Possibly the only 2.5D classic to nearly overtake Doom
I don't know where to begin, because it's really just about everything to do with the game. The levels are all well designed and, despite sticking to the game's theme, provide enough variance to keep oneself interested from start to finish. I didn't find one of the game's 29 (40 in the Atomic edition) levels to be boring, poorly made, or unwelcome. Often one level will continue roughly where the last level left off - this is a definitive improvement over Doom which just starts every level at a random point unrelated to the level before. There are also quite a lot of secret levels - and, at least for the most part, they successfully distinguish themselves from the main levels. Not to mention, in addition to the main game, there's a whole and still rather active user community that has pumped out plenty of good custom material for the game over the years.
The game looks better, and has more detail, than any FPS released prior. I even might say it looks better than Quake because it is way more colorful. The music is not only good and fits on virtually every level, but EVERY one of the game's levels has a unique track.The controls are easy to configure from setup and take no time in getting used to. Difficulty is quite high on the highest difficulty setting but fairly casual on the lowest, giving a choice for all levels of experience. There are ten weapons and each of them are unique and good for different purposes. This is not a game where you'll just be blowing your way through with one "weapon of choice" throughout. In fact on the higher difficulties you virtually have to make good use of all the weapons the game has on offer.
There is a diverse selection of powerups and, like the weapons, you will be making use of them. Given the right weapons and/or powerups, can freely jump, fly, look around, destruct numerous things, etc. - everything you could possibly want or ask for in the 2.5D universe. There is not an enormous selection of enemy types but there are enough, and not only do they take different strategies themselves, but even the same enemy may demand different strategies based on what surroundings it's in.
And who could not discuss the game's attitude? There are numerous classic one-liners and jokes/pieces of humor, and while they are often quite mature and may not be to the taste of EVERYONE, this is an element Duke Nukem 3D always did, and still does, implement best. Some of the one-liners occur naturally and others occur by interacting with features in the game. And there is a "parental lock" to cut some of the most mature humor out of the game.
But let me reiterate, of all the game's positive points, the most important, by far, is how much FUN the game is. Sure all the positives contribute to the fun factor, but without a good base to use them one, the fun would never have been as well done. And that really is the most important factor to ANY game. It you're not enjoying yourself, you simply will not be eager to come back, no matter how good any other part of the game is. So likewise, all this game's positives would have meant a lot less if it wasn't fun - but thankfully it is not only fun to play, but exceeds in that aspect with flying colors.
Okay, I can't, and won't, say there is absolutely NOTHING to put in this category. But, I'm not even sure I could say that for Doom!, so don't read much into it. Anyways to the few points, other games like Doom occasionally had a slightly better, or more consistent and varied, atmosphere. That's still not saying Duke lacks in this department, however. Some of the enemies are very "sneaky" or hard to avoid taking damage from, but on the other hand the game's not too tough or unbalanced - and it's always fair if you play it well - so you could debate if that even counts. Finally, the selection of addon levels/mods for the game, despite being quite plentiful, still doesn't come up to the same level as Doom. And some of them are a little harder to get running, but the EDuke source port and/or a well-configured DosBox that comes with the version of the game distributed on GOG.com helps alleviate much of this. It might, however, be for the reason of custom content that I'm not willing to officially call the game better than Doom. But it could also be for the fact that it wasn't such an incredible leap in technology, which in and of itself is not really a positive or a negative in my view.
But let me end by saying this - once you're into the game and are having a blast - you will, more likely than not, pretty much forget anything I brought up in the last paragraph.
The Bottom Line
Well, a long review, but a timeless classic to this level deserves no less. I don't hesitate to give it the top rating, because a game doesn't have to be literally PERFECT to get top marks, it just has to be really, really good, and Duke Nukem 3D satisfies that requirement and then some. Unless you can't handle Mature games, you absolutely owe it to yourself to play Duke Nukem 3D if you are even remotely into shooter games, or for that matter into games at all. And there aren't many games I can say that for. *****/5