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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by 3D Realm
Duke Nukem is yet another 3D shooter game, but it stands far apart and above your standard "Doom clone." While it has the all usual characteristics of the genre (lots of monsters, fairly simple puzzles to solve, and loads of guns and gore) it separates itself from the pack through its marvelous attention to detail and king-hell attitude. The plot's fairly nonexistent: Duke returns to earth to find it overrun by aliens who, besides just being aliens, are also abducting earth women. And "No one," as the Dukester sez, "steals our chicks... and lives." Ok, Jane Austen this ain't, but it's enough of a premise (like you needed one) to turn Duke loose for 28 levels of mayhem. 

The Look:
Duke 3D is one good-looking game. It can be a little cartoony, but the smooth graphics, great lighting effects (including a dance club that's as disorienting as the real thing
[Ed. note: I think it was the dancing women, Rick]), and relentless attention to the small details gives the game a strange aura of realism. This attention to detail is particularly evident in the choice and design of levels. In most shooter games, the levels consist of the generic hallways-and-rooms array. But in Duke the levels have personality. You can find yourself blowing away baddies in such locations as a movie set, a subway station, an adult bookstore, a submarine, a prison, or a sewer. And unlike other 3D games where one level, no matter what its nomenclature, looks much like the other, the guys at 3D Realms have given each level a distinct character. For example, on the movie set you'll blast aliens on a mock up of the moon's surface and take cover behind cameras. Hallways have water fountains where Duke can get a drink and recover some health. Most buildings have bathrooms where Duke can relieve himself and admire his physique. You can even play a game of pool in a favorite alien hangout. And if you want to design your own levels, the game comes with a level editor. Of course, none of this stuff is essential to the game; it is, however, a whole lot of fun.

OK, Duke does play a lot like Doom. You can do some things you couldn't do in Doom, including fly with a jetpack and scuba dive, but overall the game is a pretty straightforward shoot 'em up. You start the game with a  pretty ineffective pistol and quickly move on to the ubiquitous and much more effective shotgun. Things start cooking when you get your hands on the chaingun, which will handily take out most of the bad boys, and the deadly but treacherous at close range RPG (Really Powerful Gun). Early on in the game, you'll find a cache of pipe bombs. They are terrific weapons with a thousand uses around the house, including setting booby traps or checking out a nasty-sounding room by bouncing one into the midst of the unsuspecting aliens within. The higher levels provide you with even cooler weapons, including a freeze gun, a shrinker gun, and laser trip bombs. The designers clearly put a lot of thought into building Duke's arsenal, and it adds a great deal of excitement and fun to the game.

The same goes for the equipment and power-ups Duke finds lying around during the game. The jet pack and scuba gear are not only useful but necessary on most levels, so don't waste them on pointless sightseeing. Steroids can pump Duke up to Gold's Gym standards. A nifty portable medkit keeps Duke on task, rather than desperately searching for health. The HoloDuke can be used to fool aliens into attacking it while Duke sits back and blasts away from a safe vantage point.

Unfortunately, the originality and attention to detail put into Duke's weapons and equipment doesn't show up in his opponents, who are satisfactory enough, but pretty generic and disappointingly limited. I got tired of blowing  away the same old pig cop and trooper characters. Ho hum. Note to all 3D game designers: Please provide a wider variety of monsters in your games! But that's my only gripe with the gameplay. The control was phenomenal, the controls easy to learn and use, and the puzzles Duke occasionally has to solve to beat a level were just right, neither quite as mindless as the Doom-style hit-a-button-and-run-like-hell type nor as time-consuming as the Hexen "better buy the player's guide" type.

I'm including this category because attitude is a lot of what makes Duke 3D the game it is. Duke is not your typical 3D game space marine, most of whom have the personality of Al Gore.  Duke's got an attitude that's sort of a cross between John Wayne and Snake Plissken, and combined with his occasional wry comments (Including "That's gotta hurt," "Damn, I'm looking good,"or "I'm here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I'm fresh out of gum") add a new and welcome dimension to 3D gaming.

The game has an attitude as well. It's very, very, violent (though cartoony) and very, very, sexist. The violence against aliens I don't sweat, but there are lots of partially-nude women running around to be shot, and frankly I found this aspect of the game to be tiresome and gratuitous. Fortunately, if you fret about such things you can turn most of the more disturbing features off with a parental lock.

As I write this, Quake, the next big thing in 3D games, has just been released, and already some are sounding the bell for poor old antiquated Duke. That would be a mistake. Duke is a great game. It's a ton of fun to play and great to look at. As Duke says in a moment of ultra-attitude, "I ain't afraid of no Quake." Nor should he be.

cheat.gif (1707 bytes)--Rick Fehrenbacher