Reinstall: Duke Nukem 3D

Chris Comiskey at

Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, we travel back to a simpler time, when strippers were sprites, and Duke was still king.

Here’s an average five minutes in the boots of gaming’s testosteroniest action hero: jet-packing around a football stadium, deploying holographic decoys of yourself, chucking RPGs and pipe bombs at a cyclopean giant that has missile launchers for hands. After toppling the monstrosity, you punt its giant eye through a pair of uprights. Then, you get it on with a harem of blondes and brunettes.

Duke Nukem 3D is still gaming’s best popcorn shooter, and revisiting it reminds me of how seriously FPSes have taken themselves since. Its competition in the ‘90s had space stations, generic caves and Nazi castles—Duke 3D has XXX movie stores and filthy, usable bathrooms (OK, Duke also has space stations, but they’re filled with half-naked babes strapped to alien monoliths). Duke even visits a seismically unstable Grand Canyon, a poisoned river and a hot lava waterfall. As you climb through the jagged overpasses, the landscape can crumble—rerouting your course entirely. Pawing the walls within levels reveals hidden pop culture references like an eviscerated Doom marine, an impaled Indiana Jones and a dangling, legless Luke Skywalker.

Duke is built off its little—and often morally questionable—details. Murdering a reptilian Enforcer some-times results in its carcass leaving a pile of poop behind. If you stepped in it, Duke might exclaim: “Sh*t happens.” Marching over a dead body leaves bloody footprints on the floor. You can toss hundred dollar bills at dancing harlots, and they’ll jiggle their pixilated boobs at you.Then, you can recover your money by unloading your chain gun into their defenseless, Benjamin-stuffed bikinis.

Those novel, tasteless touches capti-vated 3D’s audience in ‘96, especially those of us that were still in our teens at the time. And looking back, we may not have fully appreciated all the freedom Duke lent us. Much of that came from a vast inventory; everyone made use of Duke’s insane equipment differently. You have a gun that shrinks aliens into pear-sized pygmies, perfect for crushing under Duke’s size 13s. Your laser trip mines stick to any surface. There’s a weapon that freezes foes solid—if you ice aliens in the air, they’ll fall and shatter into a pile of cubes. The game lets you kick monsters in the face while simultaneously shotgunning them. 3D Realms wanted players to indulge—Duke’s jetpack may be the best example of that. It isn’t a tool for solving puzzles, but a playful means of floating through Duke’s (at the time) massive levels and levying some death from above.

My time-tested tactic is still deploying the Holoduke (a projected body-double that lured enemies to its location) just outside of an alien-infested entrance, scattering a few pipe bombs, opening the doors and juicing up on steroids for temporary Velociraptor-like speed. I’d then sprint to a safe distance and let the bad guys swarm around my Duke decoy. When enough aliens took the bait, I’d whip out my doubled-barreled rocket launcher—the Devastator—and spit a volley at the swarm. I’d cackle from afar as my rockets detonated with the pipe bombs, messily disconnecting the xenomorph torsos. If I bagged enough bodies, Duke’s gruff, baritone voice would respond with one of his many catchphrases, such as: “Your face, your ass—what’s the difference?”

Duke’s abrasive misogyny was a middle finger to the silent, faceless protagonist. His ego permeates the game’s action; for each weapon picked up, each alien shredded and each stripper ogled—you’d hear a corresponding quip. When Duke dispatches the second episode’s final boss, he whistles casually, discards the monster’s skull, drops his pants, sits down, unfolds a newspaper and literally utilizes the alien’s tattered throat as a porta potty.

Like Doom, Duke 3D is completely playable thanks to the way blazing player movement speed pairs with expressive weapons in a sprite-based 3D engine. Unlike Doom, 3D’s bravado makes Duke one of PC gaming’s crassest and cherished characters.

You can pick up Duke Nukem 3D for $5.99 from GOG.