Few college students today know of the glory of Duke Nukem. For the uninitiated, he’s an ass kicking, babe loving, alien slaying, one liner spewing, chauvinistic anti-hero from the 90’s. And as if Duke Nukem Forever never happened, he’s back in action on PS3 with Duke 3D Megaton Edition.
Duke Nukem 3D, alongside Doom, Quake, and Wolfenstein 3D, was a defining game in the First Person Shooter genre. Without Duke, there might not be Battlefield, Halo, or Call of Duty. The video game market might be saturated with JRPG’s and real time strategies (That’d be nice) but thanks to the breakout success of Duke’s third round knockout, Duke Nukem 3D, the genre stayed alive long enough to be played out and tiresome. That’s not to say that Duke 3D isn’t still fun. In fact, Duke 3D is even better than ever thanks partly to the inclusion of the three authorized expansion packs that almost no one reading this has played at the time of their release. Expansion packs or not, Duke 3D has stood the test of time and at nineteen years old, this game is still on this writer’s top ten list. So what makes this game so great all these years later? Is it really a good game or is it just nostalgia?
Nostalgia alone will only get one so far when playing a game they played countless times over two decades. And while nostalgia is the defining reason this writer paid the ten dollars to play Duke 3D for the millionth time, the inclusion of three expansion packs sealed the deal. And while it’s tempting to dive into the expansions first due to never having a prior chance to experience them, the temptation to play a level or two of the original game was far too powerful. Thus, upon finishing the ‘Hollywood Holocaust’ and ‘Red Light District,’ levels, two things instantly stood out; the music and gameplay have stood the test of time and this game is still terribly addicting. Some credit is due, however, to Duke’s many one liners, for how many games have you played lately where the first words out of the hero’s mouth are “Damn! Those alien bastards are going to pay for shooting up my ride!”
Duke’s opening line aside, this relic of a game still holds up today with delightfully smooth controls, greatly varied level design, well-balanced challenge via secrets areas and puzzles, and vast array of weaponry from the mighty boot and handy pistol to rocket launchers and shrink rays. Nothing delivers a firm message better than shrinking your alien adversary down to the size of an insect and stomping him into mush. Well, Duke’s one liners do keep the game fresh too. Who can honestly not laugh hearing; “Your ass is grass and I’ve got the weed whacker!”?
As stated a moment ago, it’s the variety in the stages and weaponry that keep the game from ever going stale. One moment you’re fighting it out on the streets of Los Angeles, next you’re battling aliens on Moon base, storming Area 51, escaping death row, trudging through the abyss, and settling the invasion with one last climatic battle in a football stadium. If anyone has played the opening to Duke Nukem Forever, that particular sequel picks up right at the final battle.
Building on the variety, the expansion packs, depending on which one is being played, either bring a new level of hilarity to the original or build on its strengths, while bringing bring a slew of new levels to explore. Life’s a Beach, for example, sees Duke’s Caribbean vacation interrupted by another wave of aliens. This expansion opens with the Duke Nukem theme intermixed with the Hawaii Five-0 intro, and takes on a Caribbean vacation theme. All of the guns have been turned into island variations such as the pistol and shotgun becoming waterguns, pipebombs swapped for explosive pineapples, and the chaingun transformed into a poison dart gun. As well, the enemies have been dressed up to fit the theme with the pigcops looking strikingly similar to Magnum P.I. and the standard alien foot soldier donning an outfit befitting of Tony Montana.
Similar to its Caribbean counterpart, the Nuclear Winter expansion pack brings a Christmas theme to Duke 3D, though only the enemies feature a change in appearance as the guns remain the same as in the original game. Regardless, the first two levels are themed rearrangements of the first two levels of the main game’s first episode, while a majority of the game sees Duke fighting to save Santa Claus from the alien invaders in the North Pole. The twist here is that Santa has been turned into the evil Santa Claws. Least to say, “It’s time to kick ass and chew bubble gum,” and Duke is still out of gum.
In the final expansion, ‘Duke it Out in D.C .,’Duke heads out to Washington D.C to save President Clinton after he is abducted by the aliens he’s clearly doomed to battle to the end of time. Unfortunately, this is the worst of the bunch. While the levels are faithful adaptations of the many of the capital’s landmarks such as the White House, the Smithsonian, Lincoln Memorial, and the US Capitol, some of levels are rather large and their puzzles overly complex and confusing. Regardless, Duke it Out in D.C. is a faithful expansion to the original game keeping the original arsenal intact and sparing fans silly themes, while foregoing the addition of new enemies, making for a mixed bag.
Essentially four games in one, Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition is an excellent game, especially for ten dollars. It’s a long lasting, challenging, and amusing mid-90’s first person shooter that has stood the test of time extremely well. While some may be skeptical had they played the most recent sequel, Duke Nukem Forever, it’s in your best interest to forget that game and play Duke 3D, it’s a far superior game. That being said, here’s to hoping that other games in the Duke Nukem franchise make their way to modern consoles. Better yet, here’s to hoping that other great mid-90’s first person shooters like Blood, Quake, and Hexen are given the Duke 3D treatments for retro gamers to enjoy.