Always bet on Duke. It seemed only a matter of time before Duke Nukem 3D cropped up on the Switch; after all, it’d be downright odd for him to miss a format. Sure, there was Bulletstorm: Duke of Switch Edition, but that’s not real Duke. This, however, is. It’s the magnum opus of the series, when the Duke was in fine fettle, yet to be reduced to rubble by Gearbox’s wretched Duke Nukem Forever, and act of both character and franchise assassination.
Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour brings you a brilliant version of the 1996 PC classic, spruced up really rather nicely. It’s not perfect, though, with content missing from this version that’s been included in prior releases, but we’ll get to that. For now, some context in what Duke Nukem 3D is, and why it’s so great.
Duke followed Doom – also the case on Switch! – introducing the world to 3D Realms’ Build Engine, the glorious building blocks that also gave us Shadow Warrior and Blood. The engine was far advanced over the Doom engine (though 1995’s Hexen was still pushing that tech), allowing the environments with sectors raised over other sectors. It still wasn’t true 3D, but it was closer and allowed for much more verticality and devious secrets. At the time, locations looked and felt real, with great attention paid to their verisimilitude and interactivity. The first level, for example, has an operating movie theatre, bathrooms with vents you can blow out and crawl through, and an upstairs arcade. You can even shoot out fire hydrants and drink from them. It sounds minor, but this was a big deal.
It’s still impressive to play, helped along by the Switch version’s multitude of options, including (yes!) gyro aiming, an enormous help given the precision you’ll often require. The controls are generally excellent, responsive and placed very logically – of course, you can remap them if you want to. Movement is slick, and the game’s performance didn’t falter once in our time with it; 60fps all the way, as you’d expect.
If you haven’t had the privilege of playing Duke Nukem 3D before, you’re in for a treat. One of the very best classic first-person shooters, it packs in a formidable bestiary, some of the best weapons in gaming history (shout-out to the Ripper chaingun), The levels are diverse, expansive, challenging and packed with secrets (including full secret levels). Each ‘Episode’ can be played individually, but sequenced together they tell the minimal story of Duke Nukem 3D – essentially, “kill the aliens, save the babes”.
Briefly addressing this slightly antiquated premise, it’s worth noting that the supposed ‘adult content’ of Duke 3D is downright quaint these days, and his beefheaded machismo is played for laughs rather than setting him up as any kind of serious role model. This was, sadly, the major point that was missed in the rightly-condemned Duke Nukem Forever, which amplified the uglier aspects of the character proudly, completely spoiling the fun.
This 20th Anniversary edition brings some new features to the table. Remember how we mentioned that the game wasn’t ‘true’ 3D? Well, that’s no longer strictly true – the game has been rebuilt in a 3D engine, meaning that buildings no longer warp when you look up at them, and – in a more apparent aesthetic change – there’s now real lighting. In practice, said lighting often ends up looking rather strange and perhaps too colourful, but thankfully a quick tap of the D-pad switches you to the original graphics and back again, so you can decide for yourself.
Also brand new is a the episode, “Alien World Order”, crafted by some of the original Duke Nukem 3D’s level designers. It’s good too, if perhaps a smidgen more gimmicky and overly expansive than the main game. Crucially, though, it feels like more Duke 3D, and that’s always welcome. There’s a new flamethrower weapon too, and optional developer audio commentary has been sprinkled throughout the new episode and the main game. The voice of Duke, John St John, has also returned to re-record Duke’s iconic voice lines. Online and ad-hoc play are catered for; the classic Dukematch returns and the campaign can be played in full co-op by up to eight players, which sounds like utter carnage.
As for that missing content, that’s a bit of a sickener. The previous release of Duke Nukem 3D, Megaton Edition, also included the lesser-known expansion packs Duke it Out in D.C, Nuclear Winter and Duke in the Caribbean. They’re no Alien World Order, sure, but it’s a shame that this additional content has vanished when it was previously available. We’d speculate about it possibly being patched in like the bonus episodes were to Bethesda’s Doom ports, but that didn’t happen with the PS4, Xbox One or PC versions, so it’s not likely to happen here.
A masterpiece to this day, Duke Nukem 3D is done proud by this Switch conversion. It looks and runs briliantly, the online options are a welcome inclusion and it’s not compromised in any way from its earlier console release. It’s a shame that a handful of previously-available expansion packs are missing, but given the low price of World Tour Edition, it feels churlish to complain. In the words of the Duke himself, come get some.