When I was in fifth grade fewer things were cooler than Duke Nukem 3D. I remember hearing rumors at first: reports of blowing away an alien menace with missiles and pipe-bombs, ripping off a boss’s head and shitting down his neck, a shootout in a strip-club? Around the lunch table, clutching at our homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, it was spoken of like a forbidden fruit. The child-like wonder and reverence at which the Illicit Duke Nukem 3D was held at grade schools and middle schools across the country is a testament to its boundary-pushing legacy and, even in hindsight nearly two decades later, was totally deserved.
And oh did the old people hate it! Still reeling from the violence pioneered by Mortal Kombat and Doom, the handwringing parents of America were now faced with the addition of sex and partial nudity! There was a load of backlash. Back when Nukem came out in 1996 the outcry was particularly aimed (probably rightly so) at the portrayal of women in the shooter.
Here’s a quote from Media Watch about the game (via Wikipedia):
Duke Nukem 3D moves the ‘shooter’ through pornography stores, where Duke can use XXX sex posters for target practice. Duke throws cash at a prostituted woman telling her to ‘Shake it, Baby’ his gun ever ready. In the game bonus points are awarded for the murder of these mostly prostituted and partially nude women. Duke blows up stained glass windows in an empty church or goes to strip clubs where Japanese women lower their kimonos exposing their breasts. Duke is encouraged to kill defenseless, often bound women.
These might be serious political issues to me now, but when I was young and ignorant of the deep, dark recesses of the world this sort of reaction from old folks made it the coolest fucking thing ever. Good news, it’s still fucking cool and thanks to the folks at Devolver Digital you can play it again in the semi-enhanced Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition. I recently downloaded it to my PS Vita and have been jet-packing down nostalgia lane, blowing everything away in sight.
Back in the Day…
My brother was way older than me and procured the game for us near when it came out. The first thing I remember was that disk!
That biohazard sign just promised of mayhem and destruction that would be contained in that CD. I remember feeling guilty about playing it because I was so young. I’d wait until every in the house went to sleep and stayed up at night, shotgunning pig-cops in the face.
One of the other things I remember is that the game saved a screenshot when you made a save file. One of my favorite things to do was going to the strippers and making them flash- THEN save the game for the screenshot. What a little rascal I was.
This was your standard 3D shooter gameplay in vain of Wolfenstein or Doom, with the added bonus of some crude humor and, oh, those weapons.
The game’s guns were different than any I had used in a shooter before. Especially the pipe-bomb. You could throw it like a grenade in something like Rise of the Triad but instead of exploding automatically, you had a detonator and could explode them at your leisure. This is the kind of thing we take for granted today, but it actually added a new dimension to gameplay.
With the pipe-bomb (and the similar laser-trip bomb) you could slow down the bullet-slinging pace of the game by setting traps. If you were getting plastered around a certain bend in a level you had the option to lure out your enemies and blow ‘em away. And, holy fuck, was that satisfying.
But Duke Nukem 3D’s real popularity comes from its infamous humor and Evil Dead/They Live quoting titular character. Unlike the silent (but always screaming) hero of Doom, Duke actually talks during the game.
“Oh yea baby,” he’ll say watching pieces of pig alien fly into the stratosphere.
“Who wants some,” he’ll say after picking up a larger, more powerful instrument of destruction.
And, back then, in the age of silent video game protagonists, Duke had such personality. Hearing him say “hail to the king baby” as you take out one of a million alien invaders is still pretty awesome. And at the time it totally new. There had never been a game with so much attitude.
Should You Play It?
Shooters are one of those genres that can so quickly become outdated as newer, quicker designs become prevalent so it’s always a little rough going back into the classics. That being said, most of this game’s draw is in the packaging- not the mechanics- so I’d say give it a whirl. There are enough small jokes and awkward, smile-cracking jibes that going through the levels remains, at least, amusing. And with the release of Megaton Edition (last year) the game plays faster than I remember and there’s a handy auto save feature.
And there’s always that nostalgia factor.