Flashback: Duke Nukem 3D Review

For reasons too irrelevant to go into here, I ended up on an Amazon page for the 1999 Mac port of Duke Nukem 3D (now only $84.99; nostalgia is costly). And some of the language of the review looked familiar... holy crap, that was me, 15 years ago.

Sure, it's crude. Sure, it could be called sexist, and sure, a good part of it seems designed by socially backward fourteen-year-old boys. Still, once you get past a few distasteful points (such as Duke's steroid-induced buffness), Duke Nukem 3D offers a fast-paced respite from the DOOM-and-gloom tone of most first-person shooters on the market. It's hard to hold a grudge against someone who grumbles, "It's time to kick ass and chew gum, and I'm all out of gum."
Is there a plot? Not really - there's just a premise, and one so thin that it might not even be pitchable to a Hollywood producer. Seems a bunch of aliens have descended on Earth to "steal our chicks," as Duke so delicately puts it. It's up to you, as Duke, to save the day by, basically, shooting everything that moves and a few things that don't.

Anyone familiar with this genre of games will be instantly at home. In between killing aliens, you have to collect security cards (think keys from DOOM), which allow you access to various parts of a level. You finish a level by making it to the Self-Destruct button (how you can win by blowing yourself up is beyond us, but hey, Duke works in mysterious ways). There are some puzzle elements to each level, but none too tough for one who's made it through Marathon.

Speaking of Marathon: inevitably, comparisons will be made. Build, the graphics engine behind Duke Nukem 3D, is still a "2 1/2-D" construct - not truly 3D. However, it does allow more 3D-like effects than the Marathon engine, such as crouching, jumping, ramps, and multistory buildings. There's even a submarine you can board, and a subway car. Also, Duke's world is far more interactive than Marathon's. Phones have dial tones, vases shatter in a cross-fire, windows break, and when you come across a pool table you can roll the balls around.

Still, there are some areas in which the Marathon series retains an edge. Swimming and flying in Duke Nukem 3D is downright boring: You move up or down, and stay in one place without bobbing or sinking. There's also no mystery at all in Duke Nukem 3D. Shoot, watch the gore, run on. The ingenuity of some levels, and some honestly funny parts (besides the alien on the toilet, I mean) do entice you to play on, but there's little to go back to and try to understand. Then again, nobody's selling this game as a replacement for graduate studies. And, make no mistake, Duke is fun.

MacSoft and Lion are to be congratulated for the quality of this port from the PC world. Installation was a breeze, and Mac interface conventions (such as selecting menu items with the mouse, dialog boxes, and menu bars) are all there. But wait - there's more: The Mac version of Duke Nukem 3D offers more value and more features than the PC version did. You get levels that PC users had to purchase separately as the Plutonium Pack, including a great level set in a fast-food joint. Also, "MacDuke" takes advantage of some of the Mac's multimedia features, allowing you to switch screen resolutions on the fly (I know you can already do that, but PC users can't) and record taunts in your own voice for multiplayer games. One tech tip: If you find that the game suffers from occasional momentary freezes, try turning off the Music option - the freezes are most likely caused by the computer accessing the CD-ROM music tracks.

Speaking of multiplayer games: Duke Nukem 3D's Dukematch features are impressive. Not only can you play over a local network, you can play against one to seven enemies over IPX, AppleTalk, or TCP/IP. Head-to-head play over the Internet required only getting a competitor's IP address and typing it in to a dialog box. With a 28.8kbps modem, play was smooth and almost as good as over a local network. Duke Nukem 3D is even cross-platform networkable, so you can go kick some PC user's behind, whether locally, or across the world. One warning: unlike Marathon, Duke Nukem 3D won't send a map to all the players, so if you plan to use a third-party map, you'll have to email it to all your friends (the good news is that Duke map files work on both platforms with no modifications necessary and there are a ton of gamer-made maps available on the Web).

For parents, there's a password-protected "Parental Lock" option (in the Options menu, or course). Once you set this lock, your kids will be protected from some of the more explicit violence and "adult themes" in Duke Nukem 3D. Then they will be free to run around and shoot things to their little hearts' delight.

Speed was excellent (16-28 frames per second on a 800-x-600-pixel resolution) on a Power Mac 7600/120. On a 68040-based Mac, you'll need to reduce screen size and detail, but the game is still playable. Overall, the Mac version of Duke Nukem 3D is an impressive achievement technically, and, though you might feel guilty enjoying it so much, you probably will. - D. D. Turner

Good News: Fast action game with a specific sense of humor. Great weapon variety. Good network play. Excellent port.

Bad News: Possibly offensive sense of humor. Chunky graphics. Must have CD in drive to play.


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