I have always been an advocate of the Duke Nukem franchise. I loved the original FPS and even enjoyed the third-person action games released on the original PlayStation. With that said I am also still one of those people anticipating Duke Nukem Forever, so when I heard that 3D Realms was releasing the 2002 PC title Manhattan Project on XBLA, I was genuinely excited. Manhattan Project is a side-scrolling action game that takes place in a 3D space much like the recently popular Shadow Complex, but the old design and poor structure end up making this release feel stale by comparison.
As I mentioned Manhattan Project is a simple side-scroller with scaling levels. The objective of each level is identical: find the bomb, which is strapped to a half-naked woman, and of course find the key card to open the exit door. Duke really relays my sentiments with his comments in the game when he says “What’s with finding these key cards?”. The levels themselves are not linear and finding both objectives can sometimes be frustrating. The key card is sometimes placed on an enemy, meaning you are playing hide and seek with the ability to progress the game.
The bombs are also usually hidden behind destructible areas, which is fine if the game had actually told you that you can destroy the environment. That was my other big gripe, while the game may not be the definition of complex, teaching you some of the basics outside of a menu screen would have been helpful. I can remember countless times where I scoured the level in search of one or the other objective and becoming frustrated in the process.
At the end of each episode there is a boss fight, and for the most part they force you to simply find the weak spot and exploit it. I actually enjoyed these more than the rest of the game because they didn’t involve finding tedious pick-ups, or having to search the level endlessly. Needless to say that Manhattan Project is definitely an older game, and its mechanics shine through as you progress.
Still I do love playing Duke Nukem games; he is the definition of a goofy videogame character, something I feel is lacking in today’s efforts. No matter how frustrated I got in each level, I still kept chugging on because I was enjoying it. The biggest reason for that are the level templates. Each episode contains a new palette and each one more entertaining than the last. The platforming segments can grow frustrating as Duke is not the best acrobat in the world, but I still had a blast mowing down pig cops, mutated rat ninjas and alligators in the sewers over the course of the surprisingly lengthy campaign.
Visually the game is much of what you would expect from an eight year old PC game. The blocky characters and simple animations really stand out on the new HD display, and it is hard to find the appeal of your saved babes when they have square, umm appendages. Although they do bounce so I guess that is always a plus. I do like the level designs even if the perspective makes some of the more obvious paths seem hidden. Of course Duke returns with his silly commentary and it still makes me chuckle. There are a lot of recycled lines, but the ones added for this game continue to make my immature mind chuckle with delight.
Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project is a decent experience that really should only be played by fans of the franchise. If you jump into this expecting the next Shadow Complex you are going to be disappointed. This is nearly a decade old PC game and it shows, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun. If you can get past the tedious level goals, archaic visuals and still think Duke’s grade school humor is funny, then you will enjoy the game. All others will simply scoff at its ancient design with their snobby noses in the air.
Review copy provided by publisher.