Patty Bouvier of The Simpsons once said, “The easiest way to be popular is to leech off the popularity of others.” When iconic shooters from decades ago had their map-making tools officially released to the public, a plethora of no-name companies would jump into the scene in to cash in on the craze. This resulted in a tidal wave of unofficial, trashy expansion packs stuffed with fan-made maps – which were about as fun as playing with lumps of rabbit poo in a bowl full of peas – appearing in the stores.
WizardWorks were pretty infamous back in the day for doing exactly that. They also helped publish authorized add-ons like Duke!ZONE II, a mission pack for 3D Realms’ tongue-in-cheek first-person shooter Duke Nukem 3D, developed by Simply Silly Software (the same team who worked on the mediocre Xmas-themed add-on Duke Nuclear Winter). Bundled alongside was the previous Duke!ZONE title, offering 500 levels. Sounds like quite a hamper, but is it worth duking it out in?
Duke!ZONE II features three new chapters made up of a mere seven levels (two of which are secret levels, respectively). ‘Arctic Assault’ is arguably the best chapter since there are a few sizeable, urban-themed maps that are pretty damn fun to explore and fight through. Annoyingly, there are quite a few unfair traps that unleash far too many enemies, or blow you up with little time to react. Other missions could’ve done with more polish. “Slime Station” requires you to hop on an insanely-fast train flying around an unimaginatively-designed level, while “A Quicky” is just ugly in every way. Its chapter finale – which involves hopping across rooftops that are bunched way too closely together, thus eliminating any sort of tension – features a battle with the final boss of episode three, which makes no sense..
Things take a nosedive down the toilet in the Alien Abby chapter. “Graveyard Shift” has a fun opening but is plagued by unfair traps that leave you no time to react, and features too many lengthy swimming sections, much like the rest of the levels. The other missions aren’t even abbies, temples, churches or any sort of religious summits for extraterrestrial life, more like generic tech-bases with grey corridors, obnoxious amounts of flashing lights, and unfair amounts of enemies. All three of Duke Nukem 3D’s final bosses can be found stuck inside a cramped cave during the finale. A prayer goes out for anyone foolish enough to play this headache-inducing chapter in the fullest.
Finally, there’s episode three: Money Shines. You start off in a forgettable bar-themed level with large, spacious basements to explore, followed by a run-of-the-mill factory mission. Those that follow are more of the same: bloated, irritating snore-fests stuffed with hundreds of enemies. Unsurprisingly, the final battle is a big let-down. After leaping around the numerous pits and through the tight, mangled rooms, the final boss will be revealed at the hit of a switch. Too bad that killing the Cycloid Emperor is as easy as popping your head in-and-out of cover while spewing rockets like no tomorrow. Yawn…
The first Duke!ZONE is packaged alongside, offering a hefty 500 missions in-hand. Too bad they all suck. They’re nothing more than stolen levels from the internet, compiled with some out-of-date map-making tools and walkthroughs. It’s as fun as juggling dead pigeons.
It’s no surprise to see how Duke!ZONE II was always looked over by the Duke Nukem 3D fanbase. Despite a few nuggets of fun, the rest of the package is basically metric-tonnes of slop. The lack of consistency in level quality is the biggest nail in the coffin, not to mention the unfair traps, the ludicrous amounts of enemies (which don’t even change all that much if you lower the difficulty), and unimaginative boss battles. Duke fans may want to give the first chapter a shot, though the rest should be avoided like radiation.