Duke Nukem 3D Review

Duke is back and he's still out of bubble gum. Come get some.

Almost 13 years ago, Duke Nukem 3D was released on the PC and instantly made an impact. Its brutal gameplay and humorous tone impressed a growing multitude of shooter fans who were salivating for something more. For fans of the game and the series, rest assured that all of the original, groundbreaking gameplay and content are present here. For those of you who are new to the world of Duke Nukem, prepare yourself to experience one of the better shooters that the mid-'90s had to offer.

Pipe bombs get the job done, even underwater!
Pipe bombs get the job done, even underwater!

Duke Nukem 3D is set in a futuristic, unrecognizable Los Angeles. While our hero was busy fighting in space, aliens took advantage of his absence and annihilated the planet. Duke returns to Los Angeles to find that anthropomorphic, laser-toting lizards and those ever-popular swine police officers have overtaken the streets. These aliens, of course, have left all of the beautiful ladies intact for their personal amusement. Pornography and guns are now the world's only forms of entertainment.

Once the game begins, Duke must single-handedly eradicate the alien threat and take back Earth for what's left of humanity. This task is divided up into four episodes containing six or seven chapters each. Each chapter's basic sequence is kill hordes of baddies, find some keycards, unlock some doors, and eventually detonate a nuclear bomb. This formula may get repetitive, but the varied interactive environments keep things interesting and amusing, and Duke's classic one-liners that will bring a smile to your face.

If you choose, you can take out aliens using just the sweet justice of your killer left boot. Few things are more satisfying than connecting a front kick to a lizard's throat and dropping him instantly. However, there is a large arsenal of equally satisfying weapons just lying around the streets waiting to be used. These weapons range from the standard pistol and shotgun to the freeze ray, shrink ray, and remote-detonated pipe bomb. This arsenal not only makes saving the world feel possible, it also makes it a lot of fun. Also, ammunition is plentiful, so you will be able to use your favorite weapons often.

The abundance of Duke's ammunition and weapon supply is a necessary component because Duke Nukem 3D is a hard game. The level design is varied and entertaining for the most part, but occasionally it might leave you lost and wondering where exactly your red keycard goes. The map you can open is rarely much help, and it can be a nuisance since using it makes the action screen go blank, but enemies are still able to attack and kill you while you're looking at it. This aspect will lead to some unnecessarily frantic moments in an already chaotic game. Also, enemies have seemingly flawless aim. An alien can spot you from across a sizable chamber and usually damage you with lasers, bullets, and rockets. Even the shotgun shells miraculously travel vast distances to lower your health meter.

This is where Duke Nukem 3D's newest--and best--feature comes in. When you start a level, the game begins recording your session. If and when your health does reach zero, the action pauses and you can rewind to any point from your death to the first second of the level and replay from that point. This mechanic is a wonderful way to restrategize your approach to a certain room or sequence of enemies, saving health points as well as ammo along the way. It is an inspired and insightful new feature that shaves much of the frustration off of the game and makes it a more pleasurable experience. In addition, all of your recorded levels are saved, allowing you to share particularly brutal ones with your friends and the rest of the world on Xbox Live.

Duke Nukem 3D's graphics are unchanged from the original game, with all of the pixelated blood, fire, and bikini babes that you can handle. The sound is also relatively untouched. Though it feels even more dated at times than the visuals, it still fits the overall package. The amusing pig-grunts and John Carpenter-like soundtrack will bring back some fond, and bloody, memories. Since this release is intended to be a blast from the past, it makes sense to keep the visuals and music intact, though it's unfortunate that no option to play with updated visuals is included. The frame rate is smooth for the most part, and while the action is intentionally fast-paced it occasionally feels like the game is running a little too quickly.

Multiplayer matches usually come down to who has the bigger gun or the quickest boot.
Multiplayer matches usually come down to who has the bigger gun or the quickest boot.

The multiplayer offerings of Duke Nukem 3D consist of ranked deathmatch, unranked deathmatch, and cooperative play. The former two have a standard format: choose a map and go. Ranked matches also allow one-on-one challenges so you can really declare your dominance. However, the most intriguing addition to Duke Nukem 3D multiplayer is the co-op mode. This mode lets up to eight players team up and take on the level missions as a group. If you are with the right people, this can be an extremely rewarding and genuinely fun experience. The game also keeps things interesting by letting enemies respawn in certain locations, keeping the alien fodder well stocked for the entire group. This mode can also be the most frustrating, because one member of your group can (and will, half of the time) speed through the level and find the exit, ending the level for everyone. As long as you know and trust the people you are playing with, and provided you don't experience any of the serious lag that occasionally permeates games with a lot of players, Duke Nukem co-op can be exhilarating.

Duke Nukem 3D is a pleasing yet sadistic walk down memory lane. The graphics, sound, gameplay, and characters are all faithful to the 1996 standards that made the game famous. A few new features augment an already complete package, both online and offline. If you've passed through these ruined streets before, the new features and familiar content warrant another visit to this grim and bloody version of Los Angeles. If you are new to the franchise, this game is definitely worth a look, and you can experience exactly what made Duke Nukem, for better or for worse, a household name.

The Good

  • Varied level design
  • New level recorder well implemented
  • Co-op play is a welcome addition
  • Loads of raunchy, violent throwback fun
  • A classic that remains entirely intact

The Bad

  • Can be frustratingly difficult
  • No option to play with updated visuals
  • Lag occasionally permeates multiplayer sessions

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About the Author

Duke Nukem 3D

First Released Jan 29, 1996
  • Android
  • Game.com
  • Genesis
  • iOS (iPhone/iPad)
  • Macintosh
  • Mobile
  • Nintendo 64
  • PC
  • Saturn
  • Xbox 360

The ballots have been cast and the verdict has arrived: The Duke is A-#1.


Average Rating

5155 Rating(s)

Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
Animated Blood and Gore, Animated Violence, Strong Sexual Content