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SummaryShake it, baby!!
The GoodMy review is going to be a bit different from the other ones you see on this site - because, unlike most other players, I played this game 14 years after it was released, in an attempt to raise my gaming knowledge by becoming more familiar with a genre I've always had an uneasy relationship with - first-person shooter.
While I played and enjoyed several games belonging to this genre, including famous titles like Half-Life as well as lesser-known ones, such as Strife or Tribes: Vengeance, I always remained indifferent (in best case) to the more "classic" FPSs, those without strong story-telling or genre-merging attempts - bare-bones FPSs like Doom or Quake.
I won't say that Duke Nukem 3D converted me and now I'm in love with the genre and am going to try every FPS ever made. But I can surely say that Duke helped me to become more open-minded and attentive to such aspects of games I wasn't really noticing before.
Maybe it will remain a unique case in my FPS-playing career, because I have a weakness for humor, and any humorous game automatically scores extra points in my mind, just because it is humorous. The fact that Duke Nukem 3D is, at its heart, a comedy, certainly helped me to appreciate its other sides.
The thing about this game is that its unique attitude towards itself provides a comic relief that works better within the frames of an FPS than if it had some brilliant bits of dialogue or satiric wit. When I started playing the game, I somehow felt it extended a brotherly hand to me by understanding my dislike to brainless, story-less shooters. "Yes, I am one of them", - Duke said, - "and that's why I laugh at myself!". Duke helped me relax and enjoy simple FPS gameplay by not taking itself seriously, by ironically, yet lovingly embracing the cliches of its genre, at the same time showing to me what can be done with them to create an entertaining experience.
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 the game's jokes. This was a great and important innovation. Unlike pre-Duke 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.
Of course, silly humor is not the only ingredient that makes this game so cool. It 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 a 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 re-play the game, trying to find everything he might have missed the first time.
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 games of its genre.
I don't care that it's a 2.5D shooter - Duke looks just great, because what matters is not the engine, it is how much detail the designers are willing to cram into their game world - and the creators of Duke obviously spared no effort.
And finally, the story is great. It's one of the deepest, most memorable experiences I've ever seen in a video game, touching upon philosophical issues with its fantastic characters and wealth of educational material... Nah, just kidding.
The BadWhile the Earth scenarios of Duke Nukem 3D are awesome, I couldn't help being disappointed by 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 a 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 cut scenes 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 with its vibes.