Duke Nukem 3D Atomic Edition Retro Gaming Revisited Review

I wrote in a previous post that “Quake,” in its original incarnation was the first person shooter of its day. That still holds true, but it wasn’t the only game in the genre.

“Quake” was first released on June 22, 1996, but the first person shooter that predated it by almost five months was “Duke Nukem 3D,” which was released January 29, 1996.

Box Art for Duke Nukem 3D

Box Art for Duke Nukem 3D

“Duke Nukem” and “Quake,” along with “Doom” and “Wolfenstein 3D,” are the forefathers of all first person shooters, but there was something special that set 3D Realms’ “M” Rated hero apart from the rest.

It wasn’t just that “Duke Nukem 3D” was risque and filled with half naked and sometimes even less dressed women. It was that “Duke Nukem” wasn’t just a first person shooter. It was a movie, a cartoon of sorts that was cheesy, gory, humorous and filled with almost 80 lines of dialogue fit for any shoot ’em up, zombie, or Hollywood action blockbuster. In fact, it borrowed plenty from those kind of movies for it’s dialogue.

But before we go down that road, let’s look at the plot. (Yes, there is a plot in “Duke Nukem 3D” that goes beyond randomly shooting pigs and aliens or giving strippers money.)

Go to the “Help” option in the Main Menu and you’ll see the following:

“A babe, a stogie, and a bottle of Jack. That’s what I need right now.”

Duke mused on his recent defeat of the Rigelatins, his voice raspy even in his thoughts. After single-handedly saving Earth–again–he was ready for a long period of lying the hell down.

“And no more freakin’ aliens.”

Just then, a white-hot plasmatic blast punched through the hull of his cruiser. Klaxons flared, warning lights flashed, and static filled his monitors. He flipped on his comm.

“Hey, anybody out there? I got a little probl…” Duke started.

“Mayday! Mayday!” the radio replied. “Los Angeles is under attack! There are aliens everywhere, and they’ve mutated the LAPD. Is anyone there? We need help!–.” The transmission went silent.

“Great,” Duke grumbled as his careening ship missed a skyscraper. “What’s the problem with all these aliens attacking Earth anyway? How many alien races have to get their asses kicked?”

Duke slammed his fist into the waiting eject button.

“I guess one more.”

Select an Episode in Duke Nukem 3D

Select an Episode in Duke Nukem 3D

From there, the first of three or four episodes of the game are started – three in the regular edition and four in the Atomic Edition, which is the one I’ve been playing. Each level contains various weapons, items and Easter eggs. Some of the eggs in this game are so far reaching in scope from pop songs to movie and television references, as well as nods to and comments on pop culture events.

In fact, playing through the game just looking for the Easter eggs, can be just as enjoyable as playing it to slaughter pig cops. To go one step further, the pixelated graphics bring me a sense of nostalgia, but the true elements that hold up, especially for anyone who played it when it came, are those Easter eggs.

The first episode, L.A. Meltdown, picks up from the moment Duke’s feet hit the ground, or more accurately, the roof of a building. The first thing you hear from Duke in this episode is, “Damn, those alien bastards are gonna pay for shooting up my ride,” and with that you’re on your way through the first level, “Hollywood Holocaust.” This level takes place in a movie theatre and it’s pretty basic, but there are numerous Easter eggs available if you take the time to stroll around. There is a big sign saying “Innocent” where someone has graffitied a “?” after to make it read “Innocent?,” there is a pinball game named “Balls of Steel,” and a arcade game cabinet labeled, Duke Nukem II. Also, in the bathroom, above one of the urinals is a very famous phone number – “867-5309.”

For a good time call Jenny 867-5309 - Duke Nukem 3D

For a good time call Jenny, 867-5309 – Duke Nukem 3D

Damn you, Tommy Tutone!

The level “Red Light District” is exactly what you’re thinking. The level is based around a strip club where one of the more risque actions is the ability to go up to the strippers and hand them some money where they will undo their tops and show you their pixelated, tasseled breasts. However, when you kill the strippers, aliens will show up, so it’s best to kill them one at a time. If you’re unlucky enough to kill some in the crossfire of cleaning out the room the first time, you’ll have your hands full. Another Easter egg can be found in the bar, where the televisions are showing a car chasing a white truck, a reference to the O.J. Simpson chase.

