Duke Nukem Forever Preview

The revival of Duke Nukem Forever by developer Gearbox Software made headlines last year. After years of development, many wrote the game

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The revival of Duke Nukem Forever by developer Gearbox Software made headlines last year. After years of development, many wrote the game off as dead in the water in 2009 when its creators 3D Realms ceased working on the project and laid off its staff.

But there it was at PAX Prime 2010, where I got to play it along with thousands of show attendees moments after it was officially revealed to be back in development. That was just a small sample, though, to show that it was indeed a real project again. At a recent event in Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to play much more.

Gearbox co-founder Randy Pitchford told the group assembled to play Duke Nukem Forever that we'd get an honest look at the game; we'd be the first people outside of those who'd worked on it to really sit down and play it uninterrupted. It was eye-opening.

I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but to some degree I thought Gearbox intended to modernize the game. That is not the case. This is the game from all those years of development, lovingly completed by a team that includes many who've worked on it in the past. It puts Pitchford's words in new light. Now I see the emotional connection and almost a sense of duty to carry the oft-delayed title to the finish line.

The setup for the game is a new classic for the old-school action shooter. After saving the world, Duke became the most beloved, wealthy, and powerful figure on the planet. And so the game begins with him relaxing in the penthouse of his Vegas casino finally playing the video game adaptation of his heroic deeds, which has taken over a decade to create. He even quips that after so long it damn well better be good.

His gaming time gets interrupted when the aliens return. But this time the President tells him to stand down; they come in peace. Yeah, right. The aliens plan to dupe the earth's defenses, kidnap its women, and use them to breed a massive invasion army. Of course, Duke can't let that slide and he swings into action.

That's where I started playing, right at the beginning, with Duke's casino tower under assault by the aliens. Taken by surprise, I had to make due with just fists at first. Not that the game holds aspirations as a brawler but it offered a good reminder that the Duke likes to throw a good punch from time to time. I also got an early chance to buff up a little and increase my "Ego" meter. Used instead of health, ego represents Duke's state of kick-ass. As the game explains, think of it like a shield, and when it goes down, he gets his ass kicked. Actions throughout the game will offer opportunities to pump him up a little more. In the first I found, pumping iron in the gym granted me a small ego boost.

Once I acquired a weapon--an alien blaster--the game came into its own. This is the shooter design of a bygone era. Enemies don't juke around or look for cover; they attack with singular purpose, fast and direct. Many take the straight up rush assault. Others pop in and out using teleporters, but never to get away, only to reposition for a better spot to keep attacking. The results are gunfights that become a blur of movement. I'd run around slot machines and poker tables in the casino, constantly turning, strafing to get a shot, and then circling around to keep from getting cornered in one position.

In the first hour-plus of the game I played, Duke Nukem Forever also proved true to its reputation for interactivity. There are little things, like a playable pinball machine and then there are more involved diversions, such as a remote control truck I had to "drive" to retrieve an item I needed to advance deeper into the game. Later, I was shrunk down and wound up driving an RC truck through the casino as pig cops tried to smash me. (Sadly I didn't get to play with the shrink ray but this bodes well for its inclusion.)

The more I played Duke, the more it felt like I'd been transported back in time a decade. It was almost as if I was reliving a game I'd played years ago with aliens rushing at me from every direction, spawning in or jumping through a wall and coming at me hard, taking a break to hop in a laser turret and blast a giant mothership out of the sky, and hopping across a craps table as mini-Duke. But I wonder how long the warm glow of that nostalgia will shield the reality that it is a game of that era. There's no hiding its age. It's right there in the jaggy-edges, the noticeably muddy visuals compared to the latest games of this generation, and direct and in-your-face enemies. For some that's sure to be a trip down memory lane but for others I suspect it will leave them wondering what the fuss was ever all about.


This feature is based on a preview build of Duke Nukem Forever on the Xbox 360, played at an event held by Take Two Interactive in Las Vegas, Nevada.

From The Chatty

  • reply
    February 9, 2011 9:16 AM

    "Meh" reviews here and at Arstechnica plus no announcement of a steam release pretty much puts this to bed for me at this time.

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      February 9, 2011 9:22 AM

      Let me clarify: this is not a "Review" this is a "Preview." This is not the final build.

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        February 9, 2011 9:28 AM

        And the gameplay, tone, and overall design is supposed to drastically change from now until release in May? I don't think so.

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          February 9, 2011 9:32 AM

          That's not the point. My point is he called it a review and it's not a review.

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            February 9, 2011 9:49 AM

            wow, catty.

            Sounds like a review of a preview demonstration of the game to me.

            As soon as the "preview" took a critical turn, it became a "review".

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              February 9, 2011 9:54 AM

              There's nothing catty about it. I'm just clarifying your error.

              Also, previews are impressions in which editors can freely state their opinions. Otherwise, it's a fact sheet.

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                February 9, 2011 10:00 AM

                If you're going to be pedantic that would be marketing sheet, not fact sheet.

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                  February 9, 2011 11:16 AM

                  If we really want to get into detail it's also called a Sell Sheet.

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                February 9, 2011 10:05 AM

                It is extremely rare for a preview to be negative so I don't think most of the time an editor or writer can state their opinion. Right? I mean often do you read a bad preview?

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                February 9, 2011 10:08 AM

                That is sure a weird definition of preview.
                Got a link to that?

                Definition of PREVIEW (transitive verb)
                1: to see beforehand; specifically : to view or to show in advance of public presentation
                2: to give a preliminary survey of

                This would have applied until the review took a more critical turn and give opinions on such.(which the article certainly did)

                http://www.learnersdictionary.com/search/review%5B1%5D

                This was a review of a preview build of the game.

