Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of ‘Duke Nukem 3D’

Graham Host

1996 was a huge year for action movies. That year saw the theatrical release of The Rock, Independence Day, Twister, and Mission: Impossible, just to name a few. That same year, a game arrived on the scene that was in many ways inspired by movies such as these, as well as other over-the-top action movies of the ’80s and ’90s. Duke Nukem 3D rocked the world of gaming with a radically different take on first person shooters.



Duke Nukem 3D is emblematic of its era. The game was allowed certain liberties that could never happen today. Realizing from the start that the game was going to be violent, developer 3D Realms chose to embrace the gore instead of avoiding it. Firepower was drastically improved, and the game introduced new and novel ways to splatter your alien enemies. Pistols, shotguns, machine guns and rocket launchers were all included, along with pipe bombs and trip bombs to lay traps and take out large groups of enemies in massive explosions. More unique weapons included the Shrinker to reduce enemies down to size and stomp them to roadkill, and the Freezethrower to ice foes and shatter them solid. Even Duke’s basic kicking melee attack had an awesome name straight out of an action flick: “The Mighty Foot.”

Mature Themes


3D Realms also didn’t shirk from adult content in the game. The game features scantily clad women, posters for adult films galore, and even a Red Light District. Some of the female dancers even show Duke some skin when offered money.  These themes would become a hallmark of the Duke Nukem series.



One thing that amazed people at the time extremely advanced level of detail and rendering in the game’s visuals. You could watch the guts blast out of an alien and see them choke on blood as they died. The game really tested PC hardware at the time, and was a great excuse to update your rig.



When it came down to gameplay, Duke Nukem 3D rivaled the likes of Doom and other shooters of the era. Players were able to explore underwater using scuba gear and fly using a jetpack, which gave Duke a whole new perspective on the fight. Protective boots allowed Duke to traverse toxic or overheated terrain.

Duke Nukem 3D also let you attack and destroy almost anything you saw in the environment. Drink dispensers, toilets, anything was fair game!

Duke Nukem 3D Had Style

Another key to the game’s charm and attitude were the flippant and cool quips Duke would throw out. Channeling Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and other action movie heroes of the time, Duke would spit out lines like “It’s time to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I’m all outta gum!” while mowing down rows and rows of enemies.

First-person shooters have evolved a great deal since the original game, and later entries — particularly the long-awaited and hugely disappointing Duke Nukem Forever — are largely forgettable. However, there is no denying the fact that Duke Nukem had enough style to last these past 20 years and more. “Hail to the King, baby.”

Graham Host is a member of the Fan Contributor program. In his spare time, he enjoys the works of Terry Pratchett, DC Comics and a wide assortment of video games. Under no circumstances should he be fed after midnight.
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