Hey buddy, what are you gonna do? Save the world all by yourself?
NOTE: I’d love to post screenshots but there’s a bit of a debate about whether or not it’s allowed. Until I’m sure it’s okay, I won’t attach screenshots.
Duke Nukem Forever. DNF. DNF pretty much became “Did Not Finish” especially after 3D Realms appeared to can the project in recent times, which apparently ended a joke that had been going on since 1997. Just as suddenly DNF was revealed to be a real game, with boxes and gameplay and everything, and it was going to end up in our hands real soon. The original May release date got kicked back, which worried quite a few of us. We all sat there with baited breath, watching for the demo to be released. And it finally landed, more or less on time. DNF was a real product, and we were about to see what it was like. My inner child has been screaming out for this since 1997, and I’ve finally had a chance to play it. Duke Nukem falls in step with Doom and Half Life for me. Plenty of kids today can’t stand Doom, Duke, or even the original Half Life and believe they have no relevance to gaming today. True, they’re relics of the past, but that’s exactly why so many of us cling to them. They’re like old movies or books; sure, they don’t match today’s sophistication, but they’re still classics in our eyes. Actually scratch that, games today have progressively degenerated into pointless manshoots, except someone tries to dress it up in an oh-so-serious story ruined by ghetto speak. Yeah, XBOX360, I’m looking at you and your god damned Gears of War and similar bullshit. I’m going to say this straight out the gate: if you don’t understand the appeal of Duke Nukem, weren’t around for the 1996 DN3D release, think anything prior to 2004 on the PC was a total waste of time, or hate PC gaming in general, the demo won’t convince you. This clearly is a game for the Duke Nukem fans who wanted DN3D in the modern age. It’s not for the people who sit there brooding away over a mass of indie games that they convince themselves are sophisticated. Actually that’s one thing I don’t like about Rock, Paper, Shotgun. In general I love the community atmosphere and articles at RPS, but when it comes to things like this, a bunch of them turn into holier-than-thou arrogant tools who seem to think that their taste in games is superior because they like dark, silhouette-style, pretentious indie platformers and anything mainstream is instantly crap. Call me a cynic, but I can’t believe some people take those things so ridiculously seriously. They remind me of all those people at university fawning over the Marxism posters that people keep putting up and shooting me sidelong glances because I’m part of the medical establishment. I’m a nurse so I’m not sure that I count in that group, but whatever. Where was I?
For DNF to impress me, it needs to bring back the over-the-top humour from DN3D, more or less the same gameplay, fantastic environments with a high level of interactivity, and Duke’s personality. I’m a DN3D fan after all. I also expect a good PC version. Not a shitty port. I don’t want no weird mouse acceleration curve. When I first boot the game up I’m introduced to a lengthy sequence showing all of the madmen involved in development. 3D Realms is listed. Hi, guys! You must be pretty excited right about now! You then see a bit of a sequence showing a few bits and bobs from Duke Nukem 3D, including that iconic first sequence where Duke lands on top of a roof in LA after his shop blows up, a quick shot of a POLARIS Station sign at the start of E2M1, and even a bit of Babe Land from the 4th episode. They’re not fully animated and they’re just quick slideshow style images, but I appreciate the references. I hit up the options screen next and check out what’s on offer. First and foremost the game had vsync disabled by default. Most console games enable it by default, which also introduces weird mouse movement issues which drive me friggin’ mad. Usually forcing triple buffering fixes it but sometimes it doesn’t. Vsync is great for stopping screen tearing, but more often than not I’d rather just have the framerate uncapped if it’s all the same. I see a worrying option for Aim Assist ticked. I untick it and quickly read the tooltip. Oh, it only applies for 360 controllers. We’re cool then. Mouse movement on the menu was great and it was actually functional for a PC menu, but there are a few worrying elements like those buttons down the bottom and a PRESS START prompt at the beginning. Why the hell do games have these?! I honestly don’t understand it. I don’t see what purpose they serve except to get in the way of the menu.
Anyway, the demo is pretty short, only two quick levels, and there’s nothing new here at all. You get to play through the Stadium level, which is more or less an updated version of the final level from Episode 3 in DN3D, and the valley car race including a bit of minecart action. There’s a bit of combat, and you get to play with a few weapons, but otherwise it’s pretty shot and doesn’t give you any new information. Still, here’s your chance to see how the game plays. We’ll start with the Stadium level (as if we have any choice). The first sequence is Duke taking a piss. Right from the outset you know that Duke’s personality is intact after all these years. People are saying that the graphics look dated. Personally I don’t think that’s the case, they look at least on par with the majority of other games released around the same time period (Crysis excepted, but Crysis is the exception and never the rule). The first level has a TV bars effect which turns off once you realise that you’re playing Duke playing Duke on a TV. Lighting and textures look pretty good to me, but what sets it off is the environment. The original DN3D was praised for paying attention to the environment, and DNF is no exception. The locker room has lots of little details to make it look plausible, and you can play with a few things in the environment.
