In a very “un-dukelike” manner, I am left crying inside.
Fans of Duke Nukem may well feel as though they have been waiting ages for their hero to return to the big screen. Some may have even forgotten the joy of mindless violence coupled with witty one-liners and gratuitous female flesh, perhaps turning to other, more modern heroes. It is at this point that I would like to say “fear not, Duke fans, as you can play Critical Mass on the DS”. Instead I find myself hoping that no Duke fans go anywhere near this title, lest they risk being turned away from Duke forever.
The history of Duke Nukem and the companies responsible for his games is a somewhat confusing one. But whatever the intricacies of ownership, the new Duke Nukem: Critical Mass bears the logo for Apogee Software, the company behind the original Duke Nukem back in 1991.
Still, the history of the game is not really of any importance. What is more important is what the game is like. For the most part, the game plays out like a 2D platforming shooter, with the player working from left to right through each of the levels, jumping from platform to platform, shooting enemies and saving babes. The controls are relatively simple, with the player using the A button to jump, B to shoot and X to throw the famous pipebombs.
But that is not all there is to it. For some reason the developers have decided to drop in a number of other styles of gameplay as well. As the player works from right to left, they will occasionally come across alleyways where the player will be able to take cover and shoot enemies the that are standing there, completely oblivious. There are then the vertically scrolling jet-pack areas which really add nothing to the game, with the player simply working up the screen whilst taking out enemies and collect health and power-ups. Then you have the sniper sections which sees the player taking out enemies through a sniper scope, which would be at least interesting were it not for the poor graphics (more on which later) making it extremely difficult to pick out enemies in the far distance. Finally, there are the boss battles which take on a third person perspective, forcing the player to change tactics again and use the face buttons for aiming and the shoulder buttons to fire.
This uncomfortable collection of different gaming styles would have been acceptable had the graphics been of a reasonable level. Sadly, the background textures are dull and lacking in any sort of details, the animations of the figures on screen are almost non-existent and the game is filled with little irritations, such as not being able to see the bullets in the 2D sections, which is especially annoying when you start being shot from off-screen and have no way of telling where the shooting is coming from, or the over-extended death-throes of your enemies leaving the player wondering if they are dead or not. From a graphical point of view, the game is a complete mess.
All of this is almost as unforgivable as the fact that Duke has been censored to the point where his witty, and often completely sexist, one-liners are suitable for the average 12 year old. Seriously, that is not how Duke rolls!
With some polish to the graphics and some more work on the gameplay, this could have been the perfect filler title until the release of Duke Nukem Forever. But the messy gameplay and horrible graphics mean that Duke Nukem: Critical Mass is a game that needs to be avoided, especially by Duke fans.