Review: 3D Realms Anthology – Part IV

Written by James T. George

Review: 3D Realms Anthology – Part IV

I saved the final part of this series for what may be the crown jewel of the 3D Realms legacy: Duke Nukem.

Actually, I saved shooters in general for this part, including a few you may not have heard of thanks to Duke’s storied history, but even with those, Duke Nukem is still the king of shooters in this collection.

I’ll start with the other shooter games, and save Duke for the end. It pays to be the king, baby.

Read the other parts of our review of this anthology:

Part I
Part II
Part III

 Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold & Planet Strike

Original release: December 3, 1993 and October 28, 1994 (respectively)

Blake Stone had two games in this collection, and they are very similar to one another. In fact, all of the shooters in this collection have striking similarities to each other, both gameplay wise and graphically. For this reason, I’m grouping how I review these games by series.

Blake Stone would appear to be the outer space version of Duke Nukem or Wolfenstein. When it comes down to it, all these 3D shooters of the early 90s look the same, from Doom to Quake, Dark Forces, and so on. What makes each different is the story (if there is one worth talking about), weapons, and textures.

Black Stone’s two outings, while being nearly a year apart, are virtually indistinguishable from one another, save for a few UI changes. You are shooting your way through numerous future-scapes, tasked with killing both human enemies and monstrous creatures who were genetically created to wage war on earth.

As typically found in this era, you don’t have any vertical movement for aiming, but instead move around blocky rooms shooting whatever is directly in front of you with a variety of weapons you’ll find along the way. To get through each level, you must find pass cards dropped by enemies to open new doors.

These games don’t have the humor of Duke Nukem, and for that reason don’t stand out as much. That said, both of Blake’s titles are as sound as it’s cousins in this genre. If you need more time in this area, play them. They are great, but predictable.


Rise of the Triad: Dark War

Original release: December 21, 1994

Rise of the Triad: Dark War is another 3D shooter that, frankly, looks and plays just like the others in this collection. I don’t say this to knock the game, as the same criticisms could be applied to any. Instead, I’ll talk a little about what makes this one different.

I liked the UI in this game better than the Blake Stone one, because it was more minimalist. The game world simply seemed bigger on my screen, and I liked that. There were lots of weapons to choose from as well, like revolvers, rockets, baseball bats, and machine guns. The majority of them can be duel-wielded too.

This is another shooter that you should check out. It offers the same general experience as any other in this collection, and they are all good fun.


Shadow Warrior (Classic)

Original release: May 13, 1997

Shadow Warrior is a departure from the other clone-shooters in this collection. It expands greatly on the technology used for past games that 3D Realms put out, and it does a great job making itself feel fresh by comparison.

The largest differentiation Shadow Warrior offers is vertical and horizontal aiming, more in line with modern control conventions for shooters. Instead of arrows, you’ll use the mouse to maneuver your targeting reticule, and the more comfortable WASD movement controls. It feels much faster and more intense than other games as a result. Difficulty goes up too, as you need to be more accurate when in combat. The game has a plethora of guns and melee weapons, including a great samurai sword you start the game with.

Also interesting to mention is the two versions of the game you get with the collection. You’ll have the original version, playable in DOSbox, as well as a version that was ported to Valve’s source engine. Needless to say, the Source version looks and plays much better, as it is built on more modern technology.

Of all the non-nukem shooters in this collection, this is the only one I can honestly classify as “must play” due to the plethora of enhancements to the 3D Realms formula it offers. Do not skip this title.


Duke Nukem 1 & 2

Original release: July 1, 1991 and December 3, 1993 (respectively)

I would not be surprised if most gamers were unaware that Duke Nukem was a side-scroller in its first two iterations.

The games both play like the other side-scrollers offered in the 3D Realms library, with numerous weapons and gadgets to pick up and use as you kill all the aliens in sight. Most of Duke’s trademark bad-assery comes by way of dialog screens, so the more famous soundbites have not made their appearance yet.

These games, despite not being what most expect when looking back on Duke’s history, are still very fun, and quite challenging. Duke Nukem 2 takes a well-oiled side-scroller formula and amps up the graphic look and general level of mayhem. More weapons are brought in, as well as some vehicles to enhance your skill set.

While I wouldn’t say these games offer anything in terms of framework for future adventures of Duke Nukem, but they sure offer some great shooting game play in the 2D space.


Duke Nukem 3D

Original release: January 29, 1996

Duke Nukem 3D is the game that propelled the King to his throne. It was here that Duke Nukem became the forbidden fruit of the 90s. Kids everywhere wanted to play the game featuring the foul-mouthed hero, complete with some serious boundary pushing content for the time.

Shooter wise, it’s just like some of the ones I mentioned above. Plenty of guns, decent 3D graphics (for the time) and lots of sass. Every word that comes out of the Duke’s mouth is part of a hilarious one-liner, and has propelled him to legendary status as a result. Saving Los Angeles from aliens will never again be as fun.

This is the game that, to me at least, is the game that represents the entire anthology. Everything that 3D Realms stood for is represented in this game. There is no doubt in my mind that everyone that enjoys shooters needs to play this game. It’s part of the medium’s history. It’s a classic.


Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project

Original release: May 21, 2002

The Manhattan Project brings Duke Nukem back to his roots in a well presented action platformer that I was not expecting to enjoy as much as I did. It is the most recent game in the entire Anthology, arriving in 2002, and uses many updated conventions while revisiting the platforming space.

The game is fully realized in 3D but limited to the traditional 2D movement. You play as Duke, complete with sassy dialog and a plethora of weapons, and are unleashed into New York City to once again take on pig men and other aliens that stand in your way of freeing the city.

The game looks great as far as 2002 games go, and the controls are sharp and easy to pick up. Duke gets a great double jump added to his repertoire, and the weapons you pick up do a great deal of damage to every enemy you come across. Melee attacks are also part of the formula, including a slide attack that I found myself using more than any weapon most of the time.

Most players may be familiar with the Duke Nukem Forever saga, resulting in a horrible game that did not do justice to the character at all. Fans of the character waited so long for Duke to come back that they may have overlooked the Manhattan Project release due to it not being a shooter. This is a great return to form for Duke, and may be the only game since the 90s to actually represent the good parts of Duke’s place in gaming. It’s a fantastic platformer, and one of the standout titles of the entire 3D Realms anthology.


Part 4 Wrap-up:

Whew. That’s all of them. 32 Games. What a collection.

What amazes me about this selection of games from the anthology is that the two games I ended up liking most were not the games I thought I’d be touting. Manhattan Project and Shadow Warrior are the two best games reviewed in this article, despite Duke Nukem 3D being so notable. I never played either before this review, and I’m glad I got the exposure to them through this process, because I’m itching to go back and play them again.

All that said, I’m not quite done with the 3D Realms Anthology. Stay tuned to LevelSave.com for one more write up talking about the collection as a whole, as well as a number of final thoughts I have. Look for it soon!


The 3D Realms Anthology was provided to LevelSave for review purposes and was played on a PC via Steam.

About the author

James T. George

Jim, a proud native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, enjoys a variety of things other than games, movies, music, sports, and technology, but usually falls prey to character limits when filling out

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