Monday, 25 June 2018

Gaming's Best Levels #5: Hollywood Holocaust (E1L1) - Duke Nukem 3D


A journey through some of video gaming's greatest levels. Or, the ones we like at least.

There are few games with the chutzpah to throw its players into a world of seedy porn theatres and red light districts. But that's Duke Nukem 3D for you. Released in 1996 by 3D Realms, this game about the ultimate 90's hero (basically a cross between Arnie and a Baywatch character) was one I definitely wasn't allowed to play. Fortunately, that's what cousins are for: I spent the entire summer of 1998 blasting through the Nintendo 64 port in co-op.

It wasn't until I played the PC version much later, that I realised what those 'film' booths in the back of the gun shop in 'Gun Crazy' (the N64 version's of the 'Red Light District' level) were all about.

Duke Nukem 3D is part of a weird phase in first person shooter history. Alongside Blood and Shadow Warrior,  DN3D is one of the often overlooked Build engine games - also known as a 2.5D game. Games made on the Build engine were situated between sprite-based games (such as Doom and Wolfenstein) and early 3D games like Quake. Yeah, games in the 90's went through a particularly bad puberty and just got uglier as they went on.

'Hollywood Holocaust' (great potential thrash band name) is the very first level of DN3D, one which perfectly showcased the capabilities of the Build engine. Whilst many games of the era were busy rendering 3D models and environments which resembled Helen Keller's attempts at papier-mâché, DN3D made its levels far more fluid and interactive. I can't think of many other games were you can go for a piss in a urinal. Or tip stripper NPCs.

There are certainly better levels in even vanilla DN3D. 'Raw Meat', 'Hotel Hell', 'L.A. Rumble', and 'Red Light District', are all strong contenders with excellent level design. But it's the very first level which does it for me, simply because it sets the tone for the rest of the game. Mainly as a time capsule for 90's junk culture. The level starts on the seedy backstreets of L.A, and then in a porno cinema. The set-up is simple: Alien scum have conquered Earth and shot down your spacecar. So instead of some RnR, you have to slaughter everything in your path. Groovy.

The humour is right there off the bat. One of the first Easter Eggs you see on the backstreets is a huge billboard with "INNOCENT?" etched across. A fairly obscure reference now perhaps, but it's a clear reference to the infamous OJ Simpson trial. This satirical brand of humour is DN3D's wheelhouse, and there weren't many areas of the 90's zeitgeist which the game didn't touch upon. It mixes parody, reference, and toilet humour. That last one is literal in this level - visit the cinema's toilets and you'll see those brown rank-and-file enemy creatures taking a shit in the cubical. With the expected facial expressions and all.

But it's not just in the humour where Hollywood Holocaust thrives (even if it does feature my favourite line: "I don't have time to play with myself", said as Duke plays an arcade version of Duke Nukem II). The level is designed to demonstrate the chaotic Doom-style gameplay. It's a smallish level, but it can be completed in around 30 seconds if you know what you're doing. Perhaps you'll grab the rocket launcher and blow your way through the entrance to the cinema, cutting out half the level. Or maybe you'll blast a hole in the cinema screen (which shows a stripper, and you blow a hole in the crotch), go behind to the secret area, grab the jetpack, and complete the level that way.

All in all, Hollywood Holocaust shows that Duke Nukem 3D has balls of steel.


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