Released: June 22nd 2014
DUKEHARD is a communtiy project consisting of seventeen different maps all tied around a common goal. Started and organised by MetHy, every mapper was tasked in creating a single floor design, based from the provided template to be part of a larger multi-story building. Fourteen additional authors jumped aboard contributing to the project with varying results. Duke must work his way to the top conquering one floor at a time.
As one should expect with community projects, the quality is going to vary from a level by level basis depending on a number of aspects and personal tastes. As a whole I must commend the community for putting together a hefty sum of maps, many of which last longer than I initially anticipated giving me a good sign that I won’t blow through the episode in a single evening. DUKEHARD focuses on a core concept and tight limitations all contributors followed, with an odd few exceptions. Excluding the ground floor, every other level will begin and end at the central stairway and requires that players’ seek out a blue keycard to access the next floor. For balance purposes Duke will begin each new assault with his previously acquired weapons and items taken away to allow each mapper full control over gameplay for their floor. This pattern will remain mostly intact up until the end where a final boss awaits. Upon completing DUKEHARD on Come Get Some without cheating, the User Map selection and a map shuffle mode will be unlocked.
Level 01: Lobby – by MetHy
Duke begins his long ascent to the rooftop from the ground floor with LOBBY, a level giving me good first impressions for things to come. There are several places to explore around here which function as the building’s utility rooms. The right wing filters through trash and offers laundrette services, while the left side greets visitors to a reception desk and a large storage area. Players’ should find themselves naturally flowing from one area to the next without too much hassle. Combat is simple but varied, fighting different foes with a good array of weapon choice to be found. MetHy often tosses in a Fat Commander to hold players back as they make progress. Design works well because of suitable styles being applied in various locations given them an identity of their own. For example, the front entrance is interesting for employing an uncommon texture scheme which feels welcoming. In fact many places appear charming for the smaller details MetHy adds to them such as a ‘functional’ vending machine. I also enjoyed how the standard storage room transforms into something else entirely as we near the end, allowing a few sneak peaks at later floors and then contemplating how perverse this one room suddenly became. Bonus points for that hilarious community in-joke too!
Level 02: Executive – by Steambull
The second floor is an office space with all the fittings and furnishings one should expect to be here. Steambull blends this standard theme with a bit of construction work going on at the side if only for extra flavouring. This combination is used at an advantage to break up the scenery due to a contrast it creates. One side is an inviting work environment with computers, seating and a break room. The other side is cold, devoid of luxuries and only metallic scaffolding to keep you company. Players will have to tackle this central area first before unlocking access to the surrounding outer rooms. Enemies are evenly scattered about guarding their own little corners while later encounters eventually become direct frontal assaults when entering new sections of the map. There’s plenty of cover to weave in and out from so combat doesn’t provide too much of a challenge, except perhaps being caught off guard here and there. EXECUTIVE isn’t without some ideas diverting from the norm, experimenting with these death trap puzzles that require proper timing to get through or risk turning into minced meat. The second puzzle is more interesting, but it would have been nice if I didn’t have to backtrack through it again.
Level 03: Construction Destruction – by Cage
Can’t help but find myself really loving this entry a great deal. It feels incredibly dynamic from the way events play out. There is a consistent sense of flow from one area into another as if Cage is leading you by the nose. Placement of shelving is very deliberate to block the path behind you to ensure players keep moving forward. Eventually upon snatching up a blue key the journey back takes an alternative path with enemies spawning in to stop Duke in his tracks and nearby explosions going off causing destruction to the scenery, an ironic twist considering its main theme. The third floor is sure to be an adventurous one, albeit on the linear side. Due to most rooms being small the combat can offer some tense close quarter scenarios, occasionally mixing this up with Fatties busting down windows from outside. Troopers will also harass players from the windows of opposite buildings being the fodder they are. There is always something going on around you no matter how small it was, keeping me engaged at all times. The construction theme is continued on this floor and Cage does wonders with textures and spritework to achieve this. Little touches are added to emphasis this was once an active work zone with materials loitering around the place and those Duke Burger containers for lunch break were a cute touch.
