Review: Duke Nukem: Zero Hour (N64)

In this review, we fight back against the alien scum in the N64 game Duke Nukem: Zero Hour. We find out how well this third person shooter plays.

This game was released in 1999. It is a spin-off game to the original series. Previously, we reviewed the original Duke Nukem 3D on DOS. We found that that game was an excellent game to play. We then tried the N64 port called Duke Nukem 64. While the game had features superior to the DOS version, there were also a few features that didn’t measure up as well. Still, it was an excellent game to play anyway. In addition to this, we reviewed Duke Nukem 3D on the Sega Mega Drive. We found it to be the worst port we’ve ever played and a terrible play. In addition, we gave Duke Nukem Advance a try. The game left a lot to be desired even though it is is technically a passable experience. So, we wondered what this game has to offer players.

In the game, aliens have swarmed New York. In the midst of assessing how to handle the situation, Duke Nukem is interrupted by non other than Duke Nukem – only back in time. Evidently, aliens are trying to disrupt earths past to wipe out the human race. Unfortunately, the time machine was destroyed and he is no longer able to chase the aliens through time. Mission in hand, Duke Nukem sets out to make things right.

When you begin the game, you’ll notice a brand new item you can use. This item is the computer. The computer displays current immediate objectives as well as the larger mission objective. In addition, it tells you how many babes are in the are (and saved), secrets found/missed, and total enemies/kills. In addition to this, it will also tell you if there is a time machine part on the level. A lot of this information in the original 3D game would only be revealed upon completion of said level. In this game, you get this information straight up which is nice.

A lot of the usual information is also present such as current item, weapon, ammo, and health. If you swim under water, you’ll also get an air gauge (something you also didn’t get in Duke Nukem 3D). The second you run out of oxygen, you’ll start taking damage.

There are a lot of familiar obstacles in this game. This includes bottomless pits, water, acid lakes, teleporters, and hard to reach ledges. One new feature is the use of ladders. While this feature may be seen as an effort to keep up with other FPS games like Turok – Dinosaur Hunter, it is, nevertheless, a nice feature to have in a Duke game.

Other geographical features in this game include destructible walls, elevators, navigable vents, locked doors, and crushers (either falling debris or a collapsing ceiling). All of this very familiar by now to Duke Fans.

Also like previous Duke games, Nukem has a number of weapons he can add to his arsenal. Some weapons are returning weapons such as the freeze thrower (Duke Nukem 3D) and duel SMG (Duke Nukem 64), grenade launcher and everyone’s favorite weapon: the pipebomb.

Some weapons are modified weapons such as the claw shotgun, havoc multilauncher, dynamite, gas grenade launcher, and the bomb. Arguably, the ultra rare BFG cannon is a more powerful modified plasma cannon from Duke Nukem 64 as both operate under similar basic principles.

Along with this, there are a number of new weapons. This includes the volt cannon, gamma cannon, the sniper rifle, and the duel peacekeeper revolvers.

A returning feature is the use of the rare alternate ammo. This includes the magnum bullets (peacekeeper revolver ammo), heat seekers (havoc multilauncher), autoloader rounds (claw shotgun), and armor piercing bullets (sniper rifle if the power of that gun wasn’t overkill enough).

Standing in Nukem’s way are a number of familiar enemies. These are the pig cops (often armed with shotguns and rifles) and lizard enemies (often with blasters, but sometimes carry SMG and peacekeeper pistols). There are also the floating brain aliens that fire the powerful rounded shots at you. Whats new about them is that if you get hit, your view is temporarily distorted.

In addition to these enemies are also gun emplacements. Unlike in 3D, these gun emplacements are basically machine guns. So, extra caution may be required.

New enemies found in this game include the larger gun emplacements. These large red emplacements fire either duel machine guns or duel rocket launchers at you. They may take a bit more effort to take out.

On a rare occasion, you can also encounter the plasma cannons. One well placed shot can vaporize Duke Nukem, so strategy is key to taking them out. On the bright side, it takes a moment for them to turn, so you need to use this to your advantage.

To make things even more interesting, it is possible to encounter flying ships. These ships also fire machine guns and rockets at you.

There are also two smaller flying devices trying to take you out. One of them is the familiar suicide bomb. They have been modified to fire guided missiles at you if you are under water. You can also encounter the more common flying machine guns that simply try to turn you into Swiss cheese.

Two other enemies of note are eggs and alien spiders. Alien spiders are effectively faster moving slimes from the 3D game. Eggs, on the other hand, emit a poisonous gas when you get close. A gas mask may render these harmless, but breathing in the toxic fumes can cause a lot of damage. So, caution is definitely recommended.

There are a number of different levels found throughout the game. Some levels take place in the present. A few levels take place in a post-apocalyptic future. A couple of them take place in the wild west of the past. Finally, there are a few Victorian era levels.

Along the way, you’ll find yourself collecting time machine parts. In total, there are 13 parts to find. Some are pretty easy to find (such as in a choke point hallway) while others are quite challenging to find (i.e. behind a destructible book case or in a secret area hidden away behind a wooden cracked wall). Regardless, if you manage to collect all 13 parts by the level known as “The Rack”, you’ll be given the opportunity to access a secret bonus level: Going Down. A level that takes place on the Titanic which may be arguably one of the most challenging levels in the game.

