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SummaryShake it, baby!
The GoodDuke Nukem 3D was released at the time when Doom was the biggest thing out there, and everyone went out of their way to imitate it and expand its simple gameplay formula. It was an interesting time that gave us innovative first-person shooters like CyberMage or Strife. Duke Nukem 3D is more traditional in that it relies on the old concept of levels and focuses on fast action without too many other things to distract us from it. It just does a whole lot of things better than ever before, almost doing to Doom what that game did to Wolfenstein 3D.
The game has a stellar level design, where almost each level is a recognizable, believable real-world location, with plenty of attention to detail. The levels are large, smartly designed, offering constantly changing indoor and outdoor locations, never trapping the player too much in similar environments. What I absolutely loved is the abundance of secret areas. After each level you are told how many of them you have found, and I was more often than not surprised to discover how many I missed. This encourages the player to replay the game, trying to find everything he might have missed the first time. The ideas are basically all the same as in Doom, but the levels are much less abstract, making us rejoice every time we shoot pig cops in a CD store or raid a sushi parlor. Urban chaos turns out to be even more enjoyable than a descent from a space station to hell.
The gameplay in Duke mostly follows the standard "shoot everything" pattern, with the "puzzles" being mostly classical FPS key-hunting. Some very interesting weapons help to freshen the formula - including a shrink gun that can be used on Duke himself, turning him into a tiny little guy who can crawl into places the big version can't access. Other cool ideas include usable items, such as stat-enhancing "atomic health" or steroids, scuba gear to access underwater areas, and a jetpack that allows Duke to fly.
But what makes the gameplay of Duke truly stand out is the remarkable interactivity of its world. Nearly everything you see can be interacted with, and I don't mean just "smashed to pieces" (although there's that too - chunks of wall that can be blown up by hitting them with a rocket launcher or dropping a bomb). Light switches can be turned on and off, you can play pool and pinball machines and even use a toilet, emitting sighs of relief. The best of all, of course, is giving money to strippers. It is really quite perplexing that so many shooters did not follow this design philosophy. In fact, till this very day, Duke Nukem 3D still remains one of the most genuinely interactive examples of its genre.
The game also displays a unique attitude towards itself, providing coarse comic relief that works better within the frames of an FPS than if it had some brilliant bits of dialogue or satiric wit. Duke ironically, yet lovingly embraces the cliches of its genre. The humor is evident is pretty much everything, including level and enemy design, but it is clear that Duke himself, the protagonist of the game, is the main target of its jokes. Unlike earlier shooters with their generic heroes, Duke Nukem 3D focuses the whole experience on the ridiculous personality of the hero. Duke walks around and blasts everything to pieces, never forgetting to comment on what is happening, and his idiotically upbeat and egocentric attitude is what elevates him high above most other FPS protagonists. He is a big jerk, a cabbage-head with the brain of a termite, whose nervous system is so underdeveloped that he can't even get scared, for whom all this destruction and monsters are a playground where he can unleash his dumb male ego. Instead of trying to "deepen" his personality, the game does the opposite, it emphasizes his nature at every corner and throws it at our faces. The game makes you understand how fun it is to be consciously stupid.
The BadWhile the Earth scenarios of Duke Nukem 3D are awesome, I couldn't help being disappointed with the middle portion of the game, which takes place on a space station. Sure, it was a nice change of mood from the wacky locations of the first part, but those locations were part of what made the game so charismatic. The Earth scenarios are touched by a hand of genius, while the space station one is just solid, but pretty conventional FPS fun.
For my taste there was a bit too much of colored card-hunting in the game. Whenever I was reminded that I still need a *insert color* card to open a door, I quickly realized I'm in the world of an old action game. As much as they succeeded in creating atmospheric, believable locations, it would have been even better if they at least changed those access cards to something else in some levels.
There are short cutscenes between scenarios, but no intro. I thought it was a real pity, because a properly done, humorous intro would certainly help to set the mood of the game. Without it, I had to wait for a while until I could connect to its vibes.