This game came out at a time when real 3D animation was at it's infancy, game wise. For it's day, it was groundbreaking and definitely deserved it's legendary reputation. It introduced a fastpaced and actionfilled gameplay with many unforgettable enemies and weapons.
No other game had weapons that could shrink the enemies and let you step on them. No other game provided enemies like the aliens you faced in Duke Nukem 3D. No other game was this politically incorrect as it had strippers, gratuitous violence and delightful oneliners (for it's day) that basically blew the minds of even experienced gamers away.
It was magnificent, and it's only real competitor at the time was Quake, which struggled with the very first incarnation of a fully 3D animated world.
You're Duke. A manly man with a chin that has the size and armor properties of your average Abrams Tank. You also run around with weaponry powerful enough to put said tank to shame. It's fairly straightforward. You shoot anything that moves, most things that don't, and progress through levels by pushing buttons, collecting keycards and activating scripted events.
For it's time, magnificently made and well designed. Adding flight (through a Jetpack) was another innovation that no one had seen in a shooter before. Basically, the game provides all sorts of new and interesting ways to kill your enemies. If you haven't played any games that's come after Duke Nukem 3D, that is.
Let's face it. It's old. The game looks horrible by today's standards, and features 2D enemies and 2D environment setpieces locked inside a 3D world made mostly of boxes. Even at the time, the graphics were slightly questionable compared to the innovations made in 3D animation and the quality offered by 2D animation as well.
Still, the game developers did a good job tying the world together, visually. There's plenty of problems with the graphics engine, and the set designs, but it's not directly bad. Just... not fulfilling it's potential.
This is where you're starting to lose the warm and fuzzy feeling provided by the nostalgia hindsight. Even though mouselook is an option, it's hardly required. It's a throwback to the Doom days, in that regard. Pretty much everything is in your straight line of sight, and looking up and down is hardly needed. Where in today's games, your control of your character is usually nigh unlimited, Duke Nukem 3D just didn't stand the passage of time at all.
In fact, mouselook in this game actually makes it feel... wrong. It just doesn't work well with this game, as it's just not designed for that function. And that will in turn make any newbies to this age of shooters go "to hell with this...". Hell, it'll turn many experienced gamers from this game as they're used to better by now.
Test of time:
How well did Duke Nukem 3D fare over the years? Not well, I'm afraid. The game was excellent back in the day, but just doesn't deliver the goods these days. The controls are clunky and unnecessarily difficult. The level design is exceptionally poor compared to most shooters that followed this game, even though it was better than most of it's contemporary competition. The graphics are ugly as hell, and the sound effects are just as poor.
If you never played this, I honestly suggest not buying this at all. It was bloody excellent once upon a time, but there's much better shooters out there for your money. Several of them are on Gog.com even, as Unreal, Painkiller and so on.
If you have played it, however, and feel a need to sometimes visit memory lane, it's not too pricey. Buying this on Gog.com will allow you to peruse your memories of times past, whenever you feel like it. It's cheap and quick entertainment and will allow you to show your friends how we played shooters Old School. Just don't start it up with the "Oh my God this is going to be sooo great!" attitude. Remember that many many years have passed since you played this as youngling, and things have changed greatly since then.
Good game, once upon a time. Not so good anymore. I'll probably buy it so I can delete the "hacked" version that takes so much work to run on Vista. Also, it'll let me take my own 30 minute trips through memory lane when work is slow. But as with the version I already have on my computers, it won't be the same as it was back then.