It's over six years since Duke Nukem 3D was released, and while we're still waiting for the true sequel to the game, any number of (mostly very bad) spin-offs have been released since then. The latest such sideshow for the Duke is The Manhattan Project, developed by Sunstorm of Deer Hunter infamy. But we'll try not to hold that against them.
The Rotten Core Of The Big Apple
The Manhattan Project is something of an oddity as modern PC games go, taking Duke Nukem back to his roots by recreating the side-scrolling platform action of the original shareware Duke Nukem games. Now how long is it since we saw one of those on the beige box?
In keeping with tradition the controls are fairly basic and entirely keyboard based, with no Abuse-style mouse aiming. The whole thing feels more like a console game at times, and indeed the readme file that came with our preview code recommended using a joystick or gamepad. However you decide to control the game though, your options are essentially limited to moving forwards and backwards, jumping and ducking, firing and kicking. Fighting is almost entirely horizontal - there's no way to aim your gun, so the shots just go in whichever direction you're pointing - but this simplistic approach works surprisingly well most of the time.
The levels are anything but horizontal though, taking you over the rooftops and through the subways of New York, with all manner of ladders to climb, gaps to jump across, pipes to hang from and ventilators to use to lift you high into the sky on a cushion of hot air. Speaking of hot air, Duke Nukem's now familiar sarcastic quips and one-liners (many of them stolen from cult movies) are back with a vengeance, and will no doubt have gamers giggling and groaning in equal measure. The levels aren't entirely flat either, as the fully 3D graphics engine means that at certain points the camera can rotate to show the Duke edging his way around a curved ledge, or allow you to walk through a door in the backdrop to enter a new area.
Big And Brainless
This being a Duke Nukem game, there's naturally plenty of big stuff - big guns, big enemies, and big boobs. The first comes in the form of nine weapons varying from pistols and shotguns to assault rifles and pulse cannons. The second includes everything from the familiar pig cops to giant cockroaches and uzi-wielding mutant alligators. Don't ask.
The third links into the rather vague plot, which sees Duke once again trying to save hapless babes from an evil villain. In this case the poor women are tied up in explosive devices, which you must defuse to release them. Look, let's face it, you don't play a Duke Nukem game for the deep plot, intelligent dialogue and characterization. Or if you do you need to get out more.
What The Manhattan Project does deliver is level after level of fairly brainless mutant blasting, pipe bomb throwing, platform hopping, babe saving, gun toting, ego massaging action. It's not big, hard or clever, but it is quite entertaining. Whether it can keep up that degree of fun throughout all eight episodes remains to be seen, but as the game has just gone gold and is due out in Europe at the end of the month, we should have full review code soon. In the meantime, feast your eyes on some eye candy and get polishing your boots.