For anyone who has been following the trajectory of Duke Nukem Forever since it was first announced well over a decade ago, the recent gameplay reveal of Gearbox’s 2011 sequel probably inspired a full-on double take. After years of bogus leaked screens, hilarious ‘trailers’ bereft of any actual gameplay footage and finally company downsizing and more than one high-profile lawsuit, many of Duke’s most ardent fans probably gave up all hope a long time ago. But when the game was unexpectedly revealed in playable form at the Penny Arcade Expo in the US last September, even the most impassioned of fans can’t have been expecting something so slick and (apparently) almost finished.
But that is exactly what they got, and during a recent London-based event at which we saw most of the game’s opening level being played in full, it is readily apparent that Gearbox seem to have completely nailed it. Aside from the copious gags and shrewd nods to the original Duke Nukem 3D, Duke Nukem Forever clearly embodies the very same reckless, outlaw spirit as that delectable (and seminal) original title. Although apparently the game isn’t quite complete yet (with plentiful polishing remaining to be done) it’s already looking like the genuine article to us.
The story is as flippant and threadbare as you could possibly want it to be, with Duke – now an international celeb after having saved the world in the original – having to take on a gigantic returning raft of ugly critters who are intent on stealing the entirety of planet Earth’s female population. Needless to say, the entire plot is nothing more than an excuse to serve up mucho violence and innumerable crude jokes, and it’s pretty exhilarating to see something in this day and age that is so thoroughly uncompromising in its disobedient vision.
Very commendably, the gameplay is also far less mindless than a 90’s throwback like this usually dares to be, and during the first stage’s final boss battle, it was abundantly clear that running into any situation with all guns blazing never represents the smartest option. Every single one of the boss’s projectiles are dimensionally visible on-screen at all times; and thus entirely avoidable. Duke is also frequently asked to perform in QTEs intermittently, many of which trigger yet another coarse but well-honed wisecrack. He may have been away for way too long, but this Duke feels exactly like the old one.
Gearbox are also said to be taking the very eagerly awaited (and yet to be fully revealed) multiplayer component very seriously indeed, but thankfully that seriousness doesn’t look to be infecting the overall tone of it in the slightest. Hefty post-launch support is promised – with new maps and modes on track to be unleashed on all formats via DLC – with one of the only multiplayer modes to be revealed thus far being a Capture The Flag spin-off called Capture The Babe. If you’ve spent the past few years enduring the unrelenting seriousness of most online first person shooters, all of this must sound like a tantalising breath of fresh air.
So what is so refreshing about Duke Nukem today is what was so refreshing about it back in the day; it is unapologetically full-on. It doesn’t strategically pepper its violence with spikes of attention-grabbing ultra-violence; ultra violence is all that it trades in. Similarly, this isn’t a space opera littered with gags; it’s a broad comedy that happens to be set in space. Although it’s looking throughly marvellous at this stage, time will tell if Gearbox manage maintain that relentless momentum throughout the game’s duration. But on this evidence, bet against them at your own risk.
Watch the Duke Nukem Forever trailer here: