By Video_Game_King 17 Comments
It's time to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I'm all out of gum. I'm also out of ass, so what that leaves me is blogging. Now Duke Nukem 3D (not to be confused with Duck Fuckem 3D, James Cameron's early foray into the world of mallard pornography) is most well known for....I'm not entirely sure. I don't think it was the first 3D FPS (I'm well aware of the technical tricks that make Doom not 3D), so I guess it's because 3D Realms made it? Well, anyway, my experience with it was not in 1996, but 2013, and what I found was a juvenile, absolutely psychotic piece of 90s pop culture. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
But that doesn't mean the scenario's free from criticism. Remember my Duke Nukem Forever blog, where I likened Duke to a medieval lord of yore? Let's throw that characterization out, because here, he's a genocidal (literally) maniac. From the very start, he's shooting down every non-human in sight. He doesn't need any more motivation than that. Hell, you don't even find out that they're capturing Earth's women until much later. Until then, you're left with Duke shooting down aliens while they sleep, gleefully spouting lines like "Let God sort 'em out" and "Nuke 'em 'till they glow, then shoot 'em in the dark" and "Heil to the King, baby". I hope I don't have to tell you how massively uncomfortable this is. It's like Postal 2, except....no, it's Postal 2. We already have the worrying racial undertones, but how about we throw cultural references (maybe they're jokes, but I only saw them as references), crass puns, and out-of-place misogyny on top of all this? So what's more unsettling: this or the fact that Duke was one of the more popular games of the 1990s?
Now don't freak out. I know precisely why this game was so popular in the 90s: the shooting.......That sounds just as unsettling. But rest assured that Duke Nukem knows what it's doing when it comes to shooting. There's never a moment when you're not shooting an enemy. Part of this is because Duke himself moves faster than Speedy Gonzales (a fact that no doubt irks him to no end), but a lot of it's also because of how many enemies crowd the screen at one time. There's almost never an instance where there's not an alien pig to shoot, and just when you think you've eliminated them all, there's another waiting just behind the next door (or explosion, at least later in the game). Yes, this sounds overwhelming and crowded and whatnot, and to be honest, it can be. I don't need to tell you how annoying it is to open a door and be greeted with a bullet to the face. Personally, it's why I don't go trick or treating anymore. But for most of the experience, it hedges more toward simply giving you enough targets to shoot and making sure that the action never dies.
But what good is a ton of action without variety? Still kind of OK? Well, what I'm trying to say is that Duke Nukem delivers on the variety. This much is clear just by looking at the enemies. It's amazing how 3D Realms is able to give every single enemy a very distinct personality. This may be because there aren't a ton of enemies to deal with (maybe a little more than ten types), but the result is the same: every enemy feels like an individual. Two things happen when you give enemies personality: first, Duke Nukem looks like a genocidal asshole. But I've already mentioned that in detail, so let's move onto the second thing that happens: you have to develop a variety of strategies to handle the enemies, which is only possible when you have a good selection of weapons. Hey, look at that! Another strong point....sort of. Let's face facts: there are quite a few weapons you're never going to use in this game. Anything that requires forward thinking, like the tripwire or the freeze ray, has no place in a game where you have to strategize while you're shooting. I'm guessing that's why those weapons are so few in number. Everything else is just different means of blasting/shooting away, like shotguns and rocket launchers and stuff. You know, the types of weapons that would fit in well with a mindless shooter like Duke Nukem.
Wait a minute. This is a mindless shooter from the 90s. That means we have to deal with the most confusing level design in the world. If you're making a game where the fun comes from shooting everything in sight for every second of it, you're not doing yourself any favors by setting it all in a labyrinth where it's incredibly easy to miss important details. I don't appreciate the shooting after the delay; I'm just mad at the delay. The only time this really pays off is in the secrets, since they're really well hidden, reward multiple playthroughs, and most importantly, are actually meant to be hard to find. I'd say that the level design comes off as pretentious, but if so, it's only very barely. You get to solve puzzles and collect keys and new weapons you lost in between episodes for unexplained reasons, almost as though this were a Zelda game. Except the puzzles aren't terribly challenging and there's only capacity for three keys ever, so it isn't much of a Zelda game. The only mitigating factor in all this is that the game kind of trains you in how to play it, so the level design becomes less and less of an issue over time. But man, that's still one significant investment to ask at the beginning and throughout much of the middle.
