Written by  :  Halmanator (604)
Written on  :  Aug 06, 2006
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.25 Stars4.25 Stars4.25 Stars4.25 Stars4.25 Stars

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The Most Original and Fun FPS Yet

The Good

Normally, I make it a habit not to contribute a review for a game that more than 3 other MobyGames members have already reviewed. At the time of this writing, there are 17 previous reviews for Duke Nukem 3D (DN3D). Still, in this case, I must make an exception.

First-person shooters for the PC had already been been done to death when DN3D was released, and there have since been many more FPS games that have been technically superior. They look better, they sound better, they have better multi-player support, they feature in-game cut-scenes and scripted events. But none of them holds a candle to DN3D from a pure gameplay point of view, in my humble opinion.

How many games since DN3D have gone beyond the tired old "bigger, badder gun" weapons formula and come up with anything as innovative as a freeze gun, that freezes your opponents solid so that you can shatter them with a single bullet, or even a kick or a bare-knuckled punch? Or a shrink gun that shrinks your enemies to the size of a mouse so that you can squish them under your heels? Or counter-measures like the HoloDuke; a decoy that lures your enemies out of hiding in order to attack a mere holographic projection of yourself?

The environments are almost totally interactive. See a light switch? Turn it on or off. A movie projector? Same deal. Use that closed circuit monitor to see where the bad guys are hiding. Pee in that urinal. Blow up that fire hydrant and drink from the water fountain gushing from its remains. Doing this even increases your health by a point! Walk over a recently-dispatched foe and track bloody footprints across the floor. See a pool table? Knock the balls around! A pinball machine? Play with that.

The level design is also excellent. Levels are interesting and believable. The adult movie theatre has an arcade, bathrooms, a ticket booth, a projection room and a concession counter. Levels aren't just a bunch of haphazardly thrown-together rooms. There's a logic behind their design.

Levels are also nicely varied. Some levels are indoor "corridor crawls". Others cover wide open expanses with mountains and ridges. Others have deep pools of water that must be explored.

There's a non-linearity to the level design. There are always lots of areas to explore and lots of secret areas to find. You're not corralled into following a single, linear path as is the case with many more recent shooters.

There are all kinds of tongue-in-cheek pop-culture references; an area featuring what looks like the corpse of Indiana Jones, an area containing the monolith from "2001: A Space Odyssey" (complete with the choir as you approach the monolith), a level that's layed out like the interior of a starship from Star Trek and more.

DN3D had no compunctions against poking fun at its rivals of the day. One hidden area features a dead Space Marine from the original "Doom" and you can even blow up Id Software's headquarters.

The game is unashamedly politically-incorrect. Levels are rife with adult movie theatres, pornographic peep-shows, strip clubs, stag shops and half-naked women in bondage. Cops are portrayed as wild pigs with "L.A.R.D." stenciled on the backs of their flak jackets (an obvious satire on the L.A.P.D.) Duke struts around, grunting challenges like "Come get some!" and "Suck it down!" This is a game for adult males to work off some of that extra testosterone. Women and children need not apply.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a proponent of games or any other media that objectifies or stereotypes women. But DN3D flaunts its political incorrectness. "Let us guys have our guilty pleasures!" it veritably cries, "We don't hassle you about Oprah, do we?"

I for one prefer DN3D's unabashed honesty to more recent games that feature overly-endowed, scantily-clad female "heroines" running around waving broadswords.

DN3D does give ample warning of its baser sensibilities. It says "Warning: Adult Content" right there on the title screen before the game even begins. You don't like it? Play something else. There is also a parental lock feature, for parents who don't mind little Johnny blowing up aliens, but want to shield him from the nasty stuff.

Most of all, DN3D is FUN! It is hands-down the single most fun FPS that I have ever played, and it's right up there in my top five list of most fun games ever, of any genre.

The Bad

By today's standards (2006), the graphics certainly look dated, especially the 2D character sprites. However, they were good enough given the technology of the time.

Sound is also a little weak; especially the music which sounds very FM synthesized, in spite of MIDI cards being supported. It's not that it's bad; it's just underwhelming.

Although the environments are generally very interactive, there are still boarded-up or locked doors that you can't take out, even with a rocket launcher. In fact, there are some doors that you can't destroy with your rocket launcher, but which open to a gentle push! Huh??? This is a common level-design flaw which completely shatters the suspension of disbelief and jarringly reminds you that you are, after all, just playing a game.

While it's cool that you can gain health by drinking from a fountain or a fire hydrant, you can actually restore yourself to full health by doing this. It actually becomes a form of cheat! The game designers should have limited how much health you can accumulate in this way. Better yet, after drinking a certain amount of water, they should have caused the health to start gradually dropping until you could find a toilet or urinal to use!

The Bottom Line

Duke Nukem 3D stands as a shining example of how to incorporate good gameplay and plain, old-fashioned fun into a first-person shooter design. I can only hope that Duke Nukem Forever's seemingly indefinite delay is owing to 3D Realms taking the time to get it right once again. If they can bring the game up to today's technical standards and maintain the gameplay and the fun factor, they'll have a juggernaut on their hands.