8th June 2011 - The infamous piece of vaporware known as Duke Nukem Forever is a little more than a week away from its official release, and there are still questions being asked on all sides by both fans and people who have never heard of the series. Will it live up to the hype? How will it be different from anything else on the market? Will it outsell Call of Duty? Thankfully, the demo for the game is out and it does answer some of those questions. But is this demo one glittering gem of The King's golden return to gaming after twelve years in development hell, or does it have the whiff of what turns out to be a giant duke?
First off, I have to give a wag of my finger not directly to the demo itself, but to Gearbox Software for making this demo exclusive only to those who either bought the Game of the Year Edition of Borderlands, or pre-ordered Duke Nukem Forever. The nature of a demo is to allow an undecided buyer have a taste of what the full game will be like and, depending on that particular person's taste in games, whether or not he or she will buy it. The set up of the First Access demo is flawed because those who pre-ordered the game are either fans of Duke or of the company, ergo, they don't need to be convinced. Furthermore, it can only diminish sales because the demo's impression can also make that exact same cluster of potential buyers cancel their orders if they don't like what they've seen. Not clever business sense Gearbox. Also, after not seeing Duke for fifteen years, can you blame gamers at large for being MASSIVELY skeptical of the product being presented after being in development for so long? Alright, off my soapbox, now to my exclusive taste of Duke Nukem Forever.
The first half of the demo is the exact same as the one that Gearbox showcased at PAX in 2009, from the interactive whiteboard to fighting the Cycloid Emperor at the end. I won't rehash it because footage is everywhere of it on the internet, so I'll be focusing a bit more on the second half.
Transitioning from the Cycloid fight, we now have Duke in his Nitrous equipped Monster Truck in the middle of a desert. After a driving sequence lasting about five minutes, the truck runs out of gas for obvious reasons. The rest of the demo is Duke scavenging the area for a tank of gas for him to get moving. Along the way, several gunfights break out as well as a physics puzzle and a very minor platforming section. The demo ends when Duke refills his truck, a re-cut version of the Reveal Trailer plays and it is over.
If I have any issue with the presentation of this demo it would have to be in its second half. The game has been advertised as a return to what Duke Nukem 3D was about, being a colorful light-hearted, almost campy, alternative to other action games. The second half of the demo could have showcased it with it being in Las Vegas, in space, or I don't know, the Bermuda Triangle. But you are stuck in the middle of the desert. In an industry where dark gray and brown is used way too often in 18+ shooters, this doesn't exactly bode well.
That small hiccup aside, I am proud to announce that Duke Nukem is still the misogynistic meathead that we all know and love. The one liners I heard from him are funny, from how he punches a pig creature's head clean off to how he casually twirls his gold plated pistol is full of character, and Jon St. Jon hasn't lost his touch voicing Duke. Everything from the loading screens to the dialogue between Duke and the EDF soldiers, everything is just right. There were some minor issues with texture rendering and a few frame rate hiccups, but probably nothing a day one patch won't cure in the full game.
Duke Nukem Forever's gameplay is going to be polarizing to some people, specifically the Duke purists. The gunplay mechanics in DNF, at its very core, is identical to a modern shooter. You can only carry two weapons at a time, and you have regenerating health. Seriously, with the exception of the function of two buttons being switched, the set up is the same as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. There has been a lot of bellyaching over this from fans, and a lot of condescending hate being thrown at the developers. There has even been accusations that this set up was to accommodate the lack of buttons on a console controller as opposed to a keyboard, the “dumbing it down” argument. I, however, see absolutely nothing wrong with this set up for Duke Nukem Forever. I've played Duke 3D, I enjoy it as a classic of its time, but at the risk of flaming nostalgic fans, it's old and dated. Furthermore, I can fill up pages of references of how the shooting genre was changed for the better with the trends set down by the original Halo. About how having only two weapons encourages flexibility and preference and how coupled with regenerating health allows the player to continuously go into engaging combat without spending countless time searching for health and ammo. And about how the mechanics of a game don't necessarily reflect the game's aesthetic or tone (look at Uncharted and Gears of War). But I'll save space just by saying this, “standards have changed, Duke has changed with it, but he's still Duke. Don't be a jerk.”
To qualify my statements that Duke is still Duke, let's look at the changes to the modern shooter formula. The regenerating health bar, represented by Duke's EGO, does go down whenever he is taking fire and regenerates after not being hit for a while. However, during gameplay, I discovered that as the game continues, Duke's EGO bar increases. Assuming Gearbox knows what they're doing, this will lead to Duke taking more punishment down the line and facing higher escalating threats, such as the twenty foot high lizard monster with a gatling laser that keeps showing up in the trailers. Also, I swear Duke can beat Marcus Fenix in a footrace without sprinting. Seriously, Duke's movement speed is still great for bullet dodging. As for only being able to carry two weapons at a time, the level design still seems to encourage exploration, but maintains engagement. For instance, I can easily pick off all of the pig cops coming after me with Duke's Railgun, a sniper rifle that makes heads asplode, or I can pick up The Ripper lying around and run in guns blazing, or look in the run down house, find some pipe bombs and use those, or find and use the Holoduke in the back of a discarded truck on my right side to mess with them. The game isn't realistic, but it knows how to let the player have fun, a trademark of Duke Nukem if I ever saw one. As an addendum, if anyone was wondering what happened to the Mighty Boot, Duke still uses it in God of War-esque Execution Finishers that you can do on certain enemies, so cool your jets.
I'm hopeful for Duke Nukem Forever. Yes, no game can live upto fifteen years of hype, and no way it'll be as good as expected, but the core of what made the Duke games great is still present, and given the gritty realistic trends of the industry right now, that's a miracle.
+ The Duke is back
+ It is genuinely funny
+ Unrealistic and proud of it
+ Hail to the King, Baby!
- Why a Desert?
- It isn't Duke Nukem 3-D in HD
Article By Tyler Chancey