Confession time: I only bought this game because of the song in the intro. I went to a friend’s house and played it straight out of the package, enjoying myself, but the only thing that stuck out was that opening video, along with how badass I felt killing those first few enemies in the strip club. It was an incredible experience that I still remember vividly, but probably for the wrong reasons. I challenge anyone to tell me it wouldn’t do the same for them though.
The problem here is that, though my memories here are fond, I kept hearing bad things about it and had to question why I saw this game in such a positive light. Don’t get me wrong, that opening song by Stabbing Westward led to them becoming one of my favorite bands in high school—you were young once too—but a game cannot exist off of one awesome tune alone (especially since the rest of the music isn’t memorable). So, it’s time to take another look at Duke Nukem: Time to Kill.
I would like to say the plot revolves around the titular character being upset that his bitchin’ motorcycle was turned into a pink kids’ bike, but that is just a funny joke in the beginning. The plot has more to do with a lizard race known as the Drak messing about with time, thus the title, and many of the levels being themed after various points in history. After this initial setup for the story though, don’t expect any more story tidbits or cool cutscenes—it’s all blood, bullets, and babes from this point on.
The main character won’t grow or learn anything, because it is Duke Nukem, and he has never been one to tolerate any real characterization past his stereotype demeanor or catchphrases and one-liners. I love some of his games, but once again the perpetual action star is simply based off of his 80s and 90s action hero stereotypes, constantly repeated phrases, and a few somewhat fun references.
“I prefer a good cigar, and a bad woman.”
In a game developed by n-Space and 3D Realms, Duke finds himself in a third-person view this time around, after starting out in 2D in his first games and going first person in his most popular adventure. This was a good decision, as the developers learned some things from other games of the genre. It is most commonly compared to the Tomb Raider series and still suffers from some of the same difficulties that plagued that classic franchise.
Frankly, the jumping sucks—and you eventually get a jetpack, but it is limited and has its own set of problems. Assessing the jump distance is a bit difficult due to the field of vision, which is its own separate problem when trying to navigate an area or endeavoring to find hard to see passageways. On top of this, making Duke jump with precision is quite the task. Attempting slight gentle leaps are what messed me up the most. There are a slew of weapons, with everything from alien firearms to explosives and holy hand grenades at the player’s fingertips. All of this is accessible with the select button, which works, because it pauses the game until a selection is made. One of the weirdest things is that Duke must holster his artillery to interact with certain objects or climb ledges. It is a bit more realistic I suppose, but certainly an annoying point of realism that I feel hurts the pacing early on. There are very tank-like controls with the D-pad, but the analog stick is usable, feeling a slight bit less clunky. Thankfully the auto aim isn’t horrible and going into free aim allows the player to see through Duke, providing a good and needed range of offensive possibilities. There is a dedicated button for quick turning, which few games have and is an important function for reacting. Strafing in the game will be helpful if practiced, but that function is a bit rigid. Overall the controls are awkward but serviceable.
Time to Kill has many long and confusing levels that are deceptive, as they are not actually that big, though their presentation nails the scope. Some of the stages are uninspired—which stinks considering how the time travel aspect lends to their potential—and many sections are bland and hard to distinguish. Backtracking is a key component here as each stage is just a collection mission, which gets tiresome later on. Finding where to go is tough at times, and although objectives are available, they are often vague, making thorough exploration a must. There are many hidden rooms and secret areas that grant upgraded weapons when the enemies in those areas are defeated, like a challenge.
The game can be difficult, as enemies are well-placed and do a lot of damage. There are a few bosses, but none of them are a problem once the player learns how to approach and avoid damage. Completing the game on the hardest difficulty supposedly gives a bit more of an ending, compared to the limited uninteresting one that plays normally, but hell if I could beat it on that difficulty. The game’s length is hard to measure, because it depends on knowing where to go and how many deaths will occur. There is a multiplayer mode as well that I had a little fun with playing against a friend, but the problem is that it is only one on one local, favors the aggressor, and does not add much to the game, causing it to sour quickly.
Though the game can be frustrating, I wanted to keep playing. Shooting familiar enemies to the franchise and several spots of ridiculousness that felt like old Duke was just entertaining enough. I went from shooting pigs and lizards, and then I was a cowboy. When I died, there was a picture of the swine winning, changing some key moment in history, motivating me to keep going. Revisiting this game revealed a lot of problems I hadn’t seen, but I kind of want to do another run through already. If nothing else I think the game was memorable for those who played it at the time. I found out a version of the game for the N64 was slated but eventually cancelled. So, knowing that, and now that I have this long awaited review out of the way, means that I eventually have to introduce everyone to Duke Nukem: Zero Hour.
You can check out the game HERE from the stream video.