The now famous pig cops from these early and subsequent levels are humans from the LAPD that have been mutated and their police uniforms are now emblazoned not with LAPD but with LARD.

The remaining three levels of L.A. Meltdown are “Death Row,” where Duke escapes the Electric chair; “Toxic Dump;” and “The Abyss.” Throughout these levels, earthquakes shake the environment, destroying some of the buildings as Duke learns that the aliens are capturing Earth’s women. Then, it’s on to Episode Two, “Lunar Apocalypse.”

Lunar Apocalypse at Polaris Outpost - Duke Nukem 3D

Lunar Apocalypse at Polaris Outpost – Duke Nukem 3D

Lunar Apocalypse, has Duke journey to space, where he finds incubators housing the captured women. This journey is not confined to just space stations orbiting Earth. Eventually Duke reaches the Moon and kills an alien overlord. It is here that Duke inspects a computer to reveal that the plot to capture women was merely to distract Duke from the alien attack on Earth, which has already begun.

The levels are named “Spaceport,” “Incubator,” “Warp Factor,” “Fusion Station,” “Occupied Territory,” “Tiberius Station,” “Lunar Reactor,” “Dark Side,” and “Overlord.” Easter eggs here include a reference to THX-1138 a film by George Lucas; an area that looks like the bridge of the USS Enterprise; Luke Skywalker hung by his legs prompting Duke to say, “Now this is a force to be reckoned with;” and a monolith similar to that in 2001: Space Odyssey. From there, it’s back to Earth and the city of Los Angeles.

Dukai Sushi in Shrapnel City - Duke Nukem 3D

Dukai Sushi in Shrapnel City – Duke Nukem 3D

In Episode Three, “Shrapnel City,” a reference to the devastation the aliens have wrought upon the city, are the levels “Raw Meat,” “Bank Roll,” “Flood Zone,” “L.A. Rumble,” “Movie Set,” “Rabid Transit,” “Fahrenheit,” “Hotel Hell,” and “Stadium.” These are what you’d expect – an earthquake, a Hollywood movie set, and a sushi bar. Within these levels, Duke takes on the massive alien infiltration. Here are even more Easter eggs, including another reference to the O.J. Simpson trial; the corpse of Indiana Jones and the Duke quip, “We meet again, Dr. Jones;” a Baby Ruth candy bar on the bottom of the pool as a reference to Caddyshack; and a “Duf Beer” blimp which is a nod to the Simpsons favorite brew, Duff Beer, but two things stand out even more.

First, the Visa and Mastercard logos can clearly be seen at cash registers, prompting be to wonder if they got paid for it. Most likely, they did not as product placement in video games wasn’t a thing any marketing mogul would suggest back in 1995 when the game was in development. But the second and most impressive Easter egg appears in the “L.A. Rumble” level.

East Town Towers was 3D Realms Shot of id Software and Quake in Duke Nukem 3D

East Town Towers was 3D Realms Shot of id Software and Quake in Duke Nukem 3D

The “East Town Towers” is a reference to id Software, makers of Doom and Quake. The building in this level resembles the “Town East Towers” building that housed the office of id Software in Mesquite, Texas.

But that’s not the only dig at their competitor. 3D Realms went much farther, and when Duke triggers the earthquake in this level you can hear him say, “I ain’t afraid of no Quake,” a direct reference to the game that would come out five months later.

In the original version of the game, Episode Three is the end of the game, but the Atomic Edition released in November 1996 had an additional final chapter.

The Birth, Episode Four, is a continuation of the story that reveals that the aliens used one of the captive women to give birth to the Queen. The Easter eggs get magnified in this episode. “It’s Impossible” is an ode to “Mission Impossible,” complete with music, and includes references to “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Get Smart,” “Steed” from the old British Show, “The Avengers” and James Bond. Duke-Burger is a fast food restaurant using, well, anything but beef; Shop-N-Bag has the mutilated corpse of Snake Plissken from “Escape from L.A.” which opens up the Duke line, “I guess he didn’t escape from L.A.!” Finally, Babe Land is a ripoff of Disneyland complete with a “Babes of the Caribbean” ride.

