Duke Nukem Forever Hands-on Preview

By Brian Leahy, Sep 03, 2010 6:00pm PDT

I can't believe I just wrote that headline. I have played Duke Nukem Forever. Announced (again) here at PAX 2010, development will be finished by Gearbox. The game will be released on the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 sometime in 2011. Let's just right into things.

First off, the good news. This game is Duke. The action is fast-paced, the one-liners are great, and Jon St. John sounds great. In true Duke fashion, the humor is very self-aware, with Duke even joking about the game's legendary development time in game. The weapons all feel great--especially the shotgun--and a sprint button helps bring the gameplay into this decade.

Okay, here's the bad news. The engine looks dated. The color palette felt dull and the game appeared blurry at times. Since the game is scheduled for next year, it's likely that the engine will be even more outdated when it (finally) releases. I don't need it to look like Crysis, but I'd just a bit more clarity than what I saw. Hopefully, this is something that will be addressed by Gearbox.

The demo opened up with Duke relieving himself at a urinal and you find Duke in a football stadium. After some cool scripted events following soldiers, Duke finds himself up against the Cycloid Emperor from Duke Nukem 3D. Devastator in hand, Duke defeats the boss and kicks his eye through the uprights. Credits roll and the camera pulls back to find that Duke was playing the game on a wall-mounted TV, while two women--ahem--take care of him.

The demo jumps to a later level in a canyon, with Duke driving a truck as enemy ships fire at him. The driving is okay, but definitely not the high-point of the demo. Once out of gas, Duke is off to find gas, but is ambushed by uniform-less Pig Cops (do I just call them Pigs?). This is where the demo was definitely at its best. The gun-based combat is excellent. I got to use the pistol, a railgun, the shotgun, and the Ripper Chaingun.

Unfortunately, I was only able to carry two weapons at a time. I was hoping to carry Duke's full arsenal, but it looks like we're going to be dealing with weapon juggling. I'm not sure how this will play out. It could encourage using a variety of weapons, but it could fall flat, angering fans of classic PC FPS games. The other warning sign is that I was only fighting two to four enemies at a time, maximum. I hope this is based upon that level that I played and not a larger issue.

Again, my time with DNF was limited to about 15 minutes and the hype was almost unbearable. For better or worse, Duke is back. I'm picking it apart in this preview, but make no mistake, I had a lot of fun and laughed out loud several times. It was a great throwback to classic gaming and it's great to have Duke back once again.

I'm not sure how younger gamers will react to Duke, but I'm sure 2K and Gearbox are hoping to usher in a new generation of Duke fans. Regardless, this game isn't for them, is it? It's for you and me and let's hope it lives up to even a fraction of our expectations. Feel free to ask questions in the comments if you have them.

[Well played, Gibson. Well played.]

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71 Threads* | 336 Comments*

  • I have to say, the two gun limit addresses one of my long-standing gripes about shooters. Simply put, most games are built on an underlying set of rules, call them laws of reality, physical limitations, whatever. Most good games adhere by and large to these rules.

    An example of a violation of this rule or law is the space taken by weapons. A player can have 10 different weapons and 10 diffrent kinds of ammo in his pocket and never misses a step.

    I've heard the arguments about this before, about how it's just a game and it isn't reality. About how people play games to escape reality and don't want to be limited by it and so forth. I find it interesting that it took the controller compromise to finally address this issue, for an AAA title no less, and shifted the difficulty imbalance it created to the strategic placement of varied weapons throught the game instead of having the player become a walking armory. The laws of physics in gaming are there and to ignore them is silly. Maintaining a suspension of disbelief to explain how the laws get bent is the job of the developers.

    A great example of adhering to the laws of reality is encumberance. 1500 bullets or 25 missiles still consume space and have weight. When a player is damages, his vision can become obscured and movement can become erratic. That's reality. When a player is realistically damaged by a fictional weapon that has no mass, no weight, and never breaks, that's a violation of those rules. A good excample in the leap forward in the depiction of what can be done with the physical laws of reality were the 13 "Gore Zones" (I believe it was via their GHOUL rendering solution) in Raven's Soldier of Fortune franchise, where individual body parts could be targeted and sustain damage. Unfortunately, Raven broke another law by limiting the player with a mission weapon loadout - that became irrelevant because the player could pick up additional weapons during the mission.

    Destructable environments are another area addresses the modeling of reality. Volition's Red Faction franchise tackled that subject in what could arguably be the most aggressive example of destructable environments thus far using their Geo-Mod engine, which is in continued development and use. More and more we are seeing games where the player faces the correct implementaion of these physical laws. Weapons need to be repaired, ammo now takes up weight. Things break. Inventories are more restricteed. The player is limited (or liberated) in realistic and believable ways.

    Developers have said the state of games has matured and I am glad for that. Games may very well take place in fictional, other world settings, but the player is still bound to those basic underlying laws. Its the job of the developer to tie the player to that world in a believable way and still remain faithful to the physical laws of reality that they include in the game. Even if it was the result of a standarized controller compromise.

  • "Engine looks dated": I'm glad, this means it's not a retarded Crysis like game that requires a PC of less than a year old to even run.

    Duke was about fun not the highest end graphics, a tad outdated graphics means it'll run on my PC (I hope). If not, I might buy an XBox for this (which I was thinking about anyway). Duke3D wasn't the most spectacular back then, Quake was, but Quake was boring and Duke was fun.

    George, unfortunately I can't complement you on the development process, but I'm sure glad there's finally a light at the end of the tunnel and I can't wait to try the game.