Saturday, June 29, 2013

VGR Duke Nukem Critical Mass

Now that I reviewed the entire "main"Duke Nukem series, it's time to have a look at the several spinoffs starting with the most recent one first.

Don't miss out my previous Duke Nukem-related reviews!

VGR: Duke Nukem: Critical Mass
From Deep Silver/Apogee Software 
Played on Nintendo DS
Also available on /

Type Multi-mode action shooter*
Year 2011

Here we are with yet another disappointing Duke Nukem game.

But it started with so much promise...

Not only did it end up... like it did, but Duke Nukem: Critical Mass also has in common with Duke Nukem Forever an extremely complicated and long development.

The game started as a very ambitious last Duke Nukem from 3D Realms. They started working on it as early as 2008, when they released a teaser for it originally along the initial title for the game, Duke Nukem Trilogy. It was originally imagined as a series of three games planned for the Nintendo DS & Sony PSP, called individually Duke Nukem: Critical Mass, Duke Nukem: Chain Reaction and Duke Nukem: Proving Grounds. In 2009 they detailed the concept behind the game.

The game would feature 3D environments and what they called a "multi-mode", allowing the player to swtich between a classic Duke Nukem sidescroller gameplay, a console-style over the shoulders view like in past spinoff games and a 1st Person point of view like Duke Nukem 3D's.

Then around DNF's real release, 3D Realms was dismantled and the developers lost the franchise and license to Gearbox. Software. But the game wasn't lost yet! The last branch of the old 3D Realms company Apogee Software would finish the game with Frontline Studios and it would be published by Deep Silver. Deep Silver announced they would do so under the new IP and title "Extraction Point: Alien Shootout". The PSP version was scrapped.

And without anyone expecting it, the game was silently released on stores in summer 2011... under the original title Duke Nukem Critical Mass. Goodbye Extraction Point! They still retained some rights regarding the Duke Nukem-produced material.

Though only the first episode Critical Mass made it in the end - the name was taken from one of the last levels from the final episode of Duke Nukem 3D - was it a good thing or should they have canceled the entire project?

The story revolves around another time travel-decide, like the previous Time To Kill and Zero Hour on the PSX and Nintendo 64 respectively.

To prevent any further catastrophes, the Earth Defense Force (EDF for short) have reused their time machine technology to monitor the future of the planet and rest assure of its situation at any time.

But their special time agents have gone MIA. So General Graves did what any man in charge of delicate mission would do - call in for the very best, the famous Duke Nukem!

Now Duke is the future's only hope.

The game starts with Duke going into the future Manhattan and finding all sorts of monsters from his past. New York has been invaded by aliens. Turns out several foes from Duke's rogue gallery have apparently allied themselves to rule the world!

Duke starts facing many familiar faces like Pigcops, Ratoids and Camera Mechs. After facing Duke Nukem Manhattan Project's Morphix again

But there's more to the story than that...

The game is about 36 levels long, once the first dozen or so levels explored in NYC, Duke will find some EDF soldiers in their headquarters. And from there on you can pick your own following stages including landmarks (ruined in this invaded-future) in France, England, Egypt and more!

The goal is go through all these places all over the world, send the team back home, save the babes and defeat all these past villains - Morphix, the Cycloid Emperor, the Alien Queen and finally Dr. Proton!

The story is actually surprising interesting in Critical Mass. It sort of starts generic, "been there, done that" but gets more interesting over the time.

Gameplay is where the game is most... unique but also full of problems.

*How to describe the gameplay in this game?

The game is mostly at its heart an action 2D sidescroller with platforming sections. A run & gun like the original first two Duke games and Manhattan Project.

The entire "mutli-mode" was ditched for the final release of Critical Mass. The gameplay will change from time to time depending on the situation and you have no control over it.

Critical Mass plays like a poor man's Manhattan Project. It imitates it with some very bad results.

You can run around, uses any of the many weapons you'll find around - most returning from Manhattan Project and DN3D, and many new ones as well - jump, throw pipe bombs and even activates some power-ups you'll collect through the plot via the tactile screen.

It feels and looks like an unfinished and unpolished game. The graphics are okay, but very basic. The game lacks a proper game over screen and several animations (including the enemies' death). It's unresponsive at times.

While Manhattan Project felts like such a tight and precise modern sidescroller, Critical Mass is just sloppy by comparison almost like a fangame.

Then you will suddenly notice Duke can take cover near walls when there's other planes in the background.

It's a player-triggered gameplay.

The cover shooter element is very simplistic, I wonder why they kept it. It feels like this was part of the game when you could switch the gameplay into a 3rd Person game.

You can use the stylus for this.

If you wait a minute the enemies will run into the foreground anyway, so you can simple decide to skip those via the shoulder triggers.

The problem is that you're vulnerable to the nearby enemies during those.

It's awkward and forgettable.

But wait! That's not all!

Critical Mass is also a shoot'em up!

From time to time, at least once per "world", Duke will take a jetpack and trigger a random shmup sequence!

You can shoot with your gun and throw some rockets. There's the usual pigcops now sporting jetpacks as well and annoying tanks. The basic idea is you have to keep your tank full of fuel and keep an eye on your lives. Enemies give you fuel, tanks will give you lots of ammo & items.

There's usually a giant boss at the end.

It is probably some of the worst shmup segments I've ever played. Since the game wasn't a shmup to be honest, was it that important to keep those while they scrapped the rest?

Why even include those if you're not gonna bother making those fun or even playable at least...

It's sluggish, and goes on for way too long when you have to go through these again.

Sometimes you can trigger a 1st Person Sniper gameplay by locating a sniper high above the ground, usually mid-level and slightly hidden.

There also are some forced Sniper moments, in-between some levels.

Duke will pick up a sniper rifle and then you will have to clear all the nearby visible enemies. The 1st Person gameplay can only be completed once all the foes killed, robots and mutants alike.

Some sniper segments can be skipped altogether but it's best to use those to clear the path up ahead.

Finally the last gameplay variation you will be treated to are the 3rd Person action shooter sequences.

It's truly the best scenes in the entire game.

Mostly confined for the boss battles at the end of each world.

It's fun, way too easy for its own good. You have access to all the weapons and items from the usual sidescroller gameplay.

You will face the return of Morphix, giant robots, aliens and mutants!

The entire game borrows assets from Manhattan Project and the PSX episodes (really apparent during those 3rd Person fights).

Jon St. John is back, although most of his dialogues are worse and uninspired quotes from past games and jokes on those.

The music is kind of decent, very Duke Nukem-ysh. A bit rock-y and a whole lot of metal. Classic Duke on that front.

Overall, it's a pretty awkward simplified Manhattan Project with pretty bad and unresponsive controls.

The idea of the different gameplay modes was a nice idea. Revolutionary when they originally imagined you could switch it yourself on the spot, a bit annoying in the final product though. I really think a Die Hard Trilogy approach would have saved this project.

The game is very linear, there's barely any secrets and it's long enough even it is a bit too easy.

Duke Nukem Critical Mass just looks so unpolished and rushed, while they still could afford the Duke Nukem license.

Also I basically had the same problem I have with many modern HD sidescroller. The character is way too badly centered on the screen. If you want to look ahead of you, you need to keep the trigger pressed while playing.

It all just makes me sad how this could have been such an amazing unique game...

I give it:
1.5 / 3 Quacks!

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