Duke Nukem Forever
After 14 years of development purgatory, a presumed death, and his subsequent resurrection thanks to Gearbox Software's Randy Pitchford, Duke Nukem is ready to return to the spotlight. To see how the action hero has changed since his last ass-kicking escapade, we blasted our way through the first 90 minutes of the game.
Duke Nukem Forever begins with a familiar scenario that transports me immediately back to 1996 – the action hero is parked in front of a urinal unleashing his preternatural stream. After what seems like minutes, Duke wraps up his business and joins a collection of EDF soldiers gathered in a stadium locker room. The commander is in front of a dry erase board explaining the tactics for Operation C--k Block, the plan for preventing the aliens from making out with our ladies. Walking up to the board, Duke can erase it and create his own plan with a marker. I opt for drawing a giant gun aimed at an alien's head – simple but effective. Sun Tzu would be proud. Moving through the stadium tunnels and onto the gridiron, I come face to face with a giant Cycloid at midfield. A classic Duke Nukem boss battle ensues. I strafe oncoming missiles while doling out punishment with the Devastator and gathering the ammo that planes are dropping onto the field. After taking down the boss, Duke roughs up the beast and kicks its cyclops eye through the uprights in celebration of his victory. All hail the king, baby.
The camera pans out out from the football field, through a flat-screen television, and into an luxurious penthouse apartment on top of the Lady Killer casino in Las Vegas. Duke's holding a game controller while being pleasured by the Holsom Kids, two Lolita looking pop stars whose parents obviously taught them the value of sharing. Opulence – Duke has it. The young ladies ask Duke if he thinks the video game is any good, to which he curtly replies, “Yeah, but after 12 f---ing years, it should be.”
Dropping the game controller and grabbing the remote, Duke flips through channels and stumbles upon a commercial for the D---, It's Late Show. Tonight's guest? The one and only Duke Nukem. Before heading down to the studio on a lower level of the casino, I peruse Duke's impressive digs. With marble pillars, a wading pool, and vaulted ceilings in his living room, he's a perfect candidate for MTV Cribs. Walking into the lavish bathroom, I stare into the mirror and press the activity button. “You want to touch it, don't you,” Duke egomaniacally growls. These classic Duke moments aren't just there for laughs; the first time you perform ego boosting actions like admiring his physique in the mirror or lifting an absurd amount of weights, Duke's maximum ego bar, which acts as a health meter, increases.
Moving through the palatial penthouse, I check out a gallery of Duke paintings that portray his various exploits, which include donning an astronaut suit in space and scaling Mount Everest. Downstairs in the lobby I walk past a set of side doors holding back a flock of screeching women plastering their bodies against the window panes in hopes that Duke glances their way. Exploring the facility further, I walk into the green room just in time to catch a breaking news report. The aliens have returned to Earth, but the President is currently campaigning for peaceful talks aimed at strengthening ties. As I leave the green room and walk backstage, a young fan approaches Duke asking for an autograph. I take the copy of Why I'm So Great – Duke In His Own Words and a pen – it's up to me to fulfill the lad's dreams. Rather than try to master the sketchy Etch-A-Sketch style controls well enough to write something legible, I draw a crude hand with an extended middle finger and give the book back to the kid.
Rather than being greeted with applause from the live studio audience, Duke pulls back the stage curtains to see an empty room save for the humbled talk show host. He explains the show has been canceled so the network can focus on covering the latest alien outbreak. Duke decides to head toward The Duke Cave where he can assess the situation, but on the way out of the studio he comes across an actor throwing a Christian Bale-style tantrum at a boom operator. I walk up to the delusional thespian and jack him in the jaw on my way toward the observation tower.
I hop on the elevator, but right before Duke reaches his destination it suddenly stops. An emergency ladder deploys and I hop up to pry open the door. From the observation tower view it's evident that this isn't your average alien greeting party. Invading ships dominate the skyline, and the occasional alien runs up the casino windows. Once I reach the Duke Cave, the president and army general appear on video conference and both urge Duke to avoid retaliation. The president wants to give peace a chance, and has a meeting scheduled with the alien's high leader.
