Friday, June 3, 2011

Hail To The King, Baby – Duke Nukem Forever First Impressions (Demo)

Way back when I reviewed Borderlands, I mentioned that I picked up the Game of the Year Edition, but I failed to mention that with that purchase, I received a code for an early unlock of the Demo for Duke Nukem Forever. Duke Nukem 3d is a game I remember fondly, because it is one of the first-person shooters that existed before I was sick to death of the genre. I have pleasant memories of Deathmatch play, using laser tripwire mines, shrink rays and rocket launchers to rain down death on my roommates, and we thought it was a blast.

Here to kick ass and chew... yeah, yeah... is it any good?

The sequel, as many reading this well know, started development in 1997. Every conceivable joke about a video game released more than twelve years late has already been told many, many times on the internet, so I won't wander down that well-trodden path again here. DNF was rescued from the “postponed indefinitely” development hell it was trapped in for so long by Gearbox Software. In a lot of ways, their design goal was to capture the essence of what made Duke Nukem special. Juvenile, ludicrously macho, a throwback to an earlier age where sunglasses and action movie quotes made you a badass. Strippers, a fun sort of chauvinism, gore and American flags punctuated the original, and it worked because it didn't take itself seriously. It was over-the-top and knew it.

The original. One of the few screenshots I could find without any strippers.

Once I got the issues with completing the download from Steam resolved, I loaded up the demo. The graphics are on-par with any other modern shooter, but not so overwhelming as to give my middle-of-the-road gaming PC any stutters or stops. The lowbrow humor is clearly intact, as the first thing you see in the demo is a urinal, with instructions on how to... erm, use it. The opening level is pretty much run about, interact with the environment a little, and then a very easy boss battle with Duke and what looked like Dual Rocket launchers against a huge alien in the middle of an American football field, with the option to boot the creature's eye through the goalposts at the end. Immediately after, we get a title screen and a gag with two young ladies that nearly takes the game from an “M” rating directly over to “AO.” Duke quips, and then makes a joke about how late the game was released. Electric guitars hit riffs in the background.

The setting pretty much makes it impossible for the content to be too cheesy, but they give it the ol' college try. The second level of the demo features a driving section, with Duke behind the wheel of (what else?) a monster truck, squishing aliens and jumping off ramps until he runs out of gas. The rest of the level shows off the bulk of the games weapons, including the aforementioned shrink ray and a rail gun. This section shows that the controls are very, very similar to those of Borderlands, which in my mind is a good thing. Dukes “health” bar is labeled 'Ego', and when it is depleted it flashes red, and you can hide for a few moments and it will restore itself. Duke tackles pigmen, a gunship and aliens, shouting one-liners all the way, and the difficulty is turned up just a little bit. I actually got to see the bloodstained, cracked sunglasses as Duke slumped a few times.

Great shot of one of the pigman aliens from the teaser trailer.

There are a few other elements in this second (and final) demo level, as duke enters a mine to get a can of gas for his monster truck, along the way picking up and throwing large objects in order to make a minecar light enough to push on its track (the closest thing to a puzzle found in the demo) and the obligatory minecar rollercoaster ride. When in darkness, we also get to see a secondary function of Duke's shades, besides making him look cool. Tapping “F” turns the shades to “Duke-Vision”, or a kind of thermal/night vision mode that looks pretty good onscreen. Another minecar ride takes you back to the truck, where after a short fight with pigmen, the truck is gassed up, Duke gets in, and... the demo ends by playing the trailer.

I spent about an hour on the demo, and it wasn't bad, I just wonder if the “Yeah, this is incredibly sexist, and a little silly, but that's the point,” concept is going to take hold. It's a joke, and it is told in the same fashion it was told in the 1990s, but nostalgia alone isn't going to make this a great game, and neither will digital strippers. There's already been controversy over the multiplayer “Capture the Babe” mode, announced as a version of capture the flag where you have to set the flag down and slap it around a little because it is getting hysterical. There will be plenty of sex, explosions and electric guitars, enough to fill the wildest daydream of the average middle-school student, but will Duke Nukem Forever have the elements that made the first one great? That'll be rough, as Duke Nukem 3D was an important shooter because it offered gameplay elements no other game at the time did.

There's no doubt that this is a faithful sequel, but is the tongue-in-cheek
hero enough to carry a solid FPS game in 2011?

This review may seem a little mixed, because... well, it is. The graphics and sound were good and ran nice and smooth on my system. The controls were solid and familiar to anyone who played Borderlands. The style was faithful to the original (including even a 3-D Realms classic logo on a pair of dice Duke throws while chomping a cigar, a nice touch) which makes the setting a little corny and juvenile, but so long as you are going along with the joke, that isn't a downside. I'll even go so far as to call the demo fun. Will I buy the full title at release based on this demo? No, I won't. Once I've read some reviews of the whole product, I'll know if my concerns about whether the game can stand up to modern shooters is legit or not. I'll have to see some of the level designs and multiplayer modes, and then I may well pick it up, after Steam drops the price a little.
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Kelly said...

this is yet another post I can't really give an educated opinion about, unlike the previous post, in which I could, to a point. It sounds like an interesting game, though. Good review on your part, too. :) Please check out my comment on the previous post. I feel like I cheated you here on this one.

Happy Weekend!

DocStout said...

@Kelly - No Worries, read both comments, and I know I write about a wide variety of topics, and not everyone (maybe not anyone) will find all of them to be their cup of tea, or pint of Guinness as the case may be.

Zombie Ad said...

Not sure I'll play the game but the trailer is hilarious. Cheers for sharing.

Biff Tanner said...

Yes Yes O God Yes!

Astronomy Pirate said...

It is a funny concept, but I dunno if it is worth sitting through the whole game too. Good review.

Admin said...

Awesome. A great blog like this could become your next job.

Monty said...

Love it...;)

Dave said...

Really enjoyed your review cheers.

Jay said...

hmmm, i'll probably wait for other reviews on the full game as well.

Alpha said...

Good to see Duke again.

Rob said...

Couldn't have said it better myself!

Mike said...

Seems like a lot of people have been waiting for this game for a while now.

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