Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
Even today, the opening levels of Duke Nukem 3D [official site] are exciting places to poke around. Flick light switches, disturb rats in toilet cubicles, have a waz, bounce pool balls around the table, and can kick bins just because. I’d put it up there with Deus Ex and Gone Home on the list of Games Where It’s Cool To Poke At Stuff.
The face-shooting’s pretty fun too.
Realised in 1996 by 3D Realms, Duke Nukem 3D took an interesting turn down FPS History Lane. After yer Wolfensteins and yer Dooms, DN3D and its engine Build stayed in 2D while others raced towards 3D (the 3D rush was a dark time of many bad games), using new computer muscle to focus on complexity in its faux-3D world. You could turn lights on and off, knock things around, blow up walls and sewer grates to open new paths, peer through security cameras, lark about with a jetpack, and play with loads of objects in the world. That’s level design as much as it is technology, of course, but it fostered an interesting mindset of exploration and playfulness. Even today explore-y games’ worlds are rarely this pokeable, and DN3D was supposedly mostly about shooting monsters.
Yeah, I mean, you also you shoot monsters. It has some pretty good and weird guns, that Duke Nukem 3D, and a kicking foot that’s not much use but I adore it as an extension of Duke as a person in a real space. Pret-ty fun shooting, but it’s the weird real-world playground I most remember it for.
I always lost interest. As Duke Nukem 3D meandered through canyons, space stations, and generic buildings, I’d grow bored of key-hunting and switch puzzles and start noclipping through walls then skipping levels. It could never live up to the promise of those first few levels. But what an opening!