Ed Quinn

20 YEARS TODAY…Duke Nukem: 3D

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Hail to the king, baby!

What is known today as video-gaming’s biggest joke – Duke Nukem – fell from grace under the weight of 14 years’ worth of deflated hype, studio liquidations and the most ill-conceived development cycle in recent memory. Duke Nukem Forever bombed hard, and as a result, the odds of seeing Duke Nukem rise from the rubble, with an RPG in one hand and a pig-cops head in the other, are slim to none.

I will not judge him for this upset, however. Instead, I will have a look back at the game that made him the machismo-omitting pop culture icon that he once was: Duke Nukem 3D.

3D wasn’t the first game in the series – two platformer style games came before, but this was Duke Nukem’s first foray into the realm of first person shooters. Improving upon the franchise tenfold and creating the game, that would cement his place in video–game culture forever.

Duke Nukem 3D was released as shareware by 3D Realms back on January 29, 1996, for PCs. And it is often cited as one of the first games to popularise the first-person genre as a whole. Of course, Doom and Wolfenstein came before it and became history’s trend-setters, but where Doom was all about visceral gore, fast-paced shooting and non-specific alien murder – Duke Nukem 3D was all of that too, but with a self-aware, over-the-top personality to boot.

Instead of playing as a faceless man-guy person, I can be controlling Duke – muscle-bound, stogie smoking, movie-quoting bad-ass – who loves killing aliens and can also kick with both of his legs without falling over. The plot is suitably vague, all I really need to know is that I need to find the end of the area and kill everything that’s in on my way as quickly as possible.

The game’s speed is something to be commended. Duke bounds around like greased lightning while still controlling really well (despite the outdated controls). This aspect of the game gave incentive to speed-run and do everything perfect, and with this in mind, the game does a great job of inducing that feeling of invincibility that fast-paced games should always have – it gets the blood pumping just as much now as it did back then.

Like first-person shooters of the time, the levels were brimming with secrets, easter eggs, and things for Duke to interact with to bring in a constant flow of comic relief. There are multiple references to films and other games throughout, which are found mostly in the cheesy things Duke says while I am killing stuff.

“I’ve come here to kick ass and chew bubblegum. And I’m all out of gum!”

The game accrued notoriety amongst critics for its gratuitous gore, the ability to shoot civilians, and also for its pornographic content (all 5-pixels of it). It’s easy to see why this might have upset people back then (Duke’s meat-headed approach to women is a bit on-the-nose), but the fact that this game ruffled a lot of people’s feathers back in the day seems almost funny now – considering how tame the game is by today’s standards.

In fact, the game actually punished you, if you tried to kill any innocent women in the game – several enemies will appear out of thin air to try and kill you. Truth be told, the actual consumers (i.e. those who bothered to play it) showed relatively little disgust.

For anyone looking to relive this classic, or play for the first time and experience the uncomfortable FPS controls of yesteryear, the game is readily available for purchase on Steam, with all of its extra content included.

The game even boasts fast-paced online multiplayer now, although something tells me that those servers have probably died from stagnation by now.

Yes, the newest installment of Duke’s saga from 2011 is a steamy pile of rotting offal, but playing Duke Nukem 3D is the experience that is needed to better understand why people were willing to wait 14 years for more Duke in the first place. The future seemed so promising for Duke, but sadly all he’s been able to retain is a short-lived, illustrious past.

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