Duke Nukem: Critical Mass: review

  • Format: DS
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Deep Silver/Apogee Software
  • Developer: Frontline Studios
  • Players: 1-2
  • Site: http://www.apogeesoftware.com/products/duketrilogy/criticalmass/
  • While everyone was busy pretending to be surprised at the latest Duke Nukem Forever delay, Apogee Software (who first birthed Mr Nukem) and Deep Silver snuck a brand new handheld adventure starring The Duke onto shop shelves. So is Critical Mass an FPS, a platform shooter, a third-person shooter, or a top down shooter? Answer: Yes.

    In an admirable attempt at variety, Frontline have forced different genres to sit side-by-side and give one another dirty looks in the same game. Most of your time will be spent in the 2D platform shooter levels which, while utilising 3D polygons for the characters and most of the environments, are heavily pixellated and none too pretty. It’s still easy to see what’s going on, though – this game has much bigger problems to worry about.

    The platform sections run from left to right, but you’ll often come across a mysterious device which goes by the name of ‘ladder’ (with the occasional flying platform) allowing you to travel up and down. Now and again, the ground even slopes slightly; which means that you’ll sometimes come across enemies above, below, or at a slight angle to you. Shame, then, that you can only shoot left or right. Particularly frustrating when you can see an enemy waiting for you at the top of a ladder.

    Was there an evil creature waiting for Duke at the top of this ladder? We'll never know.

    Talking of seeing enemies, you may find that, well… you can’t. Not until they’ve already started shooting you from off-screen. L and R shift the camera angle left and right respectively by about 45 degrees, which means the problem is largely fixed by running left to right with R held down constantly. This doesn’t help when an enemy materialises half a dozen steps behind you for no apparent reason while you’re busy kicking blocky backside though. Why on earth Frontline didn’t simply pull the default camera out a little more is a mystery.

    There’s a decent selection of weapons to be found throughout the game, and they’re (mostly) surprisingly distinct from one another in terms of damage and fire rate. With L and R busy on camera duty, weapon selection is handled via the touchscreen; a slightly awkward horizontally scrolling line of weaponry that will prove a nightmare for anybody paranoid about fingerprints (weapons cannot be switched while the game is paused). Picking up a weapon will automatically equip it, even if it’s already in your collection – not always desirable. That said, you needn’t worry too much about being caught out in the middle of a firefight; you soon realise that most enemies you encounter can’t hurt you while you’re crouched (but you can still shoot them).

    There’s a primitive third person cover system to take advantage of at strictly designated points, usually for just one enemy. You can run straight past these back alleys if you want, and we’d advise you to do so – especially as the curse of unexpectedly spawning off-screen enemies can kick you in the teeth here. The other break in platforming is what is essentially a sniping minigame, activated when you pick up a sniper rifle. Zooming in and out from a first-person perspective, you’ll take out three or four enemies before being thrown back to the platforming. Simple yet, ironically perhaps, the only sections of the whole game where a little planning and thought are required.

    There are a handful of top-down shooter levels which aren’t nearly as fun as they should be. Donning a jetpack, Duke takes to the skies to fly over the same few square inches of backdrop repeated ad nauseum, shooting the same two enemy types (in the last of these levels, just one) again and again. It seems quite literally impossible to avoid all of the incoming fire, with survival depending on picking up all the health and armour pickups dead enemies leave behind. Oh, did we mention you get just two weapons here?

    Bigger and uglier than most, but still easily dealt with.

    Boss fights are third-person affairs with an over-the-shoulder camera that’s very nearly first-person. Again, this is a wasted opportunity. With no option to invert the Y axis or adjust sensitivity, the controls will feel awkward for many; and the only tactic most of the bosses employ is running up to your face in order to attack you at point blank range.

    Despite all this we found that by the final quarter of the game, Critical Mass was leaning away from ‘chore’ in the direction of ‘guilty pleasure’ – simply because this is very, very much a Duke Nukem game (rather than the fact it features anthropomorphic pigs in jetpacks). The plot, such as it is, is B-movie sci-fi hokum that’s best ignored. The best fun is to be had from Duke’s laughing-in-the-face-of-political-correctness one liners, delivered (as ever) by Jon St John. There are, of course, ‘babes’ to be rescued. A typical encounter will go something like this:

    BABE: What can I do to thank you?

    DUKE: Whoa, careful with those things!

    Yes, really.

    Upon learning that aliens are kidnapping earth’s women for cross breeding, Duke cries “That really pisses me off!” It’s all absolutely crapulous. Incredibly (we’re pretty sure we didn’t imagine this), once he quips at an enemy: “Do I look French? I’m not retreating!”

    There has been an attempt to add replay value. There’s a local co-op mode we were unable to test (two game carts are required). There are also a few secrets and nine ‘Accomplishments’. Think trophies & achievements; only, with no way of boasting online, so even more pointless.

    We’d only recommend you buy this if you’re desperate for a brand new slice of The Duke, in which case this will almost certainly push your buttons. Be warned, however; once you’re done with him (or rather, once he’s done with you), you’ll feel cheap, dirty and used.

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    Written by Luke K

    Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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