Release date: June 10th 1998 2011
Price comparisons: All formats
This isn't the way it was supposed to be. I was psyched to hear I'd get to play Duke Nukem Forever at Gadget Show Live at Birmingham's epic NEC venue, but I left the Duke's area and its collection of PR girls in schoolgirl outfits feeling empty and confused.
If Duke Nukem Forever is released after 13 years of development in the condition I played it on Tuesday morning, there's going to be a backlash of epic proportions. Hopefully the recent delay is seeing Gearbox adding a few buckets of polish to it.
But maybe I'm panicking too soon. It's entirely possible that 2K have just had a bit of a lazy fail moment with their demo choice. It would seem that it's almost the same preview demo that our very own Matt Gardner played back in October. But why would 2K want people to play the game in this condition which appears bland, ugly and unfinished? Will the final game look better, or is the frightening truth that this is taken from a close-to-complete final build? Pray they couldn't be bothered making a new demo.
This is the infamous demo that begins with Duke having a slash in a football stadium locker room. But hey, I've been waiting a while, no time to start shit-slinging or wash my hands as I make a beeline for something to shoot. After dashing through a few corridors I emerge in the middle of the stadium's field facing the old nemesis, the Cycloid boss. After realising that punching it in the knee was going to take a while I picked up the Devastator, a dual-rocket firing beast. Taking down the Cycloid then becomes a simple task of circle-strafing and occasionally dodging a charge attack. Hopefully this is just a throwback to old times and we'll see a bit more invention for future bosses because this is an awkwardly weak start.
After booting the defeated Cycloid's eye through the posts for a field goal the camera pans out to reveal Duke was actually playing a video game. While being sucked off by two women, naturally. When one of them asks him if the game is any good he replies: “Yeah, but after 12 fucking years it should be!” Well, he was hardly going to say “meh” was he?
Thankfully the demo doesn't end there as we get a brief ride in Duke's monster truck through a canyon, avoiding falling boulders while going out of our way to run down any alien pigs we see. The handling is workable, but far from impressive. It's like most vehicle sections in FPS games then.
The shootout outside a mine entrance that follows feels like it could have been plucked from a western. Well, apart from the shrink rays, flying pigs, alien ships and all that. Out in the harsh desert sun the game's graphics have nowhere to hide. I'm clinging to the hope this is just really old code because the graphics are worryingly below par. I was going to say average, but the average shooter today looks way better.
Duke's made a few modern day concessions since he was last seen on the FPS scene. His health or 'Ego meter' will now regenerate when he takes cover. Purists won't like it, but in fairness if anyone is badass enough to heal quickly without the need for pansy-ass health packs, it's the Duke. More people would have probably complained he was behind the times if he didn't have regenerating health today anyway.
Genuinely annoying though is the two-weapon policy. Duke Nukem games are supposed to be mental and over the top. I don't want to have to choose over a shrink ray, a shotgun or a rocket launcher, I want them all. Also annoying is the way a weapon disappears when you exchange it for another. This broke the demo at one point as I was trying to take down an alien ship, ran out of rockets, dumped the launcher, then found some ammo for it only to find the launcher had disappeared, meaning I had no way of destroying the ship without a restart. Hopefully this was a demo glitch rather than the way it's going to be in the full game.
Duke Nukem games usually impress with the range of weaponry and there's a glimpse of what we can expect. The shotgun packs a meaty punch, best demonstrated when alien pigs are leaping towards you, letting you blast them back where they came from with a well aimed shot. The laser-sighted magnum-esque gun is not as powerful as it should be and will be the first weapon you drop. The Shrink ray will get some laughs, but it's surprising there's no context-sensitive melee attack instead of the usual gun swinging. These little piggies are perfect conversion kick fodder.
The sniper rifle feels very solid and is easily the most effective weapon in the demo. The animations for targets you hit badly need some extra work though. Legs come flying off and cacti can be blasted apart, but none of it looks convincing. It looks like throwing Lego at the wall. The mounted gun emplacement that you use to take down a few waves of enemies feels very weak, with very little visual feedback when you hit your target. Even the exploding barrels struggle to take out the pigs unless they're right next to them. No power ups were on show but we briefly used Duke Vision which is his version of night vision. Not great. At least the remote-detonated pipe-bombs are just like we remember.
The last part of the demo involves going into the mine to find some fuel for the truck. Using a mine-cart to jump across a hole, you must then navigate some platforms to make your way out. It's pretty awful and feels like you're going somewhere the game doesn't intend you to, so poor are the controls and consistency of where you can actually jump. Very last, last gen.
The one-liners come thick and fast and it's great to be able to report that Duke's lost none of his charming attitude over the years. But are Gearbox relying too much on playing on fan's memories of the series and Duke himself? Take that away and I'm currently looking at a very bog-standard shooter. Hopefully the multiplayer, including a Capture the Babe mode, will add something to the experience. Otherwise Gearbox will need more than, an admittedly excellent, PR apology-stunt video to let us forgive them.