Duke Nukem 3D review

The Duke is back! Well, kinda… more re-released really! While we all wait for Duke Nukem Forever to rear it’s ugly head from development hell (which some say will never happen) at least we can take a trip down memory lane on our trusty iPhone’s with Machine Works latest port ‘Duke Nukem 3D’.

Updated with iPad impressions after the rating.

Originally released back in 1996, it divided players world wide. On the one hand you had your die-hard Doom fan boys, still revelling in the ’94 release of Doom 2…. and on the other you had the newly created Duke Nukem fans. It just goes to show that when something becomes a success, there’s always a cross section of people who want to rebel against that and move in another direction (see Apple Vs Microsoft, Sega Vs Nintendo and Star Trek Vs Star Wars).

I on the other hand liked both Doom 2 and Duke Nukem. Doom was already a classic and Doom 2 brought more levels and action to the same tried and tested formula. Duke on the other hand, took what was good about Doom and brought a freshness that allowed it to stand on it’s own. It brought some technical updates to the table, such as vertical aim, destructible environments and better lighting and texture effects. But, overall it was the character of Duke himself that won so many fans over. Doom’s anonymous Marine (often know as the Doom guy) is a mute, personality-less character, whereas Duke is an in-your-face, bad-ass, male chauvinist pig, coupled with toilet humour wit… what’s not to love?

The story of Duke is simple one. Earth has been invaded by aliens, and it’s down to the Arnie/Stallone styled Duke to save the day. So how does it translate for the iPhone?

duke3The good

Well the good news is that the original game is all here, right down to the dancing strippers! You’ve got all three chapters; LA meltdown, Lunar apocalypse, and Shrapnel city. It all runs silky smooth (on my 3Gs) and the textures have been given a little polish here and there, especially close up where they have been smoothed out as not to appear pixelated. Sound is somewhat compressed, but this could be the original source files at fault. The music is still great cheesy action in style, and Duke’s classic one-liners are intact to enjoy once again (though they are not quite as funny as one remembers back in ’96).

The Bad

Oh dear, it was all going so well. But unfortunately, as of version 1.0, the controls let the side down… big time! Machine Works were also responsible for Prey Invasion, which I criticised for being too short, but above all for having poorly implemented touch controls. They obviously seem happy with them, because they have brought the exact same controls to Duke… right down to the on screen presentation.


There are two options, both, in my opinion, very clunky. The digital option puts capsule like buttons at the bottom and sides of the screen, and tapping on the relevant one gets Duke moving. The analogue version brings up two control sticks, represented by two circles. However, they do not work like analogue sticks, instead requiring you to tap on them, and not, as you would expect, slide your finger up, down, left and right. This just feels very unnatural and for me sucks the enjoyment out of the experience. Instead of running and gunning, you find yourself stopping first and then aiming up and down. For shooting you tap on the top half of the screen. This again poses problems, as it takes your hand off the right stick. Also to change weapon you tap on the bottom portion of the screen, and as both these areas are invisible, occasionally you will accidentally change weapon instead of firing, which can be a problem in the more intense fire-fights.

Finally, there is no multiplayer. While full on-line multiplayer can be tricky, at least the local multi-player could have been implemented. Many of the levels in Duke are perfectly designed for death matches, with multiple routes through conduits and the like. It’s a shame that now we are starting to see a steady FPS presence on the iPhone, we are still awaiting a great online FPS experience.

duke1The Bottom Line

It’s a tricky one, because on the one hand you have un-doubtably a great game, ported over well in the graphics and content departments… but let down with controls that just don’t work well, period. Hopefully Machine works will take the feedback from not only this review but others too, and update the game with the controls it so rightly deserves.

Presentation and graphics
Basic 3D by today’s standards, but in ’96 this was state of the art. The 2D characters look good, and Machine Works have done a great job make the original assets shine on the iPhone screen.

Sound is a little compressed, but those famous one liners from Duke are priceless.

Great levels and classic action. But those controls just don’t work for me… if Machine Works can get them right, you could see this score increase 2 fold.

20+ hours of gaming, if you can get past the control issues. Lack of multi-player is a shame


Duke Nukem 3D is out now for the launch price of $2.99

UPDATE: Since publishing this review Machineworks have updated the controls. They feel more analogue in style now and certainly allow you to experience the game in a closer fashion to the original game on PC. This update would add a half point to Gameplay, but not affect the overall score, which remains as a 3.5

iPad addendum: Nigel Wood
While this iPad edition certainly benefits visually from the higher resolution and what feels like a smoother framerate. The game is still dogged by terrible virtual stick implementation. It seems even more apparent on iPad and renders the game virtually unplayable from an enjoyment perspective. Avoid!


TwitterFacebookGoogle BookmarksDiggStumbleUponShare
  • STP_Tim

    3.5? Uhhh…. Controls are broken… unplayable.

  • Nigel Wood, UK

    Read my bottom line Tim!

  • Dan

    I really want to download this, but the failtastic controls are preventing me from clicking buy.

  • Torbjorn Kamblad, Sweden

    I bought it yesterday, and I won’t play it again until they fix the controls. Duke is the same old Duke but he moves like in need of a wheelchair or something the poor spastic sod.