As Duke leaves the conversation in frustration, the aliens have started making themselves at home in Duke's casino, drinking Duke's beer and tearing up the casino floors. When Duke finds a soon-to-be-dead invader in his hallway, it charges the unarmed hero. I settle the score by hurling award trophies and dumbbells their way. Duke finally gets his hands on a gun and starts doling out justice in his typical machismo fashion, dropping one-liners as regularly as he reloads his weapon.
With the casino suffering intermittent power outages, Duke must navigate the darkened halls using his Duke Vision ability (think early-era night vision) to locate three misplaced energy cells. The first two are easy finds, but the third one requires Duke to drive an RC monster truck through an obstacle course in a locked office to push the remaining cell through a small opening in the floor.
Once the power is restored and Duke hands another wave of enemies their asses, he hops in a huge gun emplacement that rises out of a large cylindrical passage to the surface. It's time to send the aliens some gun-powder fueled evites. Duke is greeted by a huge mothership hovering over Vegas and several smaller invading ships heading for the surface. I concentrate fire on the mothership's gigantic laser, careful to take down oncoming fighter ships and enemy drop ships gunning for my hide. When I destroy the gun, Duke quips “Rest in pieces” before an oncoming blast destroys his emplacement and flings him back down the tower.
Four hours later, Duke wakes up and makes his way through the casino dropping everyone in his sight with a laser scoped M1911, shotgun, and alien blasters. His progress is stymied when he steps on an alien pod and shrinks to the size of an action figure. He comes across a young boy and his mother, who remarks “So tiny – I know right where I'd stick him.” Duke's a lady killer even when he's a pint-sized freak. Undaunted, I hop in the kid's toy RC buggy and race through the decimated casino floors, narrowly evading enemies.
Duke eventually reunites with the Holsom twins and steps on a platform to return to his normal size. Several aliens burst through an opening in the ceiling and I pop some steroids to give Duke a dose of super strength. When Duke's on steroids he trades in his firearms in favor of his god-given guns, dropping enemies with one punch. When the steroid effect wears off I crack open a beer, which gives Duke increased resistance to damage but also gives him beer goggles, making it tough to line up shots. Once the enemies are cleared Duke needs to find a way out of the hotel. His only option is to move a huge statue of himself into a position where he can jump up to the next level. The loose jumping and movement controls make this puzzle more frustrating than it should be, but after a couple attempts I make it outside to the strip, which lives up to its name with a huge statue of a woman bent over at the waist and another casino named Fellatio down the block.
In front of the casino Duke runs into the general and some EDF forces outside. The general breaks down the situation – the aliens have commandeered the Hoover Dam and harnessed its generators to create a worm hole. Duke has other priorities, quipping “Screw the dam, where are they taking our chicks?”
Duke heads toward an EDF ammo crate in the back of a van and grabs the Ripper, a rapid fire weapon perfect for downing large groups of enemies. The van also has a green armor suit that Halo fans would recognize in an instant. When a soldier suggest Duke should use it, he defiantly replies “Power armor is for p---ies.”
The demo concludes with Duke fighting through the Vegas streets until he encounters a towering Battlelord. This boss battle plays out similarly to the first one, with Duke strafing oncoming missiles while returning fire and collecting more ammo. When I finally get the best of the beast, Duke humiliates it by using its *** as a speedbag.
As a fan who grew up with the series, playing Duke Nukem Forever feels like stepping into a time travel machine and returning an era where Beavis & Butthead was the most popular show in school and Tupac dominated the airwaves. Shooters have progressed a long ways in 14 years, but Duke Nukem Forever stubbornly clings to the aged design tenets. Though some may find the sophomoric humor, arena style boss battles, random enemy spawning, and environmental puzzles frustratingly dated, jumping back into Duke's oversized boots feels unlike anything else on the market today. If Gearbox can sharpen up the noticeably dated graphics, cure the occasional hitching, and keep changing the pace with non-shooting sequences that keep the action from becoming monotonous, it could be enough to draw in fans wary of the long development cycle and tempt those who never experienced Duke's over-the-top machismo.