Duke Nukem 3D is amazing.
It's still amazing, I should say. Eighteen years later and it plays like a step-by-step guide at how to construct a quality first person shooter; enormous explorable levels, abundant satisfying boomsticks, brutal rock-hard action and lashings of risqué humour on the side. It brought both innovation and out-there personality to the genre, and though many remember it for the babes and boobs, playing DN3D again reminds us exactly why we still hail 3D Realms' crass masterpiece as a true classic.
Most of you already know all that, but can Duke Nukem 3D be worth buying nearly two decades after it launched, on totally different platforms, swapping the precision of a keyboard for the DualShock 3's unergonomic chassis or Vita's adorable little nubbins? If you're a PlayStation Plus subscriber then the answer is, "it's free, so obviously get on it," but for everyone else, Devolver have at least made some serious effort to maximise the bang for your buck.
It's time to kick ass and make lazy references. And I'm all out of ass.
As a product of the Good Old Days™, Duke Nukem 3D is punishing, slippery and brutal. You'll do battle with an army of vicious aliens who'll merrily exploit all three dimensions, hovering with jetpacks, zipping about with hover vehicles or looming overhead in the case of menacing Octobrains. It's not afraid to put foes around blind corners, in dark corners or spawn them in without warning, meaning that you'll need to maintain a level of situational awareness that's often lacking in this day and age.
Duke Nukem 3D was mechanically fresh at the time and still feels surprisingly fresh today. Though your health doesn't regenerate and ammo is limited, you'll wield an enormous arsenal of satisfying armaments to annihilate your foes with, from cathartic traditional boomsticks to more estoreric fare like shrink rays and remote-controlled pipe bombs. And the mighty boot, of course. The net result is that you'll have to carefully ration your ammunition, health and consumables; gleefully pushing the advantage yet knowing when to pull back or hunt for new items throughout the expansive maps.
Ah yes, the maps. Youngsters or genre newcomers may not remember that FPS levels used to resemble mazes rather than point-to-point corridors, and Duke Nukem 3D is no exception. Every level is a puzzle in and of itself, a labryinth of multi-tiered rooms, locked doors, switches, vents and liberal hidden secrets that often hide much-needed. It's easy to get lost, especially when many levels cunningly conceal keys or delight in putting corridors underwater, but there's a map for a reason. Use it.
It's also worth noting that Duke Nukem 3D was one of the first shooters to make its levels resemble real physical spaces rather than generic corridors plastered over with Sci-Fi, castle or fantasy imagery. As an example, an early level set in a nightclub is actually laid out like a nightclub, with a central stage, front entrance with ticket office and cloakroom, rear entrance, back rooms and toilets you can flush. Hand driers work. Pool tables aren't just static textures; you can pot the balls if you want!
Though Marathon and its sequels attempted the same in an abstract Sci-Fi setting, Duke Nukem 3D has a sense of place that's often absent in shooters from the period. Regular reader Quietus reminded us of this yesterday, and I'm indebted to him for pointing out this oft-overlooked fact.
Mind you, the reason it's often overlooked is that we tend to remember Duke Nukem 3D for its humour. Though most of the parodies are incredibly dated and the emphasis on big-breasted babes feels embarrassing when it used to feel edgy, this is still a deeply amusing game thanks to Jon St. John's timeless one-liners. Duke's personality may be crass and boorish, but in an age when games are often bland and unmemorable, having a strong and unique tone is nothing to complain about. Shake it, baby, I say.
So what of the port job? I'm delighted to report that The Megaton Edition is a great effort that cleans up the visuals without replacing the original sprites, thus retaining the charm and authentic feel of the original game at much higher resolutions, and has been well optimised for both platforms in performance terms. It contains an extraordinary amount of content including Duke Caribbean: Life’s a Beach, Duke: Nuclear Winter, and Duke It Out in D.C. expansions. There are new features too, from boilerplate additions like trophies and leaderboards to much more ambitious cross-play online multiplayer ("I don't have time to play with myself!") and a rewind function that lets you choose when to respawn after death, making quicksaves extinct in the process.
It even costs £6.99, matching Steam rather than charging extra for no reason. There's almost nothing to complain about. Almost.
Unfortunately, should you want to play it on Vita, the controls are a major sticking point. I can't believe that I'm about to say this, but the touchscreen weapon select works brilliantly while the thumbsticks let the side down! The Vita's stumpy nubbins allow for a more limited range of motion compared to a DualShock 3 (still not optimal for shooters due to naff triggers and thumbstick layout, but relatively superior in this instance) or mouse, meaning that small thumb movements are translated into big onscreen movements. Aiming feels both clumsy and twitchy as a result. There's also no crouch toggle; an annoying oversight since you can't effectively aim and crouch at the same time.
Still, it's a price worth paying for Duke on the move, just be aware that there's a learning curve. Ultimately we come back to Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition's price point, which matches Steam penny for penny while delivering both the PS3 and Vita versions in a single package. Or in the case of PS Plus subscribers, totally free. If you want to experience Duke Nukem 3D again on PlayStation consoles as opposed to the admittedly superior PC home platform, or want to see what all the fuss is about, I can recommend it without hesitation.
- Brutal old-school shooting, exploration, secrets and personality
- Level design is still exceptional; expansive with a real sense of place
- Great port: loads of content, tidier visuals, new rewind respawns
- PS3/Vita cross-buy, PS+ freebie, fairly priced
- Vita thumbsticks are sub-optimal, make aiming twitchy
- No crouch toggle and other features we take for granted
- You will get lost. A lot.
- Still best enjoyed on PC
The Short Version: Come get some!
If you're a PlayStation Plus subscriber, download it for free while you can.
8 – GREAT: Great games typically provide competent production values with a degree of innovation, personality and soul that's sometimes absent in titles that score lower. Or even just exceptional raw value on top of competent execution. There'll usually be a little something to stop games like these from reaching the very top - innovative but slightly flawed, fun but not groundbreaking - however you can buy games that score 8/10 with confidence.
Developer: 3D Realms | Abstraction Games
Publisher: Devolver Digital