Duke Nukem Forever Preview: We've Kicked Ass and Chewed Gum; Now What?By Kevin Kelly - Posted Feb 09, 2011
You have to give both 2K Games and Gearbox credit for knowing their audience. For this preview of Duke Nukem Forever, they invited press out to Las Vegas, the setting of the game, and into a strip club which had been remade into the image of "Duke Nukem's Titty City.” From the posters on the wall featuring ads for Duke's movies, bar menus advertising the dancing "Dukettes" and even Duke Burgers complete with branded wrappers, they wanted you to feel like you were having the true Duke Nukem Vegas experience.
Oh, and yes. There were strippers. However, they kept their clothes on, the first deviation from the game's irreverant formula. But our press interviews did take place in the fabled VIP area where who-knows-what goes on behind closed doors. Suffice it to say, in some ways, it was the perfect spot for this preview.
But besides the glitz and glamour of a seedy strip club, you're probably wondering how the game plays. We had our first chance to go hands-on with the game at PAX last year, and this time we went a lot deeper (pun intended). With a release date of May 3, 2011, Gearbox is nearing the final stages of preparation for the title, and right from the start, it's clear this is meant to be the Duke Nukem you've come to love and enjoy. Unless, of course, you’re of the generation of gamers born in the 12 years since the last games’s release and how no clue just who the hell Duke Nukem is…Think Arnold Schwarzenegger with crew-cut blonde hair and an American "Let's Kick Ass!" attitude. The main menu pops up, and there's Duke, standing over a pile of dead alien bodies, smoking a cigar with his gold pistol and radiation-symbol belt buckle, while a gigantic American flag waves behind him. That pretty much sums up what to expect from the game.
First of all, you can choose from three different difficult settings: Piece of Cake, Let's Rock, and Come Get Some. We went with the middling Let's Rock, and were greeted with a load-screen that offered up helpful tips like: "If you get stuck, don't forget you can cheat by looking at FAQs online." After that, the level plays out exactly the same as our PAX preview, with Duke fighting the climactic battle against the invading aliens, culminating in a boss encounter inside a massive football stadium. We took a bit more time to appreciate the scenery this time: the bare-breasted Devastators cheerleader poster in the locker room, ads for Juggmeister Beer, and “Debby Does Donuts” rounding out the world of Duke. Beat the final boss and the camera pulls back to reveal Duke being "serviced" by two girls. Also, that he's been playing his own game.
From here on, things were different. You find out that the ladies are the "Holsom Twins," (so rude, yet so sweet!) and that Duke is now a filthy rich (or filthy and rich) celebrity, having saved the world from alien invasion 12 years earlier. He now owns his own casino / strip club that towers over Las Vegas, a giant arena called the Duke Dome, and a franchise of Duke Burger establishments. News reports appear on the television warning of an alien attack, and the girls speculate that Duke’s otherworldly enemies have returned. While they run to the gigantic windows to look out at the mothership hovering overhead, you can explore Duke's palatial pad.
This is where you get your first taste of Duke's Ego, which functions like his health bar. You can perform different Duke-like actions to raise the maximum ego level: checking yourself out in a mirror, peeing in a urinal, lifting weights, reading adult magazines, and so on. It's a way to incorporate Duke's overall attitude into the game, and it actually proves to be fairly funny. In Duke's gym, you can shoot baskets, although it's more like shooting bricks as the physics felt wonky. Eventually, netting a hoop raises your ego, and according to Randy Pitchford, elements like that are hidden throughout the game. In one of Duke's rooms, you'll even find a Duke Nukem: Balls of Steel pinball machine. Lose a ball and Duke will quip, "I've got balls of fail."
