[Nerd Alert! This review requires a good knowledge of “Duke Nukem 3D”, “Duke Nukem II” and classic 1990s FPS games in order to be fully enjoyed, or even understood.]
Well, since I seem to be playing a lot of the old “Duke Nukem” games recently and I’m always absolutely fascinated by pre-release beta versions of games (since they always look fairly different to the final game), I thought that I’d “review” the pre-release beta of “Duke Nukem 3D”.
Since it’s an unfinished game and more of a demonstration of the game engine than anything else, I won’t really be “reviewing” it in the conventional sense of the word. This is more of an article about the differences between the beta and the final version of the game, as well as some of my speculations and theories about what could have been….
Anyway, there’s a beta version of Duke 3D called “Lameduke” and 3D Realms put it on the internet for anyone to download( It’s #9 on the list of downloads at the end of the “3D Realms” page, although you might need to use DOSBox to get it to run). It’s also surprisingly different to the final game which came out in 1996.
In fact, it’s almost like they were trying to make a different “Duke Nukem” game entirely, but more on that later….
Anyway, let’s start with the intro screen:
Unfortunately, Duke was behind the menu when I took this screenshot.
(Interestingly, the video behind the intro screen shows Duke flying around using a jetpack. Whilst this feature was obviously included in the final game, I couldn’t find it anywhere in what I played of the beta version. )
In many ways, it’s clear that a lot of features hadn’t yet been added to the game, since you have infinite health, no ammo counters (your weapons just randomly stop working after a certain number of shots) and some of the enemies/NPCs aren’t animated.
If you’re looking to play this beta for fun, then you’re going to be disappointed. However, if you’re looking at it out of geeky curiosity and 1990s nostalgia, then there’s lots of interesting stuff. Like this very early version of part of one of the levels from “Duke Nukem 3D” …
This looks familiar…
One of the first differences you will notice between the beta and the final version of “Duke Nukem 3D” are the weapons. Although there are only five of them in the beta, most of them (apart from the pipebombs) are fairly different and, dare I say it, better than their counterparts in “Duke Nukem 3D”.
Anyway, let’s start with the default weapon – instead of a boring old boot, Duke gets a “Red Faction”-style electrified baton.
Interestingly, this is also about as gruesome as the beta gets. But more on that later..
In many ways, this weapon functions a lot like the chainsaw from “Doom II”. This weapon also seems to have limited ammunition since, if you use it for long enough, then Duke will just start using it as a club rather than as an electric baton.
The basic pistol looks fairly similar, but it has a slightly faster rate of fire and, interestingly, it also includes a laser sight too.
It’s the red dot in the middle of the screen.
Yes, Duke’s pistol originally had a laser sight and 3D Realms decided to remove this cool feature from the final game. Why?
Although the rapid-fire weapon in the beta looks a lot like the chaingun from the final version of “Duke Nukem 3D”, it’s actually a rapid-fire energy weapon. The projectiles kind of look like a blue version of the shrink ray’s projectiles in the final version. Interestingly, Duke also has a barcode tattooed on his hand too:
This later became the chaingun. I think I actually slightly prefer the gun in the beta version….
Finally, we come to the rocket launcher. This looks a lot better than the final version of the weapon, since you can see more of it when Duke’s holding it and it has a really cool placeholder animation when you fire it (which makes it look a lot like a flamethrower).
But that’s not all, when you initially select the rocket launcher, Duke doesn’t aim it at anything until you press the “fire” button. He just holds it in the way that you would realistically expect someone to hold a gun that they’re not using…
Note the [rather blurry in this picture] radiation warning in the top right of the screen which appears when you step into environmental hazards.
Again, I’m completely puzzled as to why 3D Realms left this cool little detail out of the final game.
As for the levels, most of them are very different to the levels in the final game and it’s pretty clear that the game was originally going to have four episodes too. I’m guessing that the titles (“Mrr Caliber”, “Mission Cockroach”, “Suck Hole” and “Hard Landing”) were placeholder titles. Or at least I hope that they were.
The bizarre episode titles.
There are also a few interesting features which weren’t implemented in the final game – for example, the lifts in E1M6 (probably the best level in the beta) come up with a (non-functional) directional menu when you enter them.
Interestingly, this wasn’t included in the final game (probably due to the limitations of the Build engine) and the concept of lifts where you can choose the direction seems more like something from a traditional 2D platform game than an old FPS game…
The direction option when you enter the lifts in E1M6.
Another amusing thing in E1M6 is the fact that the developers managed to find a way to sneak some posters from “True Lies” into the level too. Yes, Duke is basically just an exaggerated fictional version of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I was surprised to see such a blatant reference to this:
Whilst quite a few of the levels look like something from “Duke Nukem 3D” or “Doom”, a fair number of them have a very “classic sci-fi” kind of feel to them, which is more similar to “Duke Nukem II” than anything else (can you see where I’m going here?….).
This, coincidentally, brings me on to the…..
All of the enemies in the beta are different from the enemies from the final game. Whilst there are a few mostly non-animated human NPCs (a muscular man in a vest, a man in an orange shirt and a punk woman), all of the animated enemies are robots of some kind or another. And, believe it or not, they look random enough to be a collection of enemies from one of the really old 2D “Duke Nukem” games…
“Ha! Ha! You will NEVER defeat me! Wait a minute… YOU aren’t one of the Power Rangers!”
Bizarrely, one type of robot (although it could be an astronaut, it’s hard to tell) actually bleeds when you kill it. However, this isn’t the ludicrous gibs and blood spatter which we all know and love from the final game. If anything, it’s more like the relatively tame death animations from “Doom” and “Hexen”.
Yes, the beta is a lot less violent than the final version – to the point where it could almost be a possible German version of the final game (although the blood would probably have to be green or something like that too).
MY THEORY ABOUT THE BETA
Anyway, this got me thinking about the game as a whole. For starters, a lot of the settings are sci-fi based and most of the enemies are various types of random robots.
If anything, this beta seems like it was at least partly based on “Duke Nukem II”. The fact that one of the weapons is a laser/pulse gun and the rocket launcher acts like a flamethrower also seem to add extra weight to this, admittedly very unlikely, theory.
So, I guess that my wish to see a FPS version of “Duke Nukem II” has been at least been partially granted by none other than 3D Realms. How cool is that?
Anyway, since it’s an unfinished beta version of a game, I won’t be giving it a score out of five. So, this is the end of this review – or is it?