Impressions: my time with Duke Nuken Forever

For the first time in my several years as a professional gaming writer, I’m sitting on the fence about a game.

The game is Duke Nukem Forever and I just don’t know what to think of it: the cynical gamer in me feels that gaming has moved on and there’s no place for a dated hero in today’s gaming landscape.

Has there ever been a game that will come under so much scrutiny and has so much expectation resting on its shoulders as Duke Nukem Forever? I think not.

Gaming has changed since Duke Nukem last flexed his considerable muscles and growled, “Hail to the king, baby” and there’s a lot of expectation weighing down on the game that’s been 14 years in the making and until last year, when Gearbox Software announced that it was, indeed, finishing the game, was a game that many had written off as nothing but vaporware: a game that existed as an idea but would never see the light of day.

Well, it will see the light of day: June 10, apparently. That’s like three weeks away, maybe.

While graphically things look a lot better than when pixellated Duke appeared in Duke Nukem 3D, what hasn’t changed is the juvenile toilet humour that most of us used to chuckle about when we were 15. That’s still there – by the bucket load.

“… and I’m all outta gum”

The game opens with Nukem urinating in a urinal. Yes, you get a first person viewpoint of Nukem pissing in a urinal. You can even control the direction of the stream. In another toilet cubicle Duke can pick up a “floater” from the bowl, carry it around then toss it, landing on the ground with a brown splat. He can draw on a whiteboard – emblazoned with the words “Operation Cockblock” and crude drawings of aliens – with vivid markers and after an easy battle against a giant rocket-firing alien in a football stadium – ending with Nukem kicking the alien’s eyeball over a goalpost and Nukem muttering “It’s good” .

It’s then that we see that the opening moments have, in fact, been nothing but a video game itself, with Nukem playing a video game starring him. “Is it any good,” ask two identical twins who rise up from Nukem’s nether regions (the less said about this the better). “After 12 f***** years, it should be,” Nukem replies.

And that’s the tone throughout the entire demo, which was made up two parts: the game-within-a-game section and one where Nukem drives a monster truck through a desert which runs out of petrol. Here, Nukem faces off against pig guards using railguns, shotguns, the shrink ray and an RPG against an attacking alien ship. After smashing his way into an underground mine and shooting up some beetle-like things Nukem rides a mine cart – in a very Indiana Jones like sequence – on a rail way until he’s back at the monster truck, takes out some pig guards and refuels it.

2K says the game is littered with parody but I didn’t really see much evidence of that in the demo – unless the literally on-rails section at the very end of the demo was parodying Indiana Jones?

To be honest, Duke Nukem Forever has me scratching my head. It’s a game with a tone and humour that feels like it belongs in the ’90s but a graphical look that fits right in with today’s modern games (although games like Battlefield 3 have nothing to fear).

Sorry, but I’m just not sure how a game like Duke Nukem Forever will do: I think it’s going to appeal to nostalgic gamers who want to relive the glory days they had with Duke Nukem 3D  but  have they, like games, moved on? Or am I completely missing the point about Duke Nukem Forever?

I guess we’ll know sometime after June 10.

I’ll get my impressions of The Darkness 2 up tomorrow. Promise.

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