Having fun devolving
Forget the hubbub about next generation graphics and vehicle driving and 20 different kinds of physics engines per game. The reality of the matter is that the first person shooter genre hasn’t really evolved much since the early 90s. It doesn’t matter how much smarter the AI has gotten or how realistic the effects of wood shattering is nowadays, the major games still consist of military figures gunning either demons or Nazis. Perhaps I’m the fool for expecting anything more out of a genre where the only brains necessary are the ones excreting from the skulls of the enemy but alas.
And then there’s Duke Nukem. If space marines versus aliens represents the early stages of the shooter’s human evolution, then Duke is the monkey era. Duke Nukem flings it’s feces at its adversaries while slapping the mother of his offspring with his member. Duke Nukem is the king of the misogynous and masochistic combination, and you know what? There’s something rather refreshing about that. At least de-evolution marks a change of pace of sorts from the current norm. The King’s breakout game, Duke Nukem 3D, has been released on Xbox Live Arcade, and if anything, is oodles lot more interesting shooter than, say, the last Halo or Resistance.
In another nice change of pace from the norm, Duke Nukem 3D doesn’t feature any lengthy tutorials or introductory cutscenes or overblown CG intros to waste your time. (Okay, there’s one CG cutscene, but its visual quality is so bad that you’ll have a good chuckle at the expense of the Nineties.) Rather, Duke explains the backdrop of each of the game’s four storylines with a single sentence. This can include “Those alien bastards are gonna pay for ruining my ride!” or “Nobody steals our chicks, and lives.” Simple, yet powerful. I can relate to a man who’s motivation is exacting revenge for his ride. More games can learn from the Duke when it comes to getting to the point in a hurry.
Duke Nukem 3D is awfully different from today’s first person shooters. When I say that, I am also insinuating that the graphics do look like monkey Duke’s flung feces, for one. Being this was my first major attempt at playing this game, I had to undergo a certain unlearning curve in order to apprehend the game; adjusting to the way most enemies look like pixilated illustrations of a Three Little Pigs pop-up book, with maybe four or five frames (or rather, pictures) of animation between then. But the ever primitive tech also brings with its own brand of charming hokey camp; Duke’s melee attack is a straight mafia kick, one that he can administer to his enemies while running at full speed. Not to mention, all of the Duke-isms that bore high novelty back in the 90s are suddenly cute again; such pointless gimmicks like flushing a toilet or giving a stripper cash to do her pixilated dance. Plus there’s the novelty of thinking to yourself “someone in 1996 was pleasuring themselves to these stripper sprites.”
And many of the gameplay differences are oh so refreshing in their datedness. There’s no self-regenerating health, which in turn makes the sight of a health pack or steroids (proof that all great athletes are on the gear) very welcoming. Seeing a health pack in Duke Nukem 3D is as relieving as those moments in Demon’s Souls where you enter a room and there is only one grunt trying to ambush you. Likewise, Duke Nukem existed in an era where chiropractic was still considered controversial, and thus the Duke will gladly suck up some long-term back pain in the name of carrying more than two weapons at a time. Eat that, Master Chief.
You’ll need to be carrying more than two weapons at any given moment, since the technology in Duke Nukem predates the creation of the Headshot. Each enemy alien requires a finite and exact amount of damage to fall, with the difference between one alien and the other often being “carries a bigger weapon, and needs a bigger weapon to die.” Being smart about your weapons thus becomes a concern, both in regards to ammo conservation and not accidentally blowing yourself up with the rocket launcher. The upside to all of this weapon-thinking is the enormous sense of satisfaction you’ll achieve when you combust an enemy and Duke responds with a simple “Holy ****.” Duke Nukem is a man that speaks for the people.
Biggest problem with Duke Nukem 3D? Being one of those 90s shooters, it has a reliance on keycards and switches as its brightest idea of puzzle solving. (Switches that become shockingly hard to activate when underwater.) There were several occasions where I was stumped because I didn’t know which wall needed to be blown up or where the hidden keycard was lying. At the risk of being ridiculed by elite PC fanatics eager to slam my head against their Modern Warfare 2 dedicated server, I really could have used a hint system of some kind. On the flipside, a nice little rewind system is in place where, upon death, Duke can use the sheer force of his testosterone to rewind time to any previous moment of the player’s choosing.
And finally, there’s a multiplayer online mode. Duke Nukem 3D was released, thankfully, before a of nonsense was introduced to the world. There’s no perks, no leveling up, no killstreak bonuses, no node-capturing, no capture the flag, there aren’t even teams. The only character class you can choose to play as is Duke Friggin Nukem. You can engage in either one on one deathmatches or free for alls with up to 8 players, though the latter takes some time to get a game going. Being a 90s shooter, success in an online Dukematch is 50% skill and reflexes, and 50% having a bigger gun than the guy in front of you. So the Duke Nukem 3D multiplayer is more entertaining as a nostalgia piece than a straight deathmatch experience.
Just like how Duke Nukem 3D as a whole is more entertaining as a straight nostalgia piece than a full blown video game. In a lot of ways, games have evolved gracefully and thus makes certain aspects of Duke feel crude, ugly, dated. But at the same time, some of that crudeness, that grittiness, that complete lack of shame, makes Duke Nukem 3D amusing in its own way. So consider me surprised by how much fun this rusty old shooter can still be. If you need a break from the monotony of space marines versus aliens, the king has the fun time you’re looking for.
3 ½ stars