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Despite having a place in a unique milestone in first-person shooter gaming technology, Duke Nukem 3D has the distinction of being one of the most reviled games of its time. Full of pixilated sexual themes and questionable ethics, the game garnered tremendous criticism in its time. The game was outright banned in many countries. Where it was not banned, it suffered harsh censure for its depiction of an America fallen into depravity in the wake of an alien invasion.
Duke Nukem 3D incorporates many features never before seen (and some not seen since) including unique weapons like the Shrink Ray, several game engine improvements (such as sloped ground and horizontal door opening.) Duke Nukem 3D also supports a multiplayer deathmatch mode that few other games of the time had.
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For the time, Duke Nukem 3D was next to cutting-edge, building on the technology of earlier games like “Doom” and “Marathon”. Duke Nukem 3D does have several innovations above its predecessors that make it unique. It sports a series of maintenance tunnels and vents that allow players to find secret equipment stashes and to circumvent enemies. It allows players to store health powerups, to be used as needed. The engine also sports an array of aesthetic upgrades such as horizontally-opening doors (notice how all the doors in Doom only move up and down?)
For all its improvements, Duke Nukem 3D came under fire most for its graphic content. The game features abundant sexual imagery as well as bound and nearly-naked women, displayed for the perverse pleasure of the alien invaders. Many reviewers took these images for senseless pandering and hammered the game with negative reviews. While the game does not handle this sort of material in the most mature fashion possible, it does at least punish players for mistreating the women, usually with a huge infusion of enemy troops that would not have appeared otherwise.
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The sound design for the game is interesting. Most of the unique sound design is tied to the sexual imagery in one way or another, but the inclusion of Duke’s voice and the addition of ambient noise (airplanes flying overhead, the flickering of a movie projector) add to the scene and make the game just that much more interesting that others that came out near the same time.
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Though primitive by newer standards, the multiplayer function in Duke Nukem 3D adds a whole new dimension to the game. The “Dukematch” may appear to be little more than a deathmatch, but the inclusion of tunnels and other hiding places make the game much more interesting. This takes a simplistic game and adds a layer of complexity to it, allowing players more flexibility in battle zones.
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While it may not hold too much appeal to younger gamers, those of us who grew up when Duke Nukem 3D first appeared and when Duke Nukem was a household name will find it to be a nice trek back in time. The game’s raunchy humor and fun gameplay make it worth the time it will take to track down a copy.
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8 megabytes of memory
Sound Blaster, Gravis UltraSound, SoundMan16, Pro Audio Spectrum, SoundScape, Disney/Tandy Sound Sources.