The Most Ambitious Game of Its Time.

User Rating: 8 | Duke Nukem 3D PC
First-person shooters in the formative years since Doom were most easily characterized by their drab environments and their unrelenting seriousness. Doom had created its fair share of imitators, making the genre seem drab and colorless compared to other genres.

Then came Duke Nukem 3D.

The third game in the Duke Nukem series, Duke Nukem 3D was also its first entry outside of the side-scrolling genre. It ignored the norms of FPS game design of the era, electing instead to go with vibrant, colorful urban environments and lots of attitude. From the strippers to the one-liners to the famous Pig Cops (a play on a popular slang term for police officers), this was a game with a personality all its own, and it was only aided by revolutionary level design that would influence a generation of colorful shooters.

The game is built on Ken Silverman's Build Engine, which allowed for unprecedented verticality and interaction, allowing for sloped surfaces, rooms built atop eachother, and world geometry that could be altered on the fly, making for giant levels that could change in nearly any way developers could conceive, resulting in levels that felt more like real places than any first-person-shooter before it. As minor as it seems in 2011, the ability to flip buttons and flush toilets was absolutely revolutionary in 1996, as was the ability to blow up parts of buildings, much less whole buildings like in E1L2.

As mentioned earlier, this game is exuding personality, and much of that is due to the titular character, Duke Nukem, who is a beer drinking, womanizing, foul-mouthed badass, most easily associated with quotes from cult movies of the day such as Army of Darkness. The levels themselves have quite a bit of personality too, with strippers, mutated pigs in parodied LAPD uniforms, and references to movies and other games scattered throughout, making exploration a lot more fun than the more serious and monochrome games that preceded it. Needless to say, this game is intended for mature audiences.

Levels are large, and have plenty of nooks and crannies to be explored, and there are tons of enemies to be dispatched in them, creating a good, stiff challenge. However, one holdover from previous FPSes can make progress artificially difficult: key cards. Much like other shooters of the time, the player has to find colored key cards to progress in many of the levels. This unfortunately leads to many levels where the player is simply lost, wandering aimlessly in search of the needed key card. Also, there are parts - especially in the Atomic Edition episode, The Birth - where the player isn't clued in at all on what needs to be done to progress. Also, there are some levels where the amount of ammo and items in them are inadequate for the task, leaving the player slurping water from fountains/hydrants/broken toilets or, once more, wandering aimlessly in search of supplies.

These shortcomings, however, do little to detract from this, one of the all-time greatest games ever made, and a must-have for any first-person shooter fan. It's a shame that the sequel turned out to be so disastrous.