The XXX-Stacy level in The Birth Episode is the set of a Porno film - Duke Nukem 3D

The XXX-Stacy level in The Birth Episode is the set of a Porno film – Duke Nukem 3D

Pigsty is a police station where there are desks for famous action heroes like John McClane from “Die Hard,” Harry Callahan from “Dirty Harry,” and Judge Dredd and Duke says each of their famous lines as he walks by. Going Postal is a post office and XXX-Stacy is on the set of a porno film, for lack of a better explanation. Critical Mass is a power station where you will come to a control panel that is labelled, Sector 7G, which is Homer Simpson’s sector in the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant in “The Simpsons.” Derelict takes place on a ship called “Valdeez 2,” a reference to the Exxon Valdez. Finally, The Queen, is where you will fight the Queen, who looks like an homage to the alien from Alien.

All of the enemies in the game are snarling, ugly, and well-armed. The Assault Troopers may be the weaklings of the alien invasion, but they are equipped with jetpacks so they can come from anywhere, including above you. The Assault Captains come with a cloaking device, so the Captain you’re shooting at may disappear and start shooting you in the back. Assault Enforcers come equipped with a chaingun cannon, and Assault Commanders can fly and shoot rockets at you. Pig Cops are equipped with shotguns and some of them will fly around in a Recon Patrol Vehicle, which you have to shoot down, before you can deal with the Pig at the controls as they always survive the crash of their vehicle meeting the ground below. There are mini BattleLords and pig cops in tanks, but they aren’t the most annoying enemies in the game.

Protozoid Slimers and Octabrains are the most annoying enemies in Duke Nukem 3D

Protozoid Slimers and Octabrains are the most annoying enemies in Duke Nukem 3D

That title belongs to the Protozoid Slimers and Octabrains. The good news about the Slimers is that if you destroy the eggs they hatch from when you see them, you can kill them before they get the jump on you. The Octabrains always appear to travel in groups and can shoot you with a mental blast attack that is fast. (I looked up the stats on this enemy in the Duke Nukem Wiki and discovered that when Duke is ill-equipped to deal with them, it take 30 shots from a pistol to kill the Octabrains. This would have been helpful information to have when I played through the game as you appear to be shooting at an enemy that just won’t die!)

The game is a straightforward shooter – at least it was intended to be. Now most people remember it more as a pop culture icon than a video game. This could be because of all the dialogue, or the Easter eggs, or the controversy over pixelated, tasselled breasts.

There are a lot of Strippers in Duke Nukem 3D

There are a lot of Strippers in Duke Nukem 3D

There is an interesting thought that occurred to me while replaying this game. If the strippers were only in Episode Three or Four and not so widely found within the entire game, the controversy over them may not have been as fervorous as it was. But the strippers and their pixilated nudity wasn’t something just for those who were about to complete the game. It’s present almost immediately, from level two onward, and that’s why it was such a big deal.

Duke’s dialogue throughout the game is famous, or rather infamous. Stolen lines from movies and other famous characters such as,

“Blow it out your ass!” and “It’s time to kick ass and chew bubble gum… and I’m all outta gum.” from They Live.
“Do, or do not, there is no try.” from Star Wars
“Go ahead, make my day.” from Dirty Harry in Sudden Impact
“Hail to the king, baby,” and “Hey, She-bitch, let’s rock!” from Army of Darkness
“I’ll rip your head off and shit down your neck.” from a few movies including Full Metal Jacket
“I’m gonna get medieval on your asses!” a quote from Marsellus Wallace, in Pulp Fiction
“Let God sort ’em out!” Advice given by Arnaud Amalric during the Albigensian Crusade when asked by a Crusader how to distinguish the Cathars from the Catholics
“Mess with the best, you will die like the rest.” from the movie Hackers
“Your face, your ass – what’s the difference?” reference to an Andrew Dice Clay joke

