NO I am not talking about Duke Nukem Forever (yet) or Manhattan Project (yet).
This is Duke Nukem 3D, a game that brought with it controversy with supposedly excessive violence and raw porn in a game. (Yeah right... a few badly animated gifs) which kicked off censors in ways that most hadn't expected since the Mortal Kombat fiasco and followed on with people crying to the skies for us to think of the children (on a game that's rated 18, so why are they playing it?) and stating how life and society are collapsing around us and we'll all live in sin and base needs or writhing orgies and death and murder and...
What a load of bollocks. One thing I hate more than people decrying games for being corrupting, are those that seem to think that just because something doesn't fit into the world view, it must be stamped out or it'll cause the end of the world as we know it.
In some cases, that's not a bad thing.
But behind the uproar, behind the mask of bullshit of focus groups braying for blood like loud-mouthed toddlers, there's a game and that's what I'm looking at today.
With the main competition being Quake, a 2D based shooter being released at the same time as the full 3D games, was always going to be compared as the last solid bastion against the new age of the prosperous future. While Quake was a full 3D game with focus on combat and showing the 3D arena, Duke was able to utilise the BUILD engine to put a 2D engine game into one of the brightest, most colourful (language too) and humorous games of the 1990's.
In a plot that is summed up probably more quickly than I'm about to do, "Aliens have invaded, go kick their ass", starting with Duke leaping from a crashing spacecraft, watching it fall and explode while landing upon a rooftop and immediately presented with the idea of blowing up canisters to cause things to open, dropping down an air vent into a deserted street by a porn theatre and the fighting begins.
With a massive number of weapons, sporting kicking (Both legs on early versions), pistols, shotguns, ripper guns, RPGs, pipe bombs, shrink guns, laser trip bombs, dual-handed mini rocket launchers and a freeze thrower with bouncing projectiles, Duke is well armed and well equipped to run his testosterone fuelled, muscle headed, one-line quoting ass from here to the final boss. Much in the style of doom, each level is ended by either slapping the end button or killing the boss of the level across 3 (initially) episodes.
On the way you'll be assaulted by an army of alien invader, mutated cops (into pigs... how droll), machines and robots while also encountering every movie and film reference possible from the 70s to the present day from Alien to Star Wars, Terminator to Evil Dead, Space 2001 to Independence day. Practically every level has some reference be it audio or visual to any number of aspects of pop-culture.
The game uses a huge array of textures and structures, with some very clever Build engine tricks to allow for rooms above others in a sort of 5th Dimensional space (coined by Marathon originally), allowing for more convincing levels set with a city, a space ship/moon and another city across the episodes. As cartoony as the graphics are, you can still identify the levels and what the intentions were, while red brick walls are very red still and not the dulled out and brown-washed mess a lot of modern games happen to be.
In many levels, there's the inclusion of "babes" that hold various positions of being offered cash to "shake it, baby" or moan "Kill me" of which killing any of these traps will cause more enemies to be spawn, usually those that require several shotgun rounds and likely, the Octobrain enemies. While other areas of the game act as touch plate spawn points for enemies to trigger or appear as soon as you step on a specific part of the floor or enter specific rooms and then in comes the army. Not hidden behind a wall, not teleported in from another room, but actually CREATED right then and there with no warning at all other than hindsight from playing beforehand. In later levels there's a lot of this type of trap.
The designers and makers of this game and levels show their colours as being children of the 70s and grew up in the 80s, in one level you'll find the obelisk from 2001, another you'll find a smashed up terminator complete with outstretched hand and more subtle take-that's such as a Burger House with drive thru, being supplied by a dog-pound from next door, accompanied by the genitally based quip "Nobody messes with MY meat" to really hammer the joke home and bypass all the subtlety one could have mustered.
A lot of the humour is beaten over the players head until they're forced to groan about it or just left scratching their head at the missed joke as it sails over their head at mach-1. The humour is there, but like a lot of time-based jokes, it falls flat when people no longer remember the incident, such as the OJ case with footage of him fleeing, large signs of "Innocent?" and "Guilty!" dotting the landscapes.
Game play however, is smooth and fluid, with Duke running around about as fast as the Doom Marine does (and he turns up too in this game in a secret area), generally outpacing most of the planet and sprinting the world over in short time, even faster when taking steroids, while jumping and ducking allows for a few extra ways of navigating levels that many wouldn't have been accustomed to doing since the days of Doom. The extra functions and abilities found within the engine put it head and shoulders above most of the games on the Build Engine and slaughters all Doom Style games save for the best one or two (of which I will be reviewing later).
Multi-button switches, switch combos to unlock doors, flat platforms over platforms, destructible areas that react to the player blowing stuff up, moving carts/train (noticeable on the Subway level), underwater swimming, falling damage, and many more bonus features not found in your standard Doom Engine game, all await you in Duke 3D. Though in some cases you cannot help but feel that some of the features were written in with JUST one aspect of one level in mind and nothing else. That said, there's a lot of features and tricks that can be made within the BUILD engine (that comes on the CD of the game) where you can create and design your own levels and make your own episodes. For some this aspect might be more appealing than the actual game and certainly had myself making a myriad of games when I first started the game, way, way, back.
The satirical edge aside for the humour, there's a very disjointed feel to a lot of the levels when you're jumping from one to another, going from an adult theatre to a red-light district then to a prison, is rather jarring to the flow of the game and then to a submarine and a factor, before turning up at the San Andreas Fault, one can't help but feel these levels could be done in any order and it'd make NO difference to the overall experience. There's no story to be told beyond getting from a to b and a brief (see VERY brief) talk by Duke to the boss of the episode followed by a short, stop-frame, FMV of him doing something... usually ripping off a head and shitting down a neck.
While there is a large level of outrage over the needless sexualisation and objectification of women within the game, serving as either eye-candy for the player or a pointless additional reminded to beat the level and save people, the game wouldn't have suffered at all had it simply removed this aspect of the game, because otherwise the world gets invaded and everyone's dead except for Duke, Aliens and a few scantily clad women. It's a misogynistic view of the future but one that fits Duke's mentality and atmosphere, whether rightly or wrongly and for that matter, suits the character rather well as a guns-blazing, meat-headded, steroidal ass-hat, but one that's fun to play as.
What is apparent, is that there was little clue at the time that this game would accelerate the brand into super stardom and become something many would remember fondly but never find it accurately re-made with ports to the play station, N64 (yep even on Nintendo), and other consoles through the times, other future games being released beyond Duke 3D with one being a return to the platforming roots of the first 2 games then the stunningly, ACTUALLY released, vapourware of Duke Nukem Forever (and it should have remained vapourware). Nostalgia masks this game as being something far greater than it was and all the hype and failures of recent time’s only further cement this game in being something far more than it actually was.
As a game, it's interesting to see a take on Adult that doesn't just rely on gore and swearing but also sexualisation, which a lot of games didn't for a LONG time, and quite likely because this did it and nobody dared to match it in the same shameless manner, while games in the past had facets of sexualisation, few were as readily accessible as this one (except porn games, but that's just obvious and I don't expect anyone to defend porn games because it takes too long type with one hand). Must take balls of steel to implement that as your object in a game's release.
Maybe one day, someone will release the source code and we'll get to enjoy duke in the same way we enjoy Doom with lots of ports and online functionality pushed through the roof and huge levels way beyond the limitations of the build engine.
Until then, we've only this to go back to and play it fondly.