I went over to a hand dryer and decided to see if I could use it. I could. What startled me was Duke’s hand coming out and hitting the button (or at least the animation makes an attempt to do that). It wasn’t until much later that I looked down and realised I could see Duke’s feet. MAJOR FRIGGIN’ POINTS. I’m so sick of games which treat the player as a cube with a camera attached, except when it suits them to display an arm or a leg, or to swap to a cutscene. I can’t see any reason why they can’t render bodies. Valve did this with L4D and then promptly took it out of L4D2. What’s the big issue? Duke’s hands and feet frequently show up on screen, so I’m glad that Gearbox didn’t avoid the issue. An EDF soldier shouts out “Hey buddy, what are you gonna do, save the world all by yourself?”, a direct reference to the old DNF 2001 “Trailer”. There are lots of little references packed into the demo, both to DN3D and to other games like Half Life.
Moving into the main room you come across the whiteboard and dying EDF soldiers. Going up to one of them causes arterial blood to spray all over your screen. As with the video demo you can go up to the whiteboard and write all over it. Then you go off to fight the Cycloid Emperor, the main boss from DN3D (Episode 4 excepted). I stop at a drinking fountain, and Duke ducks his head to drink from the fountain. Yep, interactivity is still incredibly high so far! The fight in the stadium pays homage to the original; Duke comes in the centre of the area and fights the boss using the Devastator weapon. By default there’s a health bar for the boss but there’s a menu option to turn them off, should you wish. The boss fight is fairly close to how I remember it from DN3D. There’s even a blimp circling overhead. The battle ends with Duke kicking a goal with the eye. The shooting mechanics felt really solid and mouse aiming was done properly. Thank friggin’ god for that. No weird mouse acceleration curves, no autoaim, just plain mouse movement. THANK YOU.
The second level gives you a bit more freedom. The start has a totally random monster truck segment without any context at all, just like the video. You squash some Pig Cops and eventually it runs out of gas. At least I assume they’re still Pig Cops. They’re definitely pigs, but they don’t wear cop uniforms anymore, but they occasionally show up with armour. They also use a variety of weapons; some were armed with dual pistols, some had shotguns, some even had rippers, the old chaingun from DN3D. This part of the game introduced me to Duke’s pistol, as well as the Railgun. The Railgun is a stock-standard sniper rifle. Duke can only carry two weapons, which I found to be a pain in the arse. Lots of times I wanted to carry a bunch of weapons like I could in DN3D, so I’m not fully sold on this change. As I progressed through the level I came across the Shrinker, the classic shotgun, and the Ripper. The Shrinker looks nothing like the old one, and honestly it seemed pretty ineffective. The enemies are still combat effective when shrunk, so what’s the point of using it? The Ripper and shotgun were fun though. A little later on I got to try out a static gun emplacement and the new RPG, which is more or less the same as the old one except I think it has a seeking element to it now.
After that I entered a mine shaft, so obviously some parts of the design from the old DNF plan are still in effect here. Here I realised that Duke still has pipebombs. Pipebombs are a separate weapon so you can carry them plus your other two weapons. In this section of the game I had to push minecarts around to get across breaks in the tracks. Duke also has a new night vision mode called DukeVision, which looks… well, like a blue mess.
I was also introduced to a few new enemies, including something that looks like a little Octabrain, and… well, I have no idea what the other thing was. Some kind of… spidermonster or something. Hell if I know. The demo ends once you come back with gas for the car.
Performance wise, the game ran great. I had absolutely zero issues with it. Sound was good and Duke’s voice acting is pretty much the same as it was back in 1996, except in much higher quality. He’s a complete asshole and highly talkative, so if you enjoyed DukeTalk from DN3D, you’ll get a kick out of DNF. For a lot of the demo I felt like I was back in 1996, playing the DN3D demo for the first time. At least I did for the first level, the second one seems too out of place and with no real context for me to really have enjoyed it too much. Graphically, I think the game looks fine. At least it looks to be the same quality as every other game released, and nobody should think that it was going to revolutionise the graphics industry. The first environment was quite detailed, the second one… not so much. Still, it’s a demo, and it was quite enjoyable for what it was. I have heard that the 360 version looks much worse than the PC version. I sincerely hope this is the case, because if it is, SUCK IT 360 FANBOYS, it’s about time you got the short end of the stick on something. So far the PC version of DNF is shaping up nicely and it’s obvious that the put some real effort into it. Having proper mouse aiming alone makes me smile. I really don’t understand some of the ridiculous comments about the graphics, including some idiots claiming it looks like a game from 2004. I sincerely doubt they were around to play games from 2004. Back in 2004 the most sophisticated graphics were in Far Cry and Doom 3, and DNF’s graphics are far in advance of that. Does it look like Crysis? No. Does it look on par with everything else today? Yes.
Two things that I question. Firstly, the 2-weapon system. I don’t like it. Secondly, I didn’t seem to be able to die. There is a regenerating health mechanic, which Gearbox try to sidestep by renaming health “Ego”, but there were times when my ego bar was flashing red (empty) and I wasn’t dying. I’m not sure how that works.
In conclusion, so far I’m impressed. If you don’t like Duke, the demo won’t convert you. If you think something like this is beneath you, then you won’t like it. If you weren’t around in 1996 and didn’t play DN3D, let this one pass you by. Duke Nukem fans will most likely be pleased, and I’m pretty sure that’s who Gearbox are aiming for. The PC version is shaping up nicely and should be pretty good. It sure has made me feel a bit better about the game, that’s for sure. Roll on the 10th of June, because I’m not in North America so I get it on the 10th! See you then!