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PC Game Review: Duke - Nuclear Winter

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This review was originally posted at https://alyxxgameroom.blogspot.com/2018/12/pc-game-review-duke-nuclear-winter.html

 

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GAME: Duke - Nuclear Winter
RELEASED: 12/30/1997
DEVELOPER: Simply Silly Software
PUBLISHER: WizardWorks
AVAILABLE ON: PC


Duke Nukem 3D had a few expansion packs released for it after its release in 1996. These were "Duke It Out in D.C", a capitol themed campaign through DC, "Duke Caribbean - Life's A Beach" which is more of a summer vacation themed pack. And then there is "Nuclear Winter", the mandatory Christmas themed pack which was the only one to be developed by Simply Silly Software. So while I am sitting here with my mulled wine and Christmas cookies, and having just finished my annual playthrough of this expansion, I figured I'd give my thoughts on it before the year is over. Consider this my Christmas review this year.

The story goes that the Feminist Elven Militia (... yes, you read that correctly) has brainwashed Santa and are being supported by the aliens in a plot to take over the world. This brings up a fair amount of questions... Like why is there a Feminist Elven Militia, why are they taking over the world, and how does this stop Christmas from happening? In either case, Duke has to stop the feminazi elves, evil snowmen and aliens, get Santa back to normal and save Christmas. 
 

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One of the most interesting and surprisingly out of place things in this expansion is a partial recreation of E1M1 from Doom.

 

Your journey begins surprisingly by playing the first two levels from Episode 1 of Duke 3D in reverse with a bit of a Christmas twist. While it does feel a little lazy, the levels still feel different enough to be somewhat fun to play, especially since these are levels that most people have probably played a fair bit. After that you journey towards the north pole through numerous levels that all carry a pretty fitting winter theme, complete with snowy weather and icy water.

Your enemies consists of reskinned pigcops and aliens, though some new enemies make their appearance exclusively to this expansion pack. Evil snowmen replace the Assault Commanders, Pigcop tanks and also function as generic troops that throw snowballs at you. The flying ones also use Freezethrower projectiles in place of the rockets from the vanilla Assault Commanders. And of course, the Elven Feminist Militia (EFM for short which sounds like a radio station), which consists of all female elves that either use dual UZI's, shrinkers or shotguns. 
 

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Elves have a tendency to drop gifts upon dying which Duke can unwrap to pick up extra goodies like health, armor and weapons.

 

The level design is mostly alright in my opinion. It might be because of how much I've played the expansion but I rarely feel lost and aside from the level designers having a bit too much of a fetish for cheap tripbomb traps, I find the levels pretty fun to play. I especially love the level set in Santa's workshop and a Christmas village at the North pole. The levels are full of cool little details like Santa's naughty list, boxes of presents for rich and poor kids, and even a launch facility for Santa's sleigh. I must admit playing this pack always brings a smile to my face the further I get into it. My only complaint if anything would be that it's probably a bit short. The fight with the evil Santa Clause feels like it always comes sooner than I expect, perhaps not helped by the fact the first two levels are just reskinned versions of older levels from Episode 1.
 

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Santa's a bit of a dick in this expansion until you beat him.

 

Graphically I think Nuclear Winter holds up fine. It doesn't always impress a lot with the level design, which at times feels like it could easily be made in the Doom engine, but I still love the little "Christmas-fied" details like the reskinned enemies, Christmas trees, unique enemies and even singing carolers in the second level. The cutscenes all use pretty cheap looking CGI which even at the time looked kinda nasty and some of the sprite work is also not up to par with an official Duke Nukem product. But it gets the job done.

The game features a rather nice selection of MIDI renditions of classic Christmas music. If you've ever wanted to hear a crappy synth version of Sleigh Ride, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty The Snowman then you're in for a treat. Admittedly I have a bit of a soft spot for these renditions and there is something endearing about spilling a ton of Feminist Elf blood while a cheery Christmas tune plays in the background. Santa himself has a pretty crappy voice too which sounds like it was recorded by one of the dev team. Definitely no Jon St. Jon.

 

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This ending screen almost perfectly sums up the entire experience. I especially love the cheap Arial text and the "where" typo.

 

All in all, Nuclear Winter doesn't really feel like an official expansion at all. It feels like a fan made mod pack that you'd download for free. But despite its somewhat amateur presentation, I do feel the people who made this game were legitimate fans of Duke Nukem and wanted to do a fitting Christmas themed expansion for the game. And while the jokes don't always land that well and stuff like the "Feminist Elven Militia" and kinda weird Mario parody almost makes me feel like the game was made by angry teenage fanboys who just kinda hate anything that isn't porn and guns, I genuinely have fun with Nuclear Winter every Christmas. Whether I play it on my PS Vita or on PC, I don't feel Christmas is complete without it. I definitely don't recommend spending a lot of money on it, but if you got it with the Megaton Edition while it was still being sold or got it for free through less legal means, I definitely recommend at least giving it a try.

Merry Christmas!

SCORE:

STORY: 5/10
GAMEPLAY: 8/10
GRAPHICS: 7/10
SOUND: 5/10
TOTAL SCORE: 7/10

Game developments at http://nukedprotons.blogspot.com

Check out my music at http://technomancer.bandcamp.com

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