Platform: XBLA (and retro PC) [Buy/Get Demo]
Developer: 3D Realms
Publisher: Xbox Live Arcade
When most people think of Duke Nukem, their minds drift back to the wildly successful and highly influential Duke Nukem 3D or the humiliatingly intangible Duke Nukem Forever. However, the DOS veterans amongst us will righly remember that our misogynistic hero started his career in the dimensional platforming business... and Manhattan Project brings him back to his roots. The evil Mech Morphix has changed Manhattan's inhabitants into terrifying mutants and kidnapped all the babes, so it's time to kick ass and chew bubblegum. And would you believe it? He still hasn't got any.
As a direct port of the 2002 PC title, Manhattan Project is a 2.5D platformer that's heavy on shooting, big on buxom babes and very light on graphics. Let's get this out of the way right now: this is a sinfully ugly little game. It's received a bare minimum of polish to get things running on HD widescreens, but low-res textures and frequent screen tearing continually make us realise how far we've come over these last eight years. I'm usually the biggest advocate of gameplay over graphics, but a full makeover would've gone a long way to improving the overall experience.
Duke hasn't just been sitting around smoking cigars while 3D Realms ran his franchise into the ground. To pass the time he's clearly been working out and limbering up- as he now has an impressive range of moves at his disposal. Double-jumps, kicks. grabs, sliding tackles and jetpacks all propel you naturally around the Manhattan skyline (for starters)- and Duke's signature pipe bombs can be used to find a whole mess of secrets. Platforming is smooth, varied and capable... and the nostalgia value is priceless.
An arsenal of familiar weapons such as the shrink ray, pipe bombs and the familiar golden pistol and a plethora of familiar enemies provide an ample canvas for some hectic gunplay. Pig Cops make a welcome reappearance alongside some new beasties (including, naturally, a scantily-clad whip-wielding dominatrix who can deflect bullets with her armoured stilettos) and, as always, Duke is on hand to trot out some classy one liners.
Unfortunately, the fact that it's a direct port causes a few major problems. Beside the graphical issues mentioned earlier, the tedious multi-stage boss battles aren't checkpointed whatsoever; resulting in intense frustration after losing several minutes of miserable grind. More vexingly, Duke can still only aim in four directions... come on, even Earthworm Jim could aim diagonally. Running and aiming upwards is also an ordeal that requires use of the D-pad and some serious patience.
Finally, it's worth mentioning that Manhattan Project offers fairly good value for money. 800 Microsoft Points buys 24 fairly lengthy levels, a nifty jetpack avatar award some easy achievements (bar one 10G time trial that'll separate the achievement whores from the hunters). However, the later levels settle into a rinse and repeat format that would've benefited from a little variation in pacing.
- Smooth, distinctive platforming action
- 24 stages make for a decent value package
- It's Duke Nukem. Babes and boomsticks akimbo!
- It's ugly as sin
- Boss battles are either boring, frustrating or both
- Why can't we aim diagonally?
The Short Version: Duke returns to his platforming roots in a lengthy but slightly inconsistent title. Good value, fun times, wicked one-liners, easy achievements, bosomy babes and manic gunslinging shenanigans will be had by fanboys and platforming afficionados... but the lousy graphics and aggravating boss battles should deter younger next-gen gamers from taking the plunge until the price comes down. Hardcore fans should definitely consider an immediate purchase, but your money will go a lot further if you stick to the Deals of the Week for the time being. As always, try the demo!