Duke Nukem 2 is an Action Platformer originally released in 1993 and puts us in the shoes of Duke Nukem himself, as he once again faces a world-threatening foe. While the last game had us facing off against a mad scientist with an army of robots at his disposal, this time around aliens want in on the action and decide to kidnap Duke to clone themselves some super soldiers. They actually succeed at first and manage to make him a prisoner in their spaceship, but little did they know that he could bend the steel bars of his cell to escape and they were cocky enough to put his weapons nearby. That ends about as well for them as you’d expect and we will be blasting away alien scum right from the get-go.
For those of you that have played the original, the most immediate change is that it now features actual music via Ad-Lib or Soundblaster instead of the simple PC speaker sound effects of old. Having a soundtrack instead of deafening silence definitely goes a long way to keep us focused and luckily for us, the music here is excellent. It also marks the point where Duke gains his iconic personality. In the previous game he merely wanted to watch Oprah, but now he only wants to kick ass and chew bubble gum. From the sounds, personality and graphics, everything has been vastly improved. Obviously, it is nothing impressive these days or even back then for that matter as Doom came out a week later, however as a sequel it is everything you’d want.
We have a choice of four episodes to go through, and with the story being told nearly entirely at the intro with next to nothing afterward, it doesn’t matter much in what order you tackle them. It does get more difficult the deeper in you go, so starting from the first act is recommended. And man is this title deceptively difficult. You have a life bar, and can take quite a bit of damage but you’d be surprised with how fast the game will chip off your health if you play carelessly. A run and gun shooter this is not, one must take a slow approach to things or risk a variety of deadly things happening to you, from a spiked ball slamming down into your head to being shot by some human enemies. It is still very much a maze game where those that take their time to explore every inch of the place get rewarded while those that shoot blindly will probably end up destroying their own health item.
With a gun possessing infinite ammo and such a zoomed in screen that doesn’t let you see all that far ahead of you, it can be all too easy to want to fire nonstop. Doing so will not only destroy items such as health pickups, but you also risk destroying orbs that grant points and boxes that may contain a live explosive. Put simply, this game wants you dead. To stop that from happening we can crouch, jump, shoot and climb our way around the levels in search of the almighty key that allows us to progress. At times we will also need a circuit board to shut off electrical force fields and be on our merry way. Like the original, the level design is maze-like, and with no map, we must be paying attention to make a mental note of the lay of the land. There is a radar on the right side of the screen though I found that to be about as useful as turning off your monitor and then trying to find your objective that way.
Gone are the objects such as claws that allowed us to grapple onto specific beams as that is now a default skill we possess. In its place, we have an item to allow for rapid fire, an orb that will give you hints once brought back to its machine, and new weapons to play with. These new guns are a high damage rocket launcher, a laser that can shoot through anything and my personal favorite, the flamethrower. Firing the flamethrower downwards will thrust you into the air, allowing you to reach secret locations, traverse around the place more effortlessly or just destroy anything standing in your path. It is the earliest instance of the 90’s staple “rocket jumping” feature that I am aware of. Each of these weapons does have limited ammo so making the best of them when you can is a useful trait to learn.
In each level, you will find a goal post that will allow you to secure that sector. That, in essence, means you can now respawn in that location should you die instead of being sent all the way back to the beginning. Even better is that should you die and respawn, all the enemies that you destroyed will stay dead, allowing anyone to beat the game with enough determination. Also scattered about the place are both blue boxes and red boxes. Blue boxes typically contain items that will add to your overall points while red boxes are more of a risk versus reward type of ordeal. Inside a red crate, you can either find a health item or a bomb that will promptly explode after a few seconds. Most of the time they contain the latter though they can also be used to your advantage to kill enemies that will get caught in their blast.
Points don’t really play any factor other than simple bragging rights since there is no life system in this title. Speaking of lives, even if you have an infinite amount, don’t forget to save the game after each level using the F2 key least you forget, exit the game, and start from stage 1. There is no shortage of enemies that want to kill you with the most common being a mechanical spider that clings to the ceiling, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. Something that has always annoyed me was how well many of the enemies blend into the background, be it the gray spiders, green flying ghost creatures or even normal ducks. With how short the view distance is and adding camouflaged enemies to the mix, it can make it feel somewhat cheap at times until you get used to it. And yes, ducks are deadly, hilariously enough. Every foe causes the same amount of damage so fast, and flying enemies are a much more significant threat.
Most levels will have you hunting down keycards and circuit boards while throwing in unique things to deal with, but a few will force you to hunt down and destroy all of the radars before you can progress. I’m not too crazy about these missions, though they come up rare enough that it isn’t a big bother. One can also find random letters in a stage that spell “NUKEM” and if collected in the right order will net you a nice 100k point bonus. Collecting them out of order will only get you 10k but as they say its better than nothing. After you finally made it to the end of an episode, you will encounter a boss fight against a giant alien in a hovering vehicle across in each of the four episodes. Just shoot him until he explodes and you’ll be given a small amount of story to set up the events that are about to occur on the next set of levels.
Perhaps the coolest new addition is that of a hovering vehicle to ride around in. It has some glorious firepower, allows us to fly anywhere and lasts as long as we stay alive. Finding it is a rare occasion but when you do, its time to rock. Duke Nukem 2 is nearly 25 years old at the time of this review, and I must say, it holds up rather well for those that don’t mind the graphics and maze-like level design. For Duke fans, it is well worth checking out just to see where the series started before the legendary Duke 3D released or for those simply into DOS platformers. The version I’ve played was from Steam, but both it and the GOG version were removed long ago after some legal troubles between Gearbox and Apogee. It has since never been brought back making it rather tricky to obtain legally for those not wanting to shell out cash on a used physical release. In any case, however you can get your hands Duke Nukem 2, it is well worth playing to this very day.