If you finally check out the view, you'll see the mothership hovering overhead, a la Independence Day, alien fighters whizzing about and the lovely fountain display at the neighboring "Fellatio" hotel and casino. The only place you can go is downstairs from the penthouse, and on the way to the elevator, you'll see paintings of Duke doing Duke-ly things: catching a shark, walking on the moon, winning Oscars. Maximum ego, indeed. Duke heads down to the television studio in the casino (what business a television studio has in a casino, I'll never know), and a little backstage exploring yields things like an actor delivering a Christian Bale-esque tirade to a sound guy, a little boy who wants your autograph, working vending machines (and microwave popcorn that you can cook), as well as a working Duke Nukem vibrator in the makeup room. Yes, you read that right.
Duke is set to appear on the Damn! … It's Late Show with Johnny O'Lenoman, but Johnny informs Duke that the show has been preempted due to the alien presence. Duke heads to his Observation Room (so he can access the Duke Cave, naturally) which is a museum to his awesomeness and contains bronzed versions of his favorite weapons, statues of the foes he's fought, and an entire gallery of his faux 8-bit gaming legacy. Heading down into the Duke Cave, players stride into the communications center where you get a dual call from both the president and General Graves. The president tells you to stand down and not interfere in the alien invasion. Which, of course, means that you’ll absolutely be interfering in the alien invasion.
Shortly afterwards, aliens invade Duke's pad and you're off to the races. You'll be pounding enemies with your fists (steroids give you a boost of energy where one punch turns them into a pile of gibs) and shooting them with a wide variety of weapons. You can stock up on beer, which makes you tougher when you drink it, but Duke must be a lightweight because one beer will make your vision blurry for awhile. Maybe it's an ultra-powerful Duke-brew. In dark areas, you'll discover that you have "Duke Vision" by pressing up on the D-pad. It functions basically the same way as the night vision goggles from the earlier games. Or any game.
There's nearly as much platforming and puzzle-solving as there is shooting. For instance, he needs to reestablish power to the facility by installing three backup cylinders. One of them is stuck inside a room with a remote control monster truck that you can later drive. You're eventually shrunk down by the alien's shrinking ray and have to find your way through Duke's club, aptly named "The Lady Killer," in your toy car. It's a lengthy fight through the casino, but eventually you'll escape and meet up with General Graves, who tells you that the president was wrong and that you need to join in the fight. The aliens are taking over the Hoover Dam, threatening to cut off power to Vegas, and all of the women are being herded by the aliens and taken to the Duke Dome. Seems like they want to use them to propagate their own species.
If there's one thing Duke can't stand, it's messing with his women. We took the fight outside where a soldier offers Duke some green power armor, which he promptly claims "is for pussies.” That power armor looks exactly like the outfit a certain Master Chief wears in another series of games. Players team up with Captain Dillon as the outside battle commences, eventually reaching a gigantic Battlelord that needs to be taken down with explosive weapons (thankfully, RPGs are aplenty). And in traditional Duke fashion, when you finally beat him, you can humiliate him by treating his scrotum like a punching bag. Ouch.
And with that, the demo ended. So, how did it play? What did it look like? To be truthful, it feels a bit like a well polished last-gen game. If you put this on a screen next to something like Bulletstorm, there wouldn't be any comparison. But with Duke, the fact that the game is coming out at all is remarkable enough to earn it some visual forgiveness. It definitely looks, feels, lives and breathes like a Duke title. Diehard fans of that series won't be disappointed. But, if you've never played a Duke game, you'll immediately be under-whelmed by the graphics. Yes, this was not a final build of the game (even though the game is due in three months), and there were a lot of frame-rate issues, hitbox misses, and other issues, but this title has turned into the video game equivalent of The Little Engine That Could, and it's nearly impossible to play it without considering its long and convoluted history.
There’s been much speculation regarding why this Duke Nukem follow-up has so repeatedly failed to get off the ground until now, but despite the odds, he's made it back. While it doesn't look or play like a cutting edge game, it feels like a Duke Nukem title that was lost in time, and was just unearthed from a buried capsule. Gamers will definitely enjoy this title, despite the fact that it's practically held together with spit, twine and dozens of different pieces of technology, what else can you say? Hail to the King, baby.