Duke Nukem Forever Demo Hands-On Preview

The opening moments of the Duke Nukem Forever demo start without much fanfare. In fact, if Duke didn’t immediately berate you for wasting time, you might not know right away what you were playing at all.

Until you start peeing, that is.

It’s a men’s room, and before Duke can do anything, he has to relieve himself. Actually, it’s not even a men’s room, you quickly realize: it’s a locker room for a sports team. Heading out of the room, it becomes apparent that you’re in the bowels of a stadium, and before long you find yourself standing in front of the team’s lockers and benches with a bunch of police.

A few of the cops are on their feet; some are missing them. Dismembered bodies are lying around amongst a few living wounded. Whatever’s going on, it isn’t going well, it seems. The cops are trying to rally for another push against the alien attackers that are undoubtedly someplace nearby. They’re using a whiteboard to run down their game plan in steps, and after a dialog gag with a nod to South Park (“What’s step three?” “Uh…profit?”), they’re off.

Duke is encouraged by one cop to step up and take a turn at the plan, which features colored arrows charging toward a big Cyclops monster drawn on the board. You can screw around with the markers for as long as you like, changing colors, erasing things; it’s actually strange how many options you’re given. But finally, when you’re done indulging yourself (since the “plan” is incomprehensible to anyone but you despite the shouts of awe at your brilliance from the one remaining uninjured policeman), you can follow the cops out to the tunnel to see what they’re up against.

Immediately, all three or four attackers are annihilated in a huge blast; one which sends Duke flying and triggers his “Ego” bar, the measure of his health that refills over time or when Duke does something awesome. Enough of this crap, you probably internally shout. You’re Duke f—king Nukem, after all, and it’s time to get this s—t done.

Following through the underground tunnels, you find other cops in other losing battles before you’re directed to an elevator with a bigass gun on it. Snagging the thing – it’s like a dual rocket launcher – you ride the elevator up to the field, where you face the Cyclops monster with its own dual rocket launcher. It also has a couple other attacks: it’ll charge you when it starts to get mad, for example, and fire a large blast at your location that requires you to move clear in a hurry.

For Duke’s part, he can sprint and he can shoot, and that’s really all you need. Circle-strafing does the job (almost surprisingly well), and anytime you run low on rockets (you’ll go through a lot), more are supplied by air drop by allies. Kicking the crap out of the Cyclops is actually really, really easy, requiring zero strategy and not even much in the way of reaction time. One wonders vaguely if the whole game will require tactics perfected back when Duke Nukem Forever first went into development roughly 12 years ago.

Before long, the Cyclops goes down and you get the satisfying job of scaling its body and killing it, then kicking a field goal with its huge bleeding eye. What immediately follows is a cutaway to Duke in what is, I guess, his living room, with a couple of skirt-clad twins, the implication being that they just got done providing Duke an oral service. They look like creepy, emotionless mannequins, but I guess there are guys who are into this sort of thing.

Taking the show on the road

The demo then kicks forward to a new level. Duke’s driving a monster truck with his insignia scrawled on the bed, which he uses to run things over and jump a huge gap. The truck is out of gas, and that means going and finding some.

You’re in a desert, in a box canyon, it seems. In the distance is a mine shaft and a destroyed bridge leading up to it, with train tracks and shanties scattered around. Oh, and lots of gun-wielding, musclebound aliens with pig faces. Time to go to work.

Your weapon at the start of this second level is just a pistol, but before long, an RPG is in-hand, as are shotguns and, eventually, a shrink ray. All of which are handy for laying waste to various enemies, who seem to have preternaturally good aim, consistently hitting you while you try to move clear or get to a better position to take them down. Duke can take a fair amount of punishment, but cover is required for any fights with more than two enemies or lasting longer than 10 seconds.

Moving toward the mine, Duke takes out lots of aliens with various weapons. The shotgun is somewhat effective, but a longer-ranged machine gun is fully necessary to success. Duke can carry a pair of weapons at a time, as well as pick up things like his standard pipe bombs along the way. The pipe bombs are triggered by a separate button, allowing them to be deployed in a fight and used later and making them effective as part of the strategy. Perhaps it’s because it’s early in the game (or just a demo), but so far in the gunplay, strategy seems lacking.

Clearing out the little guys on the ground goes pretty fast, and they shred satisfyingly, losing limbs in the course of the battle. An alien gunship streaks in, requiring an RPG to take down, but a downed human military transport provides unlimited ammo and some decent cover against its devastating guns. A few rockets later and the thing goes down, allowing Duke the freedom to head into the mine. Well, not quite yet: first there’s a sequence with a turret in which Duke has to man the stationary machine gun and mow down enemies as they come at him from the ridge ahead. Explosive barrels abound.

When the way is finally clear, Duke is free to head up into the mine. He comments about the need for a crowbar kind of sarcastically as you bash the boards down with Duke’s bare hands. Inside the mine is a gap Duke can’t cross on his own. Climbing on top of a small ramp with a track running down it, Duke finds a mine cart filled with barrels. Removing the barrels makes the cart light enough to push to the crest of the drop, and once it’s ready, you can hop inside and pull the break to send it careening down and over the jump.

Duke gets tossed as the cart crashes, but when he’s back on his feet, he finds some gas cans. That triggers an attack by some spider-like rat-things, about the size that makes them easy to punt, and they succumb quickly to the shotgun. They’re vicious, though, spitting acid or some other projectile from all around Duke. They come from the ceiling and a collapsed tunnel, and it takes a few minutes to clear them all out. The poor spider-rat-things also suffer from some clipping issues, with one getting caught in the floor and becoming difficult to kill in order to trigger the ability to move on to the next section.

With the gas can…in his back pocket or something, Duke needs to escape the mine. The last of the varmints attacking him knocked some boards down from a nearby scaffolding, and you can use those to reach a vent and get back outside. From there, it’s another quick mine-cart ride, which includes and outdoor rollercoaster-type track on which pig aliens flee for their lives before getting squashed.

The cart terminates by tossing Duke back down by his truck, where two aliens are trying to dismantle it. They go down fast, the gas goes in the truck, and Duke is back in action, and thus the demo ends.

Final Thoughts
I’m a bit of a Duke Nukem Forever skeptic, I must admit, and not much I saw in the demo altered my opinion that DNF is a game couched in game play and “satire” that was relevant a decade back. Humor, satire, or mysogeny aside – people feel about that stuff how they feel, and I’m not interested in debating dual-mannequin blowjobs in a hands-on preview — I wasn’t thrilled by the game play, and that was a bit of a bummer.

Where Duke did seem to excel is in scripted events and in making the player feel like a badass. When you’re divorced from “Duke the Character” who does whatever with women that has no translation to the player anyway, the game laces you up in some combat boots that can feel pretty cool. Especially during the scripted events (like kicking that eyeball field goal), you get this impression that no matter how tough or deadly things get, DNF is always going to get fun.

It’s the in-between parts that worry me. Fighting random grunt aliens wasn’t much fun at all, especially when they seem to take you on exactly how 2-D sprites did way back in the days of the original Duke Nukem. They face you and open fire without moving much, and they always seem to hit you. The demo is largely a war of attrition, in which the enemy either dies first under your constant slinging of bullets, or you have to retreat behind something and recharge. That is not fun FPS design, especially not in today’s age.

I’m not shutting down on DNF entirely, but the demo did not impress much. There seems to be potential there, but I’m hoping that the game amounts to a whole lot more than “select largest gun, circle-strafe enemy until dead.”

Being dead harshing your buzz? Check out our complete Duke Nukem Forever walkthrough!

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4 Comments on Duke Nukem Forever Demo Hands-On Preview

SupremeAllah

On June 6, 2011 at 2:58 pm

I think one thing you really have to keep in mind, is that this game was intended to compete (graphically at least) with Half Life 2 and Doom 3.

One might say the obvious, which is that both those games are dated. Of course, be that as it may there are still games coming out which look similar, if not worse graphically than those two, let alone Duke.

Interactivity has always been one of the key points of fun in the Duke series, especially when Duke’s own commentary is involved. The first level in the demo is more or less a recap of what happened in the last episode of Duke Nukem 3d (other than the plutonium pack expansion) which is probably why it felt so easy to the reviewer…it was supposed to be easy! Problem with the demo is the first level was too short, and the second demo level was in the desert which didn’t provide as much interactivity as say, a shopping complex or a movie theater.

One thing you have to ask yourself is, does the game stay true to its roots? Though the demo was short, I can easily say yes, it did. And a lot of reviewers over the last decade have done nothing but trash the game constantly, claiming it never existed (despite the fact that had any of these child reviewers actually done research, like gone to the 3dRealms forums at any period in time) they would have seen proof that their own baseless arguments were flawed in their inception.

I would certainly hope that people who are going to buy or play this game are doing so because they like Duke, not because they expect top of the line GFX or groundbreaking gameplay. It’s Duke, he will talk and kick ass. That’s all there is to Duke, and I accept that.

….But hey, unlike COD games, Duke actually has a physics engine! And it is old as hell!

Phil Hornshaw

On June 6, 2011 at 3:07 pm

@Allah
You’re definitely right – the Duke parts are what was cool about the demo, and the precripted stuff still pops. My only concern isn’t that it’s easy, but that it’s hard without necessarily challenging you to be good. I’m just hoping that in taking the reins, Gearbox has worked in things that have been learned in the meantime about FPS gameplay – even from games like Half-Life 2 – to make the game play a little brainier. The demo doesn’t show much in the way of that, so I’m hoping the full game brings shooter strategy a little more in line with what’s current. Bulletstorm leaps to mind as being a decen comparison of fun ass-kicking gameplay that still requires you to play smart. If DNF can find a good middle ground, it’ll be a great time. Demo’s a bit lackluster when it comes to actually fighting bag guys, though. The trailers look like a lot more fun.

Phil Hornshaw

On June 6, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Sorry for the typos above. Commenting from an iPhone.

drsgfire

On June 6, 2011 at 6:27 pm

So looking forward to this demo. I really just hope my pc runs ok with it.