King for 20 Years: Celebrating Duke Nukem 3D
Two decades ago, 3D Realms revolutionized the first-person shooter genre by releasing Duke Nukem 3D for MS-DOS. After years of controversy and being used as a scapegoat for critics asking for stricter handling of Mature games, Duke 3D is remembered as the highest point of the character's history. Based on the ups and downs the Duke Nukem video game franchise has experienced, that isn't exactly saying much. Nevertheless, Duke Nukem 3D moved the genre forward for all the right (and wrong) reasons.
As the FPS genre was already making its mark on the map after the successes of both Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, Duke Nukem 3D continued the format's boom in popularity. Upholding the hectic, run-and-gun gameplay we saw in Doom, Duke Nukem 3D felt very familiar to those accustomed to id Software's hit FPS. As Doom focused on using high-tech weapons and surviving waves of demonic forces on Mars, Duke Nukem 3D brought things back to the good, old United States and made things extra gritty.
The game starts you off in the city, where you can explore the streets and other urban locales. More importantly, you visit a strip club along the way (more about that later). Duke then goes off to military bases, space stations, the moon and all kinds of crazy settings. The game is also filled with tons of movie references, drawing dialogue from They Live, Full Metal Jacket, Aliens and more. The game's stages also parody famous movies, by featuring levels based on famous movie backdrops and occasionally having the corpses of famous characters, including Terminator, Doom's protagonist and even Luke Skywalker. The game's cover parodies the theatrical poster and VHS box art of Army of Darkness, which itself parodies National Lampoon's Vacation's (and goes back even further).
Having debuted three years after Doom, it would make sense that Duke Nukem 3D would be a step up from it, from a presentation standpoint. More importantly, Duke had character. As you went around town slaying aliens, Pig Cops and other mutated humans, Duke would drop one-liners from the movies previously mentioned. While cursing is no big deal in today's gaming scene, hearing Duke say "blow it out your a--" after shooting a rocket-propelled-grenade at an enemy blew our minds 20 years ago. Duke had access to a pistol, shotgun, chain gun, rocket-propelled grenade launcher, shrink rays and more. His best weapon was arguably the rapid-fire Devastator rocket launcher, and he also was able to kick enemies for a melee attack. Duke was also able to use a jet pack, a pair of night vision goggles, some steroids for faster movement, and a HoloDuke device that would throw off enemies.
Duke Nukem 3D pushed the envelope when it came to mature video game content. Duke was a hilarious potty mouth who was spewing all kinds of one-liners from our favorite movies, but he was also a ladies man. Despite being in the middle of an apocalyptic alien invasion, Duke was still able to go into a strip club, hand a girl some cash and get a quick, tassel-covered peep show. There was no nudity in the game per se, but there was definitely skin, which combined with the harsh language didn't go so well with everyone. Despite all the underwhelming sequels, copycats and pseudo-sequels that spawned from Duke Nukem 3D (including the 15 years of developmental hell leading into the abysmal Duke Nukem Forever), we're still fans of the Duke for his contributions to video game history with this monumental classic.