While the number of levels may not be anything huge for games by this point in time, it’s easy to forget just how large some of these levels are. While a few levels are simply era bosses, other levels force you to do some serious hiking. It’s more than possible that some levels can take up to 45 minutes to complete (hit close to that during Dry Town trying to find the time machine part in an area I managed to overlook).

This game features mine cart rides, floating barges, flooding areas, rooftop navigation, pitch black areas, and whole sections of levels that self destruct to name a few. Suffice to say, there’s plenty to explore – some of which offer maze-like challenges. A game that tests more than your ability to shoot and strafe.

If you find yourself standing next to an enemy, enemies won’t hesitate to try and punch you out. Another improvement over the original 3D game if you ask me.

While finding health along the way can be annoying, there is a returning feature to this game: breakable water fountains. A lot of them are found by destroying hydrants and pumps (era depending of course). A few can be found via destroying toilets as well. One improvement is the fact that you can increase the rate of health intake from these. In this game, it depends only on how quickly you can hit action (in 3D, you gain about 2 health a second). Also, using a toilet can restore 10 health.

Some people were apparently not fans of this game. Unfortunately, a lot of the reported negative reviews no longer exist, so it’s difficult for me to assess how some people might not be a fan of the game. One of the only negative comments I found with the remaining review (which turned out to be a positive one) was that the game was unoriginal. I don’t think this is that accurate of an assessment given the interesting blend of features that tie both old elements and new features. A lot of what makes a Duke Nukem game feel like a Duke Nukem game is there, but it take it into interesting directions at times. The gas grenades and blasters that gradually increase your ammo are two examples of this.

What’s more, you can collect key items to get to your next objective. A great example of this is the explosive device you build in Dry Town.

Another negative comment is that it’s easy to spend a long time looking for a hidden door or crack in the wall that allows you to keep moving. The only time I ever really encountered that was during the Wet World level – a level that is actually optional and even well hidden. It took a long time for me to find the door that was well hidden behind a shadow. After that, we’re whittling things down to finding every secret in the game. Let’s face it, how many of us found every secret in the original Duke Nukem 3D game on their first run? Not a lot. I don’t think it’s the end of the world to miss some secrets in this game either. They only grant you a few extra helpful items. I’d say Duke Nukem 3D was worse for this anyway.

While a few negative comments about this game do, in my view, miss the mark, that’s not to say this is a perfect game. My big complaint about this game revolves around the clunky jumping system. It is often difficult to assess whether or not a jump is possible. Some jumps look easy – only when you tag your toes, you find yourself falling into acid or to your doom. Somewhat annoying because jumping is only a small part of the overall game.

Another point that annoyed me is the lack of checkpoints in the game. If you happen to get hit by a trap at low health or you didn’t assess your health situation properly, you could die. If you die, your only option is to go back to be the beginning. On some levels, that’s not the end of the world, but in other instances, you could find yourself losing a half an hour thanks to a single misstep. This is never really a problem for Duke Nukem 3D with the save anywhere feature, but the levels here are much larger and saving is confined to going in between levels. A bit of a nuisance for me.

Generally speaking, this is a pretty solid game. It’s got large levels, lots of areas to explore, numerous level features, and, of course, a whole arsenal of snappy one-liners that adds so much enjoyment to gameplay. The weapons arsenal is large and the items are helpful. While the jumping system and lack of checkpoints do hold this game back somewhat, there’s still plenty about this game to enjoy.

Graphically speaking, this game isn’t the most amazing, but there are plenty of features that make this game a solid play. For one, nearly everything is 3D. Enemies, breakables, and even both your and enemy weapons fire. Probably the only 2D sprites that I noticed were some special effects and fires. That is certainly an achievement that showed that care was made to craft this game. Some settings are a little dark for my taste, but they aren’t bad (no where near as bad as Doom 64 of course). Draw distance is pretty good and the atmospherics add some interesting character to the surroundings. While some breakables to leave a bit to be desired, it’s still a solid effort here.

The audio was nicely realized. I found it unfortunate that the default settings have the music so low because the music adds so much to the game. The only reason I can think of for this is that the music can otherwise muddy Nukem talking, but I can still piece together what he says after raising the music volume a bit. The non-music levels also work surprisingly well. Sound effects, enemies, and the babes were well done.

Overall, this game delivers a solid, though lightly flawed performance for the player. It may not be as amazing as the original Duke Nukem 3D, but it delivers a lot of entertainment value. The arsenal is sufficiently large. the levels are impressively large. The puzzles get you thinking. The large number of secrets and babes grant you plenty of replay value. The jumping system isn’t the greatest and a lack of checkpoints in-level is a bit annoying, but there’s still a lot of enjoyment to be had. The graphics are fairly solid with almost everything being 3D. The darkness does temper things somewhat, but it’s still pretty solid. The music is great as long as you crank it a little in the settings. The one-liners are very nicely done and the other sound effects work well. A great game to play.

Furthest point in game: Beat all levels (including Water World and Going Down).

General gameplay: 21/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 80%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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