Duke Nukem: Zero Hour is a third-person shooter for the Nintendo 64. The basic plot is that aliens have started traveling through time to take control of Earth, and once again they’ve been kidnapping our babes. So Duke has to bring his guns and his attitude across different points and places in time in order to save the babes and stop the aliens. There’s the standard stuff you’d expect in this game, such as getting an arsenal of weapons and items to use at your discretion, interesting aliens to kill, secrets to find, babes to save, references and details in posters and signs, and of course the good ol’ charm of Duke Nukem himself. Along with the standard stuff, there are now mission objectives to follow. Some missions will have you going from one point to another, while others have some level specific tasks for you to complete. While you might just be running and gunning, sometimes you’ll have to adjust to some new quirks or mechanics for a given level. This adds some variety and excitement to the game, keeping it from just feeling like another iteration of Duke Nukem 3D from a third-person perspective.
The attention to details is also very nice. There’s lots of voice acting in this game, giving Duke more freedom and personality besides simple one-liners the entire time. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of those. The little jokes and spoofs in things like posters, signs, and magazines hanging around are a nice touch for some life. The graphics may not be great, but it’s almost always a cut in quality on the N64 to go from 2D sprites to all 3D models. The music is alright. There are a LOT of control types to pick from this time around, giving players a lot more ways to find a comfortable playstyle. It controls pretty well once you get the right setup and adjust. And the atmosphere in some places is pretty cool. For example, one of my favorites is when you first jump to the future and end up in the remains of New York City, with nothing to hear but the crunch of the snow beneath your feet and the moans of zombies inside the otherwise abandoned buildings. And hey, you even get to change outfits to fit your time period and location. Oh, and don’t forget about the cool boss battles. The end fight will really test what you’re made of, and there is one very tricky boss fight that I enjoyed but… I don’t want to spoil it for you. Plus, this game actually has a somewhat explained story.
To kick off the downsides, however, the story is a tad ridiculous and might turn a lot of people off right away, what with the time travel and all that. Also, while full 3D graphics are cool, they don’t always look the best, especially in the enemy models. On top of that, while there is a high-res mode for those using the expansion pack, there’s little to no difference with it on. The control is very good in this game, but Duke isn’t quite as agile anymore. You move at a seemingly slow pace, with sometimes awkward jumps you need to make. It can be adjusted to, but it’s a strange adjustment for those coming off of Duke Nukem 64. Some of the new objectives and mechanics are difficult to grasp the first time around and might need you to do things you weren’t properly informed of, even though other things are very well-explained. It creates a bit of confusing inconsistency.
Still, Duke Nukem: Zero Hour is a game that does a lot of interesting and entertaining things with the character and franchise. The gameplay is an adjustment that will make for a learning experience that challenges you yet with a familiarity that will delight you. If you can get past the dated visuals and the rather ridiculous plot, then you’re in for a fun time. It’s an obvious choice for N64 owners who love Duke Nukem. Plus, it generally goes for rather cheap. So pick up a copy and give it a shot. Plus… it’s the only original Duke game the system got so take advantage of your unique experience.