                Opinions of the editor are absolutely allowed to be part of formal reviews as well, and not limited to your definition of preview above.


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                  February 9, 2011 11:02 AM

                  Wow. And I'm catty?

                  I'd continue to have this lovely argument but... this is the internet. Also, I'm busy at work.

                  Have fun though!

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                    February 9, 2011 11:16 AM

                    Ouch XAV. Got served the koolaid - that you just drank. Man, I'm bad with 'sayings'.

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                  February 9, 2011 11:23 AM

                  i think the problem you are having is there is a lexicon specific to the gaming industry and you are disregarding it. these events do not yield reviews, they yield previews - while the dictionary holds a valid definition, if you are talking in terms of the gaming industry and gaming industry events, the difference between the words preview and review are significant, and thusly, in terms of this particular topic, you are using the words incorrectly.

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                    February 9, 2011 12:09 PM

                    And this is not a gaming "industry" targeted article, sure this type of jargon could certainly be appropriate in a gaming related professional journal or industry specific connotation. But the shack is nta aimed at that audience.

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                      February 9, 2011 12:24 PM

                      No I think we're all clear on what a preview and a review are in the context of video game journalism coverage.

                      There have been no game reviews of this game so far because it is unfinished and unreleased as it has been for the last 14 years. Therefore you have seen no "meh" reviews because there have been no reviews. A review would require the game to be finished and playable by journalists, which it is not.

                      You've taken one clarification and blown it way out of proportion.

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                        February 9, 2011 12:36 PM

                        Well, can't say I didn't try. At least some people got it.

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                          February 9, 2011 1:07 PM

                          the problem is you are wrong. using the word review here - whether you are a journalist or a consumer - is wrong. because you are describing something that is wrong.

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                            February 9, 2011 1:25 PM

                            says the developer's spokesperson who has a vested interest to avoid the word "review" associated with sub-optimal impressions of the game at all costs.


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                              February 9, 2011 1:40 PM

                              Just keep digging...

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                              February 9, 2011 1:56 PM

                              if the reviews come out and don't like the game, that's fine - it's happened, i've worked here for years, i'll live, the company will be a-okay. me telling you that you are using a word incorrectly doesn't change the text in the article, be it a preview or a review. the impressions are the same and still valid, they are just for something that is not a review.

                              reviews are of a final game and of a full playthrough. so even if we want to exclude that first criteria, you still fail on the second.

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                                February 9, 2011 3:14 PM

                                I never said it was a review of final code.

                                My point (lost on so many) is that the "preview" presented here became a review as soon as a critical analysis part was introduced.

                                Sure, the game shown may have been a "preview" of the final game code of whatever completeness, but what we got was a review of that material.

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                                  February 9, 2011 3:45 PM

                                  no, you didn't. i suppose it's that in your head, which is valid, but to the rest of the world, it's not that.

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                                February 12, 2011 11:28 AM

                                i dont know why this is so hard to understand...

                                plus, no Full review would be as short as this article.

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                              February 9, 2011 3:05 PM

                              Dear God, you're all going to be dead one day. Is this really what you want to look back on when you're on your deathbed??

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                                February 9, 2011 3:16 PM

                                If it help someone, somewhere, develop better critical thinking (and writing) skills, then absolutely.


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                                  February 9, 2011 3:26 PM

                                  Holy shit, just shut up kid. If you want to argue like a dumbass go to the Steam forums.

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                                  February 9, 2011 3:30 PM

                                  How about critical reading skills? Here's a short history of this thread.

                                  1. watcherxp calls this article a "meh" review
                                  2. Xav points out that this is a preview not a review
                                  3. watcherxp takes offense to Xav's correction as being defensive
                                  4. Xav reiterates his correction and clarifies his non-defensive position
                                  5. Thread descends into chaos

                                  If your post had said

                                  "Meh" reviews here and at Arstechnica plus no announcement of a steam release pretty much puts this to bed for me at this time.

                                  Everything would have been fine.

                                  Also I like how you call out people's writing skills with a grammatically incorrect post.

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                                    February 9, 2011 3:31 PM

                                    Oops

                                    "Meh" previews here and at Arstechnica plus no announcement of a steam release pretty much puts this to bed for me at this time.

                                    See, I leave that letter off myself sometimes. It's like a rule that if you point out a fuckup in someone's post that your post will contain a fuckup.

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                              February 10, 2011 1:44 AM

                              she's not a developer's spokeperson , and they're not funding DNF.

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                  February 12, 2011 11:27 AM

                  you're wrong man, i agree with Lucy Labia here.. previews are rarely negative.

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              February 9, 2011 10:04 AM

              so previews are only previews if they shower praise over an unfinished game or if they are completely neutral? The point isn't to list facts, it's to give an initial impression of a work in progress.

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      February 9, 2011 10:13 AM

      Considering Steam will be offering the DNF demo for Borderlands owners, I think there's a 100% chance DNF will be on Steam.

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        February 9, 2011 10:25 AM

        Yeah, but they have been going out of their way to avoid confirming this for some reason.

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          February 9, 2011 10:26 AM

          i make a joke out of it but really, they must know that 99% of pc gamers LOVE steam and Duke has a strong audience on PC, so why wouldn't they do steamworks? The SDK thing i can understand because cliffy b wants more money of you have a SDK in a UE game.

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            February 9, 2011 10:35 AM

            im serious, i can't think of any reason as to why a simple confirmation would be a bad thing.

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              February 9, 2011 10:42 AM

              I can, they get more money through other channels. Simple as that.


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                February 9, 2011 10:45 AM

                does pitchford still hate steam

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      February 9, 2011 11:38 AM

      Overhype is overhype....

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      February 9, 2011 3:40 PM

      The game isn't out for another 4 months. It's not going to go gold for another 3 1/2.