Duke Nukem 3D's popularity really mushroomed after its release earlier this year. Wowing gamers with smooth graphics, innovative weaponry, and its crass-talking, alien-squishing first-person hero, GT Interactive's blockbuster title offered an alternative to 3D staples such as Doom. Gamers can't get enough of Duke, the computerized, testosterone-enhanced Bruce Campbell who - and we may catch some flak for this - slightly resembles Vanilla Ice. Sure, he doesn't come close to being a wanna-be rap artist, but "icing" is still his game in a brand new episode (entitled "The Birth") featured in 3D Realms' latest Duke patch, Duke Nukem 3D Plutonium Pak. This episode features eleven new levels, a new weapon, a couple of fresh-faced cretins, and plenty of new offhand quips.
So, you're dying to hear about the new items in this edition, right? Okay, first off, there's a weapon called an "expander," which you get automatically when you pick up the trusty "shrinker" weapon. When you pump enough rounds of the expander into an enemy, he'll inflate and burst, Dig-Dug-style. The new enemies, however, are no Pookas. One of the LAPD pig-cops from the previous game now treads around in a miniature tank and fires multiple rounds of ammo at you. The other new kid on the block is this lanky alien guy who pummels you and has the ability to shrink you down to squashable size. Both of these characters are damn tough to kill and will probably have you high-tailing it in the opposite direction most of the time.
But the real enjoyment from this add-on comes from exploring the new levels and discovering the wealth of humorous pop-culture references. In "Duke Burger," Duke has to stomp aliens loitering around a fast-food restaurant - which, given the oversized revolving Duke Big Boy, is presumably his own franchise. In "Shop-N-Bag" you get to smoke your enemies in a grocery store, the aisles of which resound with dippy Tijuana Brass Muzak (let's see - a quart of milk, three frozen dinners and hey, who's that scaly guy over there with the cannon?!). In a later episode, you can take a ride on "Babes of the Caribbean" in an amusement park overrun by the familiar porno-obsessed extra-terrestrials. (You may not find Walt's cryogenically suspended body here, but you may want to use the "freezer" gun to conduct some of your own preservative experiments on those "alien bastards.") Finally, in "It's Impossible," Duke encounters a scenario which should be familiar to most of you who saw a blockbuster Tom Cruise movie which featured a lot of missions. If any object in the game feels destruction-worthy, you can blast it to shards. I took particular joy in decimating a few dairy freezers, some expensive computer equipment, and an innocent amusement-park mascot. Continuing in the tradition of the original Duke levels, each level in "The Birth" is completely interactive and has its own unique personality.
It's generally accepted that, while Duke Nukem 3D is a challenging and addictive first-person game, it contains characters and situations which some people might find morally questionable. The developers of this latest Duke installment definitely sought to cash in once more on the controversial raciness that runs rampant in the previous game. So be warned: If private S&M parties and animatronic, bikini-clad sword fighters offend you, you may not want to wander around the wrong corner in this game.
But controversial stuff aside, Duke Nukem Atomic is a heck of a fun addition to the original episodes. My only real complaint is that the levels are fairly expansive, and you'll feel like you're roaming around a ghost town if you play over the network with fewer than four players. Still, any Duke fan hungry for a little more "unnecessary roughness" will want to shell out for this one.