresh coat of paint and bonus episode make it the definitive Duke experience.
- A Faithful Remaster of the Classic
- Tons of New Features
- New Episode is Superb
- New Voicework Sometimes Shaky
- Original Expansions Not Included