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PC Game Review: Duke Nukem

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GAME: Duke Nukem

DEVELOPER: Apogee Software

PUBLISHER: Apogee Software

YEAR: 1991


Hello, followers and fellow gamers! Today I'm taking a bit of a brief look at one of my favourite DOS games, the first Duke Nukem.


Duke Nukem is a game that brings back some of my earliest gaming memories. It's 6 o'clock in the morning, my dad is asleep on a saturday morning when I walk over to his computer and turn it on. Using a simple to use DOS menu, I navigate to the game I love playing the most. Duke Nukem. I load up the game and I am greeted with the familiar PC speaker sound effects and the EGA 16 colour graphics.


To this day whenever I play Duke Nukem, those memories come flooding back and I'm instantly back in that room, only lit by the glow of the CRT monitor, surrounded by the sounds from the PC speaker below me. It is probably my earliest gaming memory as far as I remember and during a lot of my childhood, Duke Nukem became a borderline obsession for me. It was my first encounter with a sidescrolling shooter (this was before my mother had gotten any video games) and it blew my young mind.



A typical level in Duke Nukem. Duke surrounded by barrels of nuclear waste while gathering footballs, flags and floppy disks of his own game.


The story in Duke Nukem is pretty simple. Doctor Proton, a mad genious, has created an army of advanced "tech bots" to take over the world and it's up to the pink shirt wearing special agent Duke Nukem to put a stop to his plans. The game is divided into 3 episodes, with the first episode taking place on Earth, the second episode taking place on the Moon and the third and final episode taking place back on Earth in the future. All the episodes have distinct visual styles and unique levels.


Gameplay wise the game plays like a run'n'gun shooter, with focus on collecting things for points and killing enemies, as well as finding keys to open doors in the level (a game mechanic that survived through the entire franchise). However, there are some things that helps keep the game interesting. For one, the health items can often be interacted with, an example being turkey legs you can shoot to get a whole turkey (which makes no sense but just roll with it), and soda cans which you can either pick up for 200 points and a health point, or you can shoot them, causing them to fly up in the air and if you catch them before they are gone, you gain 1000 points but no health points (I guess since the soda vaporized). This offers a little bit of tactical choice since you can either go for points, or go for health. Another is the various upgrades you get throughout each episode, like the robot hand which can create bridges to walk across, the grapple hook which can let you hang on to ledges, high jump boots which allows you to jump much higher. These upgrades may seem a bit similar to Metroid though given the linear design of the game, they're more there to mix up the gameplay a bit as you get further into the levels, and less to give additional options for the player.



The game makes good use of static bakgrounds upon which the gameplay moves, keeping it visually interesting, and fairly impressive for the time.


The level design can be a bit obtuse at times. Especially in some of the later levels. At times it's downright maze-like and relies a lot on making the player perform tricky jumps, which the somewhat blocky movement sometimes can work against. That's not to say the game is entirely unenjoyable, just that it hasn't aged all that well in some regards. Each episode ends with a showdown between you and the mad doctor himself, usually all you have to do is just shooting him until his floating chair blows up. It's not really that interesting and kind of an anticlimatic boss battle in all honesty.


Graphically the game looks alright. It utilizes the 16 colour EGA graphics to a fairly decent degree and offers a lot of variety in the level designs, giving different backgrounds and settings to explore. Granted a lot of it was ripped from other games, but it all does feel somewhat cohesive in a strange way. The sprites are very easily visible against the background and there's nothing I can really complain about. The scrolling effect is also very effective for the time and shows off what Apogee could do with strict limitations given the game had to run in EGA and with PC speaker sound effects only. And the PC speaker sound effects are all pretty good. It's a shame the game has no soundtrack unlike Dark Ages and Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure which came out around the same time, but I guess you could just put on something in the background while playing the game and it'd work fine.



More barrels of nuclear waste. And a space ship being refueled in the background...


All in all, Duke Nukem is a bit of a flawed classic and looking past my own nostalgia it's really not the best game in the franchise. But it definitely is significant in that it was a successful character for Apogee and a shareware hit for the time, eventually leading to Duke Nukem 3D which itself was a bit of a reimagining of this game, and it's easy to see why. The gameplay is addictive, the sound effects and graphics work well together for being so limited and it's still really playable today, although it does feel dated and a bit aggravating in terms of level design (which is sadly a bit of an Apogee staple). Even so, I would easily recommend Duke Nukem as a classic DOS game to try out if you haven't, even if that's largely due to my own nostalgia with this game.


Now, Duke Nukem is a bit difficult to get a hold of these days. It was possible to get it via the 3D Realms Anthology, but after Gearbox Software bought the rights to Duke Nukem, any digital copies of the game have been pulled from online stores. It's still possible to get hold of the game if you do a google search, but be aware that obtaining free copies of the full game is still illegal.

Finding the full game on eBay can also be a bit tricky. That's not to say it's impossible but it may be expensive. Though keep in mind that some copies of Duke 3D (the big box version) contained full versions of Duke 1 and 2 as well, and those are really easy to find on eBay so if you want a legal way to play the game, just get one of those.


STORY: 8/10



SOUND: 5/10




Source: https://alyxxgameroom.blogspot.no/2018/04/pc-game-review-duke-nukem.html

Game developments at http://nukedprotons.blogspot.com

Check out my music at http://technomancer.bandcamp.com

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