What is Duke Nukem 3D?
Duke Nukem 3D is at a very basic level, a Doom clone. The premise is the same - you're some dude in a labyrinth shooting monsters and picking up items and bigger guns and keys. However, Duke is a different game entirely besides the premise, as the environment is much more interactive, the monsters are more intelligent and actually pose a bigger challenge than the measly zombies with guns and Duke actually feels like a real person rather than a mute space marine, though he doesn't really have a character, more like a voice to spurt pop-culture references that only 30 year old people would get today.
Gameplay in Duke 3D is very similar to Doom, hence the term "Doom clone". This doesn't mean it isn't fun though, and in fact Doom clone should mean the game is very fun, and in most cases it does, especially in this case. There is a lot to do in most of the levels, such as kill quite literally hundreds of enemies in a level, tip strippers, play pinball (press space while next to a pinball machine and listen to the sounds), play pool and much more, though the actual level of interactivity is fairly basic due to technical limitations. Duke Nukem Forever does offer more interactivity in its distractions, allowing you to actually play the minigames with a proper pinball table, realistic pool table physics and generally more of them, however DNF is a much worse game for reviewing another time. Duke 3D is a very fun shooter with fairly meaty and loud guns, with tonnes of variety between each of them, much more so than Doom. For example, there are 9 guns and a kick for melee. There are fairly generic guns like the pistol, the shotgun and the chaingun which all do what you would expect them to, but there are also things like the rocket launcher and pipe bomb which also do what you would expect, however after the shrink ray, is where things get interesting. The shrink ray shrinks monsters (obviously) which allows you to stomp on them while miniaturized, however this more often than not is a last resort as you are still open to being shot while stomping them. The Devastator is possibly the best weapon in the game, as it is quite literally a rapid fire mini rocket launcher, with two barrels firing two rockets at a time, with 99 shots maximum, which do tonnes of damage. The Freezethrower also does what you think, throwing balls of ice shards at enemies, which then freeze them, but it's often a time-buyer as you have to kick them or shoot them with another weapon to smash them or they will thaw and it doesn't really have another use. Also bosses are invincible to both the shrink ray and freezethrower.
The graphics in Duke 3D look incredibly similar to Doom, however it is a technically more advanced engine with a very interesting and amazing backstory, being developed single-handedly by a 17 year old Ken Silverman since the early 90s after Wolfenstein 3D came out. You can watch an in-depth video on the history of the engine here:
The premise of the graphics engine is similar to Doom's too, using sectors for both the shaping of the levels, lighting effects and use of textures on the walls, however it is much more advanced, as it allows for native use of ramps, forming ramps, conveyor-belt floors, swimming underwater and much more stuff that nerds will be interested in knowing, which can all be viewed in the Shadow Warrior test map, which is more interesting than a test map in Duke 3D since Shadow Warrior's engine is more advanced and allows for more cool advances. Again, like Doom, there are multiple graphics mods which greatly improve the fidelity, usable in the biggest used source port, eDuke32.
Every Duke player recognizes this level:
Of course, this is the first level and it is the second thing you ever see in Duke 3D. However, below is a screenshot from Duke 3D HRP (Hi-Res Pack) which greatly improves the look of Duke, including 3D models, HD textures and OpenGL lighting effects:
As you can see, the graphics are greatly improved and brings Duke to the present with great looking graphics. Obviously the engine is still limited so the models at times can look pretty ugly, but then again the enemies are aliens so that may well be an intention of the devs.
The music in Duke 3D is good, but not really anything to write home about. It doesn't particularly sound like anything you would listen to, and does a better job at being ambient background music than anything else. However, I am obligated to post a video link to the E1L1 song so here it is:
However, the main theme song is the most iconic theme song from the 90s, including Shadow Warrior and Doom 2, so here it is if you want to listen to it, both in its original Grabbag glory and the DNF remake by Megadeth, which is much better.
Duke Nukem 3D is still thriving via a few multiplayer source ports, mods being made available to download from 3D Realms' website and ModDB for use in eDuke32 and a redux available on Steam which includes the atomic edition and 3 different expansion packs all in a brand new OpenGL engine and the original DOSBox version packaged together, and multiplayer is currently in development for it. Though it is less appreciated today than Doom, it still has a very active community.
In conclusion, Duke Nukem 3D is a very good shooter, a good Doom clone at best and is well worth your time and money, offering hundreds of hours of fun and is in my opinion, one of the best shooters in history alongside Doom. I highly recommend picking it up on Steam more so than anywhere else like GOG.com as it comes with a better source port and the expansion packs, but you can still download eDuke for the mod support.