If you’re wondering how I can go from playing something like The Incredibles to Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition in one fell swoop, keep on wondering. Call it a palette cleanser, call it a leap of faith, or call it fortuitous timing–whatever helps you sleep at night. See, while I’ve had a copy of 3D Realms’ risqué tour de force from 1996 on the PC, it has sat untouched, uninteresting, especially since I struggled with its keyboard controls upon initially trying it some months back. However, this month, for PlayStation Plus, the first-person shooter with enough catchphrases to appease any 90s macho man action movie fan is a free download, and so I bit. Cue some tastelessly sexual one-liner from the man of the hour.
Real quick–and this will truly be real quick–here’s my history with the Duke Nukem franchise: I played one, and only a little bit of it at that. Yup, of the 15 or so iterations in the series, the only one I can remember experiencing, and through a demo at that, is Duke Nukem: Time to Kill for the original PlayStation. The clearest memories I have of it are time-traveling pig cops and strippers, so there you go. It was not a first-person shooter either, following more in the footsteps of Lara Croft.
Duke Nukem 3D‘s “plot” is nestled not so elegantly between a loud fart and the menu options: As Duke heads for Los Angeles in hopes of taking a vacation, his spaceship is shot down by unknown hostiles. Quickly, Duke realizes that aliens are attacking LA and have mutated the LAPD into horrible monsters. With his vacation plans now ruined, Duke vows to do whatever it takes to stop this alien invasion, including spouting a bunch of corny one-liners if necessary. That’s it. You’ll go from level to level, shooting aliens, with the next goal after that of shooting more aliens. I’m guessing the final action Duke takes in this game is shooting an alien.
This is no graphical masterpiece, nor will I sit here and believe you when you say it was at the time of its release. Everything is pixelated, and not in a good way. The enemies are flat, and I don’t mean that in terms of their personalities; they vanish if you strafe around them too fast. When you use the kick button, Duke tries to stomp whatever is in front of him, and depending on what you position him against, his foot either looks like a kid’s foot or a giant’s foot. That said, still ridiculous. I’m also not a big fan of how Duke appears when presented with a mirror, seemingly ice skating on solid ground. The shooting, y’know, the thing you are doing for the majority of the game, is okay, but often feels empty, like putting a number of bullets into an enemy pillow; I can’t even tell if these shotgun blasts are connecting, but I guess they are since I’m not walking in a bloody pile of skin and bones.
Here’s the best thing about Duke Nukem 3D: secrets! This game is loaded with them, and I’m a big fan of clicking against a wall and having it suddenly swing open to reveal extra health or a new weapon. Ideally, the library in my future dream house with have many hidden cubbies, accessible only if you touch the specific copy of The Hobbit or A Separate Peace. There’s a Trophy for finding at least seventy of them, but there are well over three hundred based off the stats screen. I’m not trying to look up every single one for every single level, but when I do get curious or lost and unsure of what to do next, I’m finding this site to be very helpful.
Progress-wise, I’m just starting the Lunar Reactor, which is level 8 from episode 2, conveniently called Lunar Apocalypse. I really burned through the entirety of episode 1: L.A. Meltdown the first night I started playing, but it seems like the levels have steadily gotten both longer and more challenging. I am also finding myself saving and re-loading more often in fear of losing problems due to some problems I’ll mention in the next paragraph. After this episode, there are two more episodes to go, plus three expansions. Whew, that’s a lot of listening to Duke say “Damn… I’m looking good!” I hope to get through it all, but it might be just the four main episodes, we’ll see.
All is certainly not well in Megaton Edition. For starters, I’ve had the game hard-lock twice (though not at Duke’s war table), stutter and even skip ahead, and lose rewind progress to corruption. It’s a buggy port of an old game, no doubt about it. And then there’s the multiplayer aspect. Oh boy. Granted, I really shouldn’t have expected anything, but I wanted to give it a try. There are two modes after you select a ranked or non-ranked session: one on one or a free-for-all with up to eight players. Unfortunately, horrendous lag makes it nearly unplayable, and any actual interaction, meaning your Duke shooting another Duke, is purely comical. I’ve managed a few kills, but it all came down to auto-aim luck or a decently tossed pipe bomb. It’s just a sad mess.
Here’s to many more dead aliens and outdated pop culture references as I continue forward to be the brainless action hero Duke is destined to be, but only that.