Level 04: Bits – by Mikko Sandt
BITS is pretty much what you would expect out of a typical MSandt experience all packed up into a single floor. His distinctive visual style works wonders to create this clean and bright computer lab theme. The simple design gets the point across well enough through down to earth texturing, while in contrast I consider the symmetrical layout to be rather boring considering the limited space that was available to mappers. It’s a minor nitpick though. Main objective here revolves around two CPU cores aliens are planning to exploit for their own bidding, so players must gain entry into both core hubs and cause them to overheat. Not a difficult task to achieve either since the action provides low monster counts against lightweight tier opposition. Besides from activating switches and not splattering into tiny chunks during an explosive aftermath, there isn’t a great deal of depth for gameplay beyond this. BITS is best described as a relaxing coffee break to enjoy before moving onto the next floor.
Level 05: Abstractech – by Michael “Micky C” Crisp
Micky appears to ignore the perceived notion that his floor must have a meaningful function to the building and instead puts together a rather eccentric concept. ABSTRACTECH is not entirely your typical affair and aims only to add a unique flavour to the overall map set. First impressions may suggest a standard high tech theme, but what makes the fifth floor special is how much of the environment moved in an unexpected way. Switch activation often results in either motion or turning of structure, opening up new routes to traverse. Originally I were going to mention these aspects in detail, but decided against spoiling the fun. See for yourself! It becomes apparent early on Micky wanted to try creating something different with an identity of its own. He was successful in doing so since I enjoyed my time here and wanted more, but the end had to arrive at some point. The transitions before and after work seamlessly thanks to how minimalistic the design was with its large, bulky geometry. I liked how even the walls had concave centres across its entire length. ABSTRATECH was a nice surprise, a fun and lively floor with fitting music choice to boot.
Level 06: CEO Bathhouse – by James Stanfield
Stanfield is best known for his total conversion projects Imagination World and AMC TC and you’ll rarely find any works for a vanilla project outside of community projects he has contributed to. Duke Hard is of no exception which only makes it a little disappointing his entry has the shortest play time of all floors and won’t take much effort to beat. Gameplay is admittedly plain with little going for it, enemies don’t provide much challenge and the layout doesn’t make great use of space opting for a single large room. What it does do well is create a fancy looking environment with an uncommon texture scheme limited to neutral colours, utilising spotlight and artificial waterfalls as décor. In separate corners is a changing area and plumbing area to break up repetition. I believe this floor may have worked best if slotted between the twelfth and thirteenth levels and then simply treated as a level for players to catch their breath before the final stretches of the episode.
Level 07: Storage Wars – by Stumpy
The seventh floor occupies as the building storage area holding every box, crate and container imaginable. The lights are out so watch your head when fumbling through the dark! It’s not the most interesting theme by any stretch and Stumpy doesn’t do anything in particular to make this one stand out from the crowd either. Some effort is done to appear less generic by scattering crates of varying sizes unevenly, leaving gaps to peek though but lacks spice for its scenery. Since lighting remains dark for its entire run, adding a couple of strong lights to cast long shadows in certain spots would have been come a long way. Imagine bright beams pouring through then gaps between crates, potentially boosting its atmosphere significantly. Combat is otherwise solid enough, enemies like taking a height advantage and there are fresh respawns to take care of on the way back. STORAGE WARS is an average romp but shows potential. I’m not too familiar with Stumpy in this community so I hope they stick around and continue mapping.
Level 08: Eat The Rich – by Forge
Duke finds himself entering the private apartment owned by some rich bastard, now commandeered by alien scum for their late night parties, one he plans to crash. Each individual room is distinctive from one another, designed with variety in mind through different texture schemes and furnishings to match. Visual quality can be rough around the edges and at times minor nitpicks such as textures being over-stretched. Despite Forge having a mapping hiatus, EAT THE RICH still looks great and all locations have charm. I especially liked the dining hall with those sword and shield antiques. Too bad we couldn’t access the swimming pool balcony though. Combat takes a stop and go approach wheres players shoot down aliens guarding a room, then moving on to the next to repeat this task, eventually looping around the entire outer rooms until acquisition of a blue key is made. No backtracking is required as a result of its layout design. Forge’s contribution is a fun experience and has plenty to see.
