After 12 years of waiting, a new Duke Nukem game finally arrives and… wait, Critical Mass? What the hell’s that? Yes, there is another Duke Nukem game out this year, exclusive to Nintendo DS and supposedly the first part of a trilogy on DS and PSP.
Duke Nukem: Critical Mass is mostly played as a platform-shooter similar to Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project. In a novel twist, you also get to do some first-person sniping, experience a top-down shoot-em-up with Duke in a jetpack, engage in cover-based shooting and duke it out with level bosses in Third-Person. This variety of play styles is easily Critical Mass’s most entertaining feature, and really keeps things from getting boring.
Heh heh, What a Mess
Also Critical to this Mass, is the Duke himself. He is still a tremendously fun character to play, quipping all the time and showing utter contempt for his enemies. If the game had been rebranded as Extraction Point it wouldn’t be a tenth as fun as this. Which doesn’t say much, since this is the point where my praise grinds to a halt.
The last time I played Critical Mass, it crashed on me. A DS game actually crashed on me. I’ve played some low-budget DS games in my time but I can’t recall any of them actually crashing. I wasn’t even doing anything unusual, I entered a room and it froze. I had to turn off my DS and start again. Got to the room, it did it again. I have no idea what’s in this room and I never will.
This is the level of quality you must expect when purchasing Duke Nukem: Critical Mass. The animation is so poor when Duke fires his gun, he looks like an action figure with its arm raised. When he climbs a ladder, whatever gun he’s holding disappears and is replaced by his pistol, which returns magically at the stop of the ladder. The manual mixes up the buttons for ‘jump’ and ‘shoot’.
Gonna Rip 'Em a New One
If I really wanted to, I could just fill this review with a laundry list of stupid problems and errors with the game. So let’s do just that! Nah, kidding, that would be boring. I - could - do it though. Instead I will just concentrate on a few things that really aggravated me.
First, Manhattan Project. That was actually a pretty good Duke Nukem platform-shooter, and I definitely recommend it. Well designed, with loads of secrets, good puzzles and plenty of checkpoints. Critical Mass desperately wants to be this game, so much so that it steals audio, dialogue, ideas, enemies, and levels from it. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if Frontline had copied it correctly. They haven’t.
The weapons system is probably my biggest frustration with the game. There are far too many guns to manage. You can only change weapons by pressing its icon on the touchscreen, which can only fit five weapons at any time – so to scroll between them you have to drag them across as if you are browsing pictures on an iPhone. This is awkward and unwieldy at the best of times, and impossible to do in boss fights without dying.
Okay when it works, jetpack mode isn't bad, it's Duke!
A bug-ridden mess, terrible interface, camera too close to see anything.