During the last Holiday Steam Sale, I was given Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition by a friend, and decided to play it again for the first time in twenty years. DN3D is one of the games that trail-blazed the modern FPS, introducing the action-comedy premise that inspired similar 90's shooters like Blood and Redneck Rampage. A lot of its ideas were innovative and fresh, from Duke's arsenal of unconventional weapons like shrink-rays and jetpacks, to an onslaught of callback humor and pop-culture references that more or less predicted what they internet would develop into, back when we insisted on calling it the world-wide web.
The first time I played Duke 3D was 1996, the very year it was released. During a highschool lunch break I went over to a friend's house and we played through the first few levels. Being fourteen, I was enthralled with Duke's action hero one-liners and how you could make a stripper flash her tasseled ta-tas with a click of a button, concepts that hadn't really materialized in video gaming (despite there being like, seven Leisure Suit Larry games by this point). I later got a part-time job at a game rental store that was experimenting with in-store LAN gaming, and we spent the after-hours playing multiplayer "Dukematches." A fun time was had by all.
Anyway, Duke Nukem 3D can fight right off.
I say that realizing how the humor and tone that once made Duke a hit have also poisoned his games and the franchise as a whole, partially because it has aged poorly, and partially because I grew the hell up. Finding the butchered Doom Marine or Luke Skywalker in a secret room might have elicited a chuckle back in the day, but referencing the OJ Simpson slow-speed chase is going to fly over even the most cultured millennial's head. Duke himself is an ego-centric badass/asshole (a badasshole?) with an arsenal of toilet humor and stolen Bruce Campbell lines repeated ad nauseam.
But the elephant in the room is Duke Nukem 3D's treatment of women, which shifts tone so hard you can hear the vertebrae popping. Throughout Duke Nukem 3D you encounter prostitutes and strippers on the job, which is stupid enough given the game is supposed to take place during an alien invasion, but it gets steadily and uncomfortably worse. In Episode 3 you visit a back-alley abortion clinic, complete with a table with leg straps, lost of blood, and what looks like a trash bin full of unidentified (read: fetal) corpses. But that's nothing compared to the women Duke finds stripped naked, and bound up in alien hives. These captives are often surrounded by alien eggs, and when you click one, they utter a pained "killlll meee."
Considering everything we're seeing, the implication is obvious: these women are being kidnapped, raped, and left to die giving birth to an alien life-form. And DN3D doesn't even try the cop-out "face-full of alien wing wong" path Alien took. The expansion episode "The Birth" even shows a video of a pregnant woman painfully thrashing on a table while aliens look on, implying she's about to give birth.
And Duke has nothing to say about it. He doesn't try to rescue them, doesn't seem to care they're left to die. They're shit out of luck. Duke just goes back to spouting "your face, your ass, what's the difference" and peeing for health. Putting aside your opinions on women, the role of women in video games, how women are objectified in entertainment, and so forth... this is just fucking gross, 3D Realms. And I'm ashamed of my fourteen year old self for not recognizing how hideous this is when I first played this game.
I haven't played Duke Nukem Forever, but from what I've heard this bizarre, out-of-character body horror wasn't just carried over, it was turned up to eleven. It's like they edited the giant maggot scene from Galaxy of Terror into the middle of Lethal Weapon 2. It's like every guy nerd who pops a boner over the Slave-Girl Leia outfit, while every woman in the room is left thinking "Jesus Christ, did that fat slug thing just rape her?!"
I'm really can't understand or tolerate the reasoning behind this. There were a lot of games that aped Duke Nukem's comedic approach, but none of them ever approached the level of sexual violence portrayed here.
This realization has retroactively ruined any sense of enjoyment or nostalgia I had for this game. It's offensive how 3D Realms plays with the concept like it's just another sexy display, meant to titillate an audience of whom I can only assume are Roosh V fans. The suggestion that they don't see a difference is worrying, and I feel the need to distance myself from this game before I get caught with it and put on some government watch-list.
Seriously, 3D Realms. Fuck right off.