Level 09: Commercial Break – by Aymeric “MRCK” Nocus
Without prior knowledge of map order I could have picked this one out as an entry from MRCK. His recognisable style just continues to ooze here from an aesthetically eye pleasing design right down to a few personal quirks I tend to have with it as well. The floor functions as a commercial centre containing a shop and some café interiors. Each section is decorated specifically pushing for unique design schemes, detailed spritework and attractive texture combinations to establish a fresh spin on common locations. I absolutely adore the atmosphere he took time to add; a thunderstorm takes place to reveal a clear passing of time, random ambience near windows to liven up the city scene, all while being stalked around by something the entire way. Action is dotted around with a low monster count, nothing threatening per se except a Battlelord fight in an open area. Small switches are a concern I have in some of MRCK’s levels which also applies here and found myself wondering what I were missing. First problem was not realising the clock-in machine was usable. The second not understanding it opened the sushi bar doors – rather than anything in close vicinity. The third being unable to notice a tiny switch blending into the wall.
Level 10: Cinematic Lounge – by Taivo
Due to my own expectations having enjoyed many older releases from Taivo, I can’t help but feel disappointed with how this level turned out. It takes place inside a cinema lounge with two large, separate showrooms and a small movie shop nearby. Everything been done designed in this haphazard visual style that didn’t quite grab me in a way that might have been intended. I admit its unique, but otherwise comes across as a messy slapdash of colours forced on simplistic mapping. My primary concern though is how combat was approached taking quantity over quality. Upon entering the floor I was greeted by dozens of Troopers glaring back, turning into a house cleaning chore and happens again using different foes. I never considered Duke3D’s enemy selection to work well in large numbers unlike games such as Doom, so instead of a creating a challenging fight, action develops into an easy slog. Gameplay is perhaps its weakest here even though the enemy count dies down part way through. My personal experience with this entry wasn’t a compelling one, however other players may take a liking to it.
Level 11: Flesh – by Dukebot
FLESH has an interesting take on the standard apartment setting due to a consistent underlying theme suggesting this place is home to a psychopath. One of the first rooms players’ will discover has human sacrifices being drained of their blood and turned into mincemeat for whatever reason. This general slasher theme continues to rear its head a few more times as progress is made. Design is simple, using the same plain white walls everywhere and only furnishing a room with enough objects to get their point across. It leaves a lot to be desired honestly. The apartment could have benefited by having several parts worn down and neglected, while rooms that were used often by the owner appear lived in, creating this contrast considering the chosen themes. Gameplay too leans on the simple side, a fairly standard romp where enemies are strung about the level and increase in hostility as we near the stairwell key. Shooting Pigcops lurking inside their own cell blocks was a little nuisance though, a minor issue where wider gaps might have been nice.
Level 12: Poormann’s Library – by High Treason
First appearances can be deceiving, especially one set in an innocent looking library and thinking this would be a simple romp. Oh how wrong I was. POORMAN’S LIBRARY from a technical point of view is brilliant, the way it manipulates player progression using teleportations that weren’t previously there was both clever and intriguing. Unfortunately I can’t exactly go into much depth about this level without some degree of spoilers from this point on. These effects are utilised to create a surreal experience, one where Duke gets sent to an alternative reality to torment him, spit him back out and repeat the process a few more times. Depending on which side you happen to be on the library design will drastically change between a regular everyday library to something not from this world. Inspiration comes from older Japanese survival horror games so if you happen to enjoy those then this should feel right at home. My only real gripe despite my liking for this floor is the triple warp during its last moments which might be testing a player’s patience too much. Compared to other entries, High Treason does bend the project rules in order to achieve these results but also allowed for a fantastic concept regardless.
Level 13: Showcase – by Paul B
Speaking of cheating, we have another one on our hands right here taking up two whole floor spaces in a single level! The thirteenth floor tackles us with a big exhibit showroom containing all kinds of trinkets to find in there. Take a tour through a fine selection of art pieces, hit up the souvenir shop and bring home some gifts, then battle your way through dozens of enemies who are not welcome here. Unlike many levels up to this point, SHOWCASE has some non-linear elements depending on which direction players take. Risk triggering the security sensors or find a way to deactivate them early on? This alters the flow quite a bit and can determine how many extra foes players will encounter. Its a nice touch for replay value and effective for DUKE HARD’s unlockable level shuffle mode. SHOWCASE is a very solid map, it has a strong varied design, lots of weapon choice and combat is just simple fun. Music perfectly fits the mood here too.
