In: Reviews by Nick "Alsop Live" Dinicola5 Sep 2010
Duke Nukem Forever will live or die by its personality. People don’t remember Duke Nukem 3D for its spectacular gameplay, they remember it for Duke himself, and the game’s meta, sarcastic humor and blatant exploitation.
And that’s how Gearbox is selling Duke Nukem Forever. As I waited in line, a guy came out and started checking IDs to make sure everyone was 16 or older (there was nudity in the video that preceded the demo). I got my hand stamped and, to my surprise, the stamp was actually checked at the door. A few minutes after the ID check, a women in a schoolgirl outfit came out with a big bottle of white pills asking everyone if they wanted some steroids to help them through the wait (at this point I’d been in line almost an hour, and that’s just the media-only line). I held out my hand and she shook two pills into my hand. Everyone in line got some.
We were then led into a small theater, and Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford came out to introduce the game. He explained that he has a sentimental attachment to Duke, since he started his career in the gaming industry working on Duke 3D. He then left the company, started Gearbox, and watched the Duke drama with 3D Realms unfold from the outside like everyone else.
But in Randy’s own words, “You can’t fucking kill Duke!” He learned that the core of the team at 3D Realms kept working on the game even after they were laid off, and he wanted to do something. With the success of Borderlands under his belt, he was able to convince everyone necessary that Duke Nukem Forever was worth the financial risk. And thus the most infamous game in the industry was reborn.
The demo itself was running on the Xbox 360, but the game will also come out for the PS3 and PC. It opened, in typical Duke fashion, with The Man himself looking down into a urinal (press RT to pee). I could interact the the sinks and hand dryers, though there wasn’t much point in doing so. Leaving the bathroom brought me to a locker room filled with dead soldiers. The three guys left alive were standing around a white board discussing a strategy that’s inevitability doomed to horrible failure. Two of them ran off to fight (but not before dropping a South Park reference) and I could draw out my own strategy on the white board. Scribble something or erase everything — no matter what I did the third soldier was amazed. To paraphrase him, “Wow, I don’t understand it, but if we had been doing that before than that guy over there would still have his arm. And one of his balls.”
A few explosions later and I was riding an elevator up to a football field with a rapid-fire rocket launcher in hand. As soon as I surfaced I was fighting a rocket-armed cyclops. The fight itself was very simple, just strafe and shoot and pick up ammo when you run out, but the sound and scale kept things surprisingly intense. Once the cyclops was dead its eye fell out and I kicked a field goal with it.
Yeah, that’s the Duke I remember.
A few opening credits rolled and the screen pulled back to reveal Duke himself playing the game while moaning. Looking down, I saw two women in schoolgirl outfits on their knees in front of him. One popped her head up and asked “How was it? The game, Duke. How was the game?” and he answered, “After 12 fucking years, it better be good.”
Okay, that’s the Duke I remember.
The next playable area was a driving section. It seems Duke has his own car now, a big pick-up truck with the nuke symbol splashed across the back. I was driving through a rather plain looking desert canyon, running over a few pigs, dodging a few missiles shot from alien drop-ships, and on paper this should be a boring sequence. It’s nothing we haven’t done dozens of times before in dozens of other games. But it’s still fun. The car can’t turn much by itself — you have to hit B to take sharp turns, and by forcing you to hit a button to make most of the turns the game keeps the action engaging. The fast-pace feels like a reward, visual proof that I’m doing things right.
After a huge jump the car ran out of gas, and the shooting began. The many guns scattered around were the typical FPS arsenal: Sniper rifle, shotgun, pistol — but then I also got the always enjoyable shrink gun and crushed more than a few ugly pigs under my boot. I then hopped into a turret and gunned down more pigs, but for a turret sequence there were surprisingly few enemies running at me. Another drop-ship flew in, blew up the turret, and the demo ended.
Duke Nukem Forever is a first-person shooter, and some people are bound to be disappointed in it just because it’s so genre specific. It hits all the FPS cliches, but it’s impossible to take the game seriously since it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It revels in these cliches, exaggerates them, they define the mood of the game. So to hate the cliches is to hate the game, and the game is quite fun. I didn’t see anything that would require 12 years of development, or that would appease 12 years of anticipation, but no game can live up to that much hype and history.
The demo is fun, we’ll just have to wait and see if “fun” is enough.