First published in CubedGamers (Printed Edition): November 2016
Though the Duke Nukem 3D: World Tour announcement came as a surprise, it is not surprising that Gearbox planned to do something for the games twentieth anniversary, because Duke Nukem 3D is a classic of the first person shooter genre. Released in 1996, the same year as Id’s Quake – an atmospheric gothic title – Duke Nukem 3D is a rollicking 80s b-movie adventure in which the titular character is asked to save the world from an alien invasion.
A hyper masculinised wisecracking mercenary, Duke had character like no FPS character before him. Modelled on the heroes of action movies like Commando, Red Sonja, and Die Hard, Duke in many ways already past his sell by date by the time that the game appeared – and was far more of a camp stereotype than a role model – but the game was a worldwide hit. A perfect mixture of pulsating music, and great level design with a variety of real world environments, in many respects the game remains unique to this day.
The twentieth anniversary retains all of these elements, and adds eight new levels that retain the feeling of the original game, taking Duke to locations around the world – from Amsterdam to Paris, Egypt and London. Every bit as challenging as the original levels, they are the real selling point of this game, alongside a re-rendering process that created a true-3D environment, a boost to the lighting, and some sporadic developers’ commentary. Everything from the original is intact, with the added bonus of a new rewind function that allows you to try again if you unfortunately meet you demise.
This is something that you’ll do frequently when playing Duke Nukem 3D, for the game is far from a walk in the park. Enemies are plentiful, ammunition is scarce, and unlike Doom and Quake, your character will likely perish in a stand up firefight, particularly when faced with transformed Los Angeles police officers/pigmen. Fortunately, Duke has a varied arsenal of weaponry at his disposal, including several items not seen in games up to that point, such as pipe bombs, shrink rays, and holographic dummies that distract enemies whilst you finish them off. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a challenging game!
This re release isn’t perfect. The rendering process is particularly demanding processor wise, and while it runs well on consoles, it has been known to slow down the frame rate on the PC version to a crawl. Ensure that your computer is up to the specification before enabling the enhancement, otherwise, you’re probably best playing the classic version. And the developer commentary isn’t consistent in quality across the game (though I imagine it must have been hard to provide a consistent level of analysis across the many levels of the game – Duke Nukem is an FPS, and not narratively complex).
The World Tour is worth a download, but perhaps for nostalgias sake more than anything. The accusations of misogyny sometimes levelled at Duke Nukem are to some degree accurate – women are frequently objectified, and the plot – of aliens invading Earth – is not particularly original. And unlike many of the 80s action movie titles that are now considered classics – it has become de rigueur to call Duke Nukem outdated – whilst The Expendables franchise continues to make good money off of the nostalgia for honest action movie titles of thirty years previously.
Whether this anniversary edition revitalises the Duke Nukem franchise for modern audiences remains to be seen, but Duke Nukem 3D will remain a unique product of its time – it being one of the few, if the only FPS, not to take itself too seriously. Placed in the context of its dark dystopian setting, a society wracked by pornography and consumer decadence, more properly explains how a character like Duke Nukem could rise to prominence, and gives plenty of scope to play with if Gearbox choose to create a new game, updating the format whilst maintaining the character’s no nonsense style.