But that’s not to say Duke can’t speak for himself,

Hail to the King, A Lesson in gaming history via Duke Nukem

Damn, I’m good!
Eat shit and die.
Get that crap outta here!
Gonna rip ’em a new one.
Guess again, freakshow. I’m coming back to town, and the last thing that’s gonna go through your mind before you die… is my size 13 boot!
I like a good cigar…and a bad woman…
I should have known those alien maggots booby-trapped this sub.
It’s time to abort your whole freaking species!
My boot, your face; the perfect couple.
Nobody steals our chicks… and lives!
Nuke ’em ’till they glow, then shoot ’em in the dark!
Oh…your ass is grass and I’ve got the weed-whacker.
See you in Hell!
Suck it down!
This really pisses me off!
That’s gonna leave a mark!
What are you? Some bottom-feeding, scum-sucking algae eater?
You’re an inspiration for birth control.

Duke Nukem checks himself out in mirror after killing some aliens - Duke Nukem 3D

Duke Nukem checks himself out in mirror after killing some aliens – Duke Nukem 3D

All of these borrowed or original lines of dialogue are brought to life by Jon St. John who has been the consistent voice of Duke, including the long anticipated “Duke Nukem Forever.” Jon St. John is Duke Nukem.

But Duke isn’t just about witty dialogue, he’s got plenty of weapons and items at his disposal. His Mighty Boot, pistol, shotgun, chaingun cannon, RPG, pipebombs, shrink ray, Microwave Expander, Devastator, Laser Tripbombs, and Freezethrower back up his wit with an arsenal powerful enough to take out a world power.

This is a first person shooter video game, so he also can use Medkits and armor, the Holoduke, Jetpack, night vision goggles, protective boots, scuba gear and steroids. Locked doors can be unlocked with the appropriate Blue, Yellow or Red Access Card. I must also mention that any plumbing appliance like water fountains, fire hydrants, and toilets can be destroyed, leaving behind running water that the player can drink to regain life. This kind of interactivity was well in front of any of the shooters out at that time.

Duke Nukem is the Ultimate Warrior and there's a poster to prove it in Duke Nukem 3D

Duke Nukem is the Ultimate Warrior and there’s a poster to prove it in Duke Nukem 3D

Everything in the game finds a way to prove itself useful or required to make progress at some point or another.

The Easter eggs in this game – and believe it or not, I haven’t mentioned all of them – are something that we now come to expect from our games. Duke was the first to really include them at such a level that they are as much a part of the game as the weapons, dialogue, and enemies.

“Duke Nukem 3D” is now in the public lexicon as a pop culture icon, but because it contained so many pop culture references, it seems that the game itself is a parody of everything and anything.

It’s use of graphics was, well, different. For example, when you look up at a flying monster, the monster remains 2d and appears as just a line. This is a blatant use of technology in spite of technology. Obviously, this is a product of the game mechanics of the early ’90s, but 3D Realms, in true Duke fashion, didn’t let the technology of the day determine what they were going to do. They just did what they wanted.

Duke Nukem Forever the long awaited Sequel to Duke Nukem 3D

Duke Nukem Forever the long awaited Sequel to Duke Nukem 3D

As a result the game is edgy, harsh, and very likely the exact game they set out to make. I have played the long awaited sequel “Duke Nukem Forever,” and while I thoroughly enjoyed that game it doesn’t really hold a candle to the original.

Then again, how could anything?

Duke Nukem 3D has been talked about and mentioned in articles and conversations about the most important games of all time and it’s hard to disagree. Next Generation magazine even stated in 1996 that Duke Nukem 3D was, “for many, the game Quake should have been.” While I don’t necessarily agree, Duke 3D was influential in its own important way.

It was developed on a budget of $300,000, which made it a very expensive game back in 1996, but from that investment came a colossus of gaming history. Together with rival Quake, Duke Nukem took first person shooters to a new level and help popularize the genre into what is today a huge industry. There are also the claims that games such as the Grand Theft Auto series would not have been possible without the legacy set forth by Duke Nukem. Anyone arguing that idea may get a boot in their ass.

Duke Nukem 3D was and still is a giant in the gaming world. Even though its sequel was marred by financing and technological whims, Duke Nukem is a pop culture icon and will remain so.

Hail to the King, Baby!