Level 14: Legal Joint – by Daedolon
Daedolon’s floor was incredibly engaging to play, one half being a Duke Burger restaurant and the other dedicated to office spaces. Players will find themselves armless as always but no gun found in sight. This immediately sends warning signals to make a tactical retreat and find something that even closely resembles a weapon before getting into a scuffle with the locals. The gameplay feels spot on, it has got well paced combat and a dynamic flow between areas. I liked how doorways weren’t the only form of traversing between rooms, with an entire ventilation system unlocking more routes during the course and other blockades to take away the flatness inherit with the limitations. In fact the use of space was excellent I couldn’t even tell there were any restrictions to begin with. Visuals are well presented with strong shadows and consistent design schemes for the two differing sections. LEGAL JOINT is an excellent level where I almost forgot this was even part of an episode until finding my way back to the stairwell, simply enjoying what was on offer as a single level. For extra fluff, Daedolon adds a little hidden goal for those with keen eyes which is worth discovering. I actually never noticed during my first playthrough and only caught on when replaying through the episode.
Level 15: Power Out – by Mister Sinister
As much as I hate to say it, this is probably one of my least favourite maps from the pack because of some issues concerning gameplay which sucked out all enjoyment. First ingredient: Turrets are numerous and a source of frustration, constantly chipping away my health upon entry into new areas or peeking around corners. You never get a break from them, hiding in corners of every room and littered outside. What then happens is a slower paced level, inching forward and picking off turrets one by one from cover. Second ingredient: Regular enemies indoors were translucence which tends to hide them well under low lighting. When you’re too busy looking out for turrets and underestimating the actual threat inside, this can get dangerous quickly. Third ingredient: An important button required to progress any further is positioned at some obscure spot as if it were a secret. Now add a sprinkle of aimless wandering once you’ve ran into a brick wall and the broth begins to boil over. I personally didn’t enjoy my time playing through POWER OUT and had to grit my teeth until the end. Decreasing the turret count would easily reduce stressful gameplay and ensuring a necessary switch can’t be missed only improves matters.
Secret Level: Parking – by MetHy
Duke finds himself tumbling down a long vent shaft and upon emerging, he scrambles to his feet and dashes to the nearest sign depicting how far he’s fallen. With a disappointing howl he finds himself in the basement car park! The secret floor isn’t too different from the usual formula, only this time presented with a gigantic parking lot divided into two sections. While MetHy creates the majority of work here, every mapper had the opportunity to build their own vehicles – some of them are nifty looking things! Daedolon’s and High Treason’s trucks are my favourite and Stanfield’s futuristic model comes very close too. Players are tasked with finding some way across the flooded path where an electric current casually flows through. Any attempt without proper protection is suicide. This makes for a nice alternative to all the keys and switches we’re all accustomed too. Combat takes advantage of the open arena spreading enemies around the car park, using a few tanks and turrets sparingly and decent array of foes to fight. It feels chaotic but controlled, a welcome change of pace. The ironic twist here is that Duke’s entire journey could have easily been cut short had he used the car park elevator first! Poor guy.
Level 16: Rooftop – by MetHy
Having finally reached the top its only fitting the final battle is pure chaos, aliens making their last stand to prevent Duke from succeeding all while surrounding buildings explode, revealing foes waiting to ambush our hero. Alien crafts circle the area firing rockets in vain attempts to end our mission. The scenery is simply gorgeous and has everything that should be there. The outer buildings tower beyond the main one with big advertisement boards. The rooftop itself is far from flat too, an effort has obviously been made to make the last battlefield an outstanding one. Three switches need to be pulled to power up an alien device which summons the boss, while gathering scattered weapons, supplies and fighting off new hordes while this is being done. It is only a shame the Cycloid Emperor is forced to stand in one spot considering he wouldn’t work too well navigating this terrain. You’ll have to purposefully be reckless to make this any kind of challenge. It makes me wonder if fight should have taken place inside the alien craft instead to allow this. Overall it was still a great way to conclude the journey, complete with brand new ending animation and credit roll to seal the deal.
DUKE HARD is a fantastic community effort offering a variety of good levels worth playing through at least once, but not all of them are going to appeal to everyone either. Personal favourites picked out from seventeen floors will have to be; CONSTRUCTION DESTRUCTION’s dynamic flow, suitable theme design and tense action; ABSTRATECH’s eccentric concept is pure fun; and both SHOWCASE and LEGAL JOINT for solid, engaging gameplay. Regardless I did enjoy my time with most entries where only three were disappointing for different reasons as mentioned in the above reviews.