Previews// Duke Nukem Forever

Posted 10 May 2011 13:00 by
Duke Nukem Forever. I couldn?t believe my senses when I was finally given the chance to play the single-player campaign six months ago, and even today it feels like I?m dreaming. I was able to give the game?s various multiplayer modes for a spin over the weekend, and it really does feel like a blast from the past.

The unfortunate twist here is that this can be interpreted in two different ways. Duke Nukem Forever has been in development for over a decade, switched IP ownership a number of times and has had countless engine rebuilds. As a result, it wouldn?t be unfair to say that the game, at times, feels like it?s stuck in the past.

Gearbox has done its best to try and modernise the Duke Nukem multiplayer experience, whilst still honouring the charm, design conventions and other elements that made the franchise so unique in the first place. Imagine a gaggle of different-coloured Dukes running around small maps at high speed, shrinking and booting one another in the face with an endless supply of Jon St. Jon quips. It?s delightfully mad.

Maps are designed with fast-paced action in mind, and have some rather imaginative quirks of their own. One level is set in a huge kitchen, with players fighting in the form of miniature Dukes hopping over hot counters and sniping off the top of burgers. One specific area in that map has a rather delicious weapon pickup in the middle of a microwave, but you have to be quick to get it before the door closes and bakes you alive.

Another stage, hilariously called Morningwood, sees opponents frag it out in a deserted Western town. With quite a small battleground to work with, and the only vantage points coming from the upper levels of a couple of shacks, this level in particular highlights what Duke Nukem does best. Frantic kill-a-thons that require no real brain power other than run-and-gun. And maybe chew gum.

For those who remember Duke Nukem 3D, the array of weapons and pickups will make you feel right at home. And even for those who are only accustomed to today's Call of Duty, the range of unique weapons here will certainly make you raise an eyebrow. The machine-gun Ripper, the Shrink Ray, pipe bombs and the Freeze Ray all feature here along with the Devastator - rocket-launching gauntlets, basically. They're rather cool.

For all of its nostalgia though, there?s an underlying feeling here that the game is using design conventions from the late 1990s. Available modes I played included the classic Deathmatch and Capture the Flag scenarios, with the latter involving a twist worthy of the Duke - each team has a babe and you have to scurry from one base to another to carry the opposing team?s babe to your corner (with the occasional arse-slapping to calm said babe down). I?m not sure if other modes are planned, but as it stands it seems very vanilla.

The aforementioned maps are nothing to write home about either when you consider that other FPS titles have much more intricate levels and provide rewards in the form of perks and experience. Gearbox has implemented one or two things from today?s era of multiplayer shooters - you can earn awards for each match (such as the ?Ladies Man? for picking up an opposing team?s babe) as well as experience points, but I?m not sure to what end this will impact gameplay later on.

You also have regenerating health, but you wouldn?t know about it when playing thanks to the aforementioned map design and the reliance on high-speed action. You?ll get into a shooting match with someone within ten seconds of spawning, and once it?s guaranteed that one of you will be dead in three seconds flat. It?s a good effort, but it seems that the modern elements implemented here are simply countered by old-school gameplay mechanics.

It?s testament to a studio?s competence that a game can feel so deep-rooted in the past and yet offer a high level of entertainment, though. Clearly, a lot of love has gone into Duke Nukem Forever, and those who fondly remember playing 3D on their Windows PCs will thoroughly enjoy the multiplayer modes on offer.

For most others though, I?m not sure the game will carry the same level of depth and value that we have come to expect from today?s FPS titles. Duke Nukem Forever is most definitely a blast from the past - but whether that?s a good or a bad thing could depend on your level of nostalgia.

Duke Nukem Forever is hitting PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on 10th June.

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