Oh, and I guess I should talk about the graphics, since they're mentioned right there in the title. Of course, it's hard to develop a straight opinion of such a broad topic, since the quality fluctuates wildly depending on what we're talking about. For instance, the environments look pretty damn good. I'd say they're detailed, but to be more accurate, they carry the special charm that comes with looking like pixel vomit. For something a tad less backhanded, how about decent lighting (from a technical standpoint, lest you think I enjoy dark, flickery rooms), a smooth frame rate, and a lot of interesting tidbits to fuck around with? That's more than I can say for the characters populating this world, and not just because lighting can't even remotely apply to characters. Oh, sure, things look fine if you're looking at them head on, but try to get an upskirt shot on that pig cop, and you'll suddenly discover that he's thin in the wrongest of ways. To be more direct, the enemies are completely flat. It takes you out of the moment and makes you think you're playing Paper Mario: The FPS. Actually, that sounds like a far better idea than I'd like to admit. I'd tell you to go play the Paper Mario FPS, but since that doesn't exist, Duke Nukem will have to do.
- In the immortal words of the Duke of Nukem, "Niemand stiehlt unsere Frauen...und lebt."
- I'm pretty sure if you look in the credits, Daedalus is credited as the head level designer.
- But the shooting is so incredibly solid that I'm willing to overlook those last two bullets.
Behold your life, Mario. You are now the plaything of the gods. You shall forever die to be born again. Your existence is suffering.
I wanted to continue with the Japanese equivalent of Duke Nukem, but surprise: I have no clue what that is, or if it even exists. So instead, I went for Ghost Sweeper Mikami, a.....what the hell is this? It's hard to place just what exactly Ghost Sweeper Mikami is, mainly because for a while, it doesn't do much of anything. You just walk forward and whack enemies with your sword, sometimes jumping to get around. It's nothing, but in a surprise twist nobody saw coming, it's a very strong nothing. (Nobody saw it coming because it doesn't make a lot of sense.)
For those of you who don't know what Ghost Sweeper Mikami is, I don't, either. From what I could gather, it's a Japanese Ghostbusters starring a girl with eyes as enormous as her dresses are tiny. She gets a statue in the mail and goes on a quest to fill in all the little holes on it. Why? I have no effing clue. It's possible that the writers never bothered including a motivation for her to do this, but it's also quite possible that I simply missed that part. I know that sounds strange when half the game is cutscenes (probably literally), but from what I could understand, there's a good-ish reason for having so many of the damn things. You get cute little banter between the various characters to keep you entertained outside the game proper. But only barely. I can't remember much about each character's personality or even most of their names, but I still enjoyed the personality it had.
Now this would be the part where I spend an entire paragraph describing the mechanics, except there's honestly not a lot to describe. The main gameplay boils down to this: you walk forward and whack things. The walking forward is hard to call enjoyable, but the action is exactly the same. I don't even know how to phrase it. It's not the number of enemies; that much is fine. Maybe it's the fact that you're literally swatting them away that makes the combat something of a nuisance. There are power-ups to fuck around with, but they're all pretty much the same: swat things from a distance. Not much of a difference, is it? There is one level where you get to make platforms with your sword-wand-whatever a la Mega Man 1, but that's about as much variety as you're going to get in the weapons. Now I should clarify that the game isn't bad. It controls well, and everything is done competently, but so far, there's nothing compelling or magnificent.
But here comes the level design to save the day. Cat-cars! Broomstick shooters (that are drifty as shit)! What I think is a parody of The Nutcracker! What more do I need to say? Something more applicable to the game as a whole? Sure, why not? Remember what I said about the combat being a nuisance? Well, that was only on its own. Throw in a boss battle or jumping all about, and suddenly, it starts redeeming itself. You start developing a rhythm of a sort, trying to balance navigation and combat at the same time. I know it sounds strangely mundane, but trust me: it's pretty damn fun, especially when you mix those grapple platform whatevers in. Or you can stick with riding cats across the rooftops of Tokyo, swatting at bugs and demonic pancakes. Actually, just go with that. It's the best part of the game. Sure it's just conceptually, but where's the harm in that?
- The eyes....the eyes...
- Describing the mechanics doesn't make it sound very fun.
- Actually playing the game serves the job, though.