I’ve been told “Always Bet On Duke” for years. Or heard it for years at least. And now Duke Nukem Forever has been released and forgotten for being a wretched piece of entertainment with unforgivable a-fronts to decency (I had an explanation of that trash here, then thought better of it.)
But it was Duke Nukem 3D that built up hype and caused the world of the gamers to wait for Duke Nukem Forever. I hadn’t sat down and played it until now. And I get to pull out an old chestnut of PC Games reviews and then my own damning opinion of the game.
Duke Nukem 3D is “The Thinking Man’s Doomclone.”
I didn’t expect to spend so much of the time just examining the world the environment and going “this goes there and that goes there.” For 2.5D there is incredible verticality to the stages. The enemies were never DooM level. Their placement ever “oh hello” or cursing the heat seeking exploding ones. It was a real joy to walk around the worlds and have to consider how to get past barriers.
A maybe more cynical friend pointed out you could use the jetpack to undermine the level design. Well yes. You can also do that in Kirby games. It’s a complaint with Kirby games. I only used the jetpack as a last minute key to a lock that was a ledge.
Having just played through DooM2 and DooM and Marathon Infinity, I appreciated how much of Duke3D‘s level design is making a place. Myst was about being in a place and figuring it out. I didn’t expect there to be that much Myst in Duke3D. In DooM you do hit a switch and it opens a door somewhere. Duke3D‘s switches frequently changed the level.
This particular edition, which is apparently quite similar to the current version of PS4 and Steam, included 3 expansion packs. One of them levels based on Washington DC. Which lets me bring up despite playing much much more realistic video games, inhabiting these facisimiles of real world locations and killing everything made me uneasy. I’m working on those, and maybe it was the exact level of abstraction that let this game get to me. I didn’t stop playing so I guess we all have the hearts of mass-murders.
One of the levels you mass-murder while looking at walls is very loosely based of the Smithsonian. It is probably the largest level in the set, and has a reputation of being too much running across the stage. It is also the stage I had the most fun running across trying to find the one piece of the puzzle I hadn’t figured out. It took me maybe an hour. And the jetpack wasn’t going to save you.
Any frustration I may of had with the games was cured by this edition having a Rewind on death feature. I could travel back to any point in the level. What an incredible feature to make playing these games painless. Except when the game or my ps3 froze or dropped the save. And I might be forced to replay a level or two on my backup self-saves. But if every old action game can get a rewind on death feature put in that would be great.
This is where I also get to mention they didn’t exactly finish testing this version before it came out because there are textures in the later levels that just do not load and are black flickering blocks. “lol” I declared. And then the Christmas Expansion would just locked up on complete of level 1 three times in a row which was enough for me to be okay with skipping.
Well that and crass-ness of the humor.
Duke Nukem 3D is “having the strength to go to a strip club.”
“I don’t want to go on any kiddie rides,” declares Duke in the thinly veiled Disneyland parody level. Duke, like the dozen of Stallone and Schwarznegger movies he quotes, is a power fantasy. More than that he is a nerd’s power fantasy. “What if I could walk into a strip club.” And you can in level one of this game. And then give the strippers money to get topless. And everyone will tell you you are big and powerful.
Duke is big and powerful and only afraid of the effeminate and those childhood things you’ve put behind. Time to kill SANTA AND MICKEY MOUSE. (Santa is a boss. Mickey Mouse is just annoying and stupid.) I can’t believe my wife-girlfriend-child brought me here and I refused to have fun. Duke doesn’t have to listen to anyone. Not even his MOM. He exists as a collection of pop culture references because he gets you.
I’m being clumsy here. I’m saying Duke Nukem captures everything a 90s male nerd wanted to be. They wanted to be big and tough with no work. They wanted to get sex. They wanted to hate child-female things just as much as the jocks. Nerds always want to be jocks. Nerds are frequently just jocks. They wanted to be recognized as cool because they saw Evil Dead and Monty Python and quoted it all the time.
They wanted to look at something that wasn’t for them (a kiddie ride) and loudly declare it sucked to applause. They wanted to walk into a strip club and give a woman money to get naked and the woman is impossibly beautiful. Sure they couldn’t quote sports facts, but they could talk about Fantasy Island and Love Boat.
In Duke3D you can even meet Lara Craft. She’s just like any of the other women. You can also use the toilets. And there is a pool table that is barely worse than the pool in GTAV (take that GTAV (you made a lot of money, I can’t hurt you.)).
After reading about Duke3D in PC Games magazines in offhand mentions for years following my releases I get it. You cannot take the aggressive masculinity out, but the levels (worlds?) did pull me in and along. I’m now a huge fan of the Build Engine and want to dive into Ion Fury. You can probably draw a line from Duke3D‘s idea of being a man and that Iron Maiden pursued litigation against a video game because the name was similar.
In those magazines they would mention the San Andreas level. I will not spoil it here, because it should be played. It’s the last stage of Episode 1. It is a very long stage. It has cohesion that took the rest of video games a long time to arrive at. Duke3D is a slobbering caveman that wouldn’t know what to do with a woman if it caught one, but also thoughtfully marked all secret walls so you weren’t burning every bush you saw.