Imagine yourself sat in the green room of a TV show. The usual accoutrements are available, but this one has something a bit more. Not only do you have a pair of "wholesome Twins" to keep you company, but you have your own video game to play. Reliving some of your greatest moments by taking down the Cycloid Emperor with your trusty rocket launcher, you put down the controller and head out for your chat show appearance in your own casino. It's only then that the Aliens attack; that's where Duke Nuke'm Forever picks up.
That's right the protagonist described as a mixture of Arnold Swartzenegger, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Bruce Cambell is back, and as he mentioned himself in some of the trailers that Gearbox have released in recent weeks, the game "better be good, it took 12 f***ing years."
Originally planned to be released two years after the hit title Duke Nuke'm 3D (1996), by 3D Realms, DNF has had the rockiest and longest running development in video game history. While it's not unheard of for a title to transition from one game engine to another if a more impressive or easier to work one is released, this shooter has been through several. It was initially going to be put together on the Build engine, but even at the early stages of development this was considered antiquated. The focus soon moved to the new Quake 2 engine which was closer to true 3D, but that one didn't last long either with 3D Realms choosing to switch to the slightly newer - and more equipped to deal with open environments - Unreal engine from Epic games shortly after. While there isn't much more info beyond these switches, its known that a new physics engine was selected and there were rumors of using Doom 3's engine for a while, though co-creator George Broussard denied it at the time.
However, it's quite clear from recent trailers and screenshots that they aren't using an engine put together in the last few years of the 20th century. While the basis was originally - and technically still is - Epic's Unreal Engine (the one used for the original Unreal Tournament) there isn't much left of it. Over the years 3Drealms and more recently Gearbox, have tweaked and worked in their own tools including a new animation system and a physics engine borrowed from Swedish firm Meqon. While the game is hardly cutting edge - Crytek fans will scoff at its lack of polygons - Duke Nuke'm Forever is still a good looking game. It features solid weather and atmospheric effects and while texturing is something that would have been top of the line a few years ago, it still holds up well and is more than adequate for a modern gaming audience; especially a console one.
One upside of this is that the recommended and minimum specifications for PC users are pretty low.
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0 Ghz / AMD Athlon 64 X2 2.0 Ghz
Video Card: Nividia GeForce 7600 / ATI Radeon HD 2600
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 Ghz / AMD Athlon 64 X2 2.6 Ghz
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS / ATI Radeon HD 3850
Of course we can expect the minimum spec'd hardware to run the game pretty horribly, but if all you need is an 8 series nVidia GPU to run it smoothly with average settings, most gamers and enthusiasts of reasonable repute will have no problem running this as it was meant to be played.
There have now been many a game reviewer that has picked up an Xbox controller to try out the latest demo build of Duke Nuke'm Forever, and unsurprisingly opinions are varied. However, one thought does seem to strike through the hate and the praise equally strongly, is that this is a shooter of the old school variety. Now that doesn't mean that we're talking about only needing to pan through the X axis to find your enemies, or that every fight you have will be found in a corridor, what it means is this game goes back to the roots of what makes a good shooter: shooting stuff.
Fans of Serious Sam or the original Duke will likely find enjoyment in the manic fire fights that look to ensue at every turn with the king battling his way across varied environments against a host of pig faced grunts and larger bionic enemies; many of which feature destructible armour, though no word if this is target specific or based on an invisible health bar.
The retro feel of the title will also probably leave it quite linear, with driving sequences linking some levels utilizing Duke's sponsored monster truck that will come equipped with its own forms of destructive weaponry. This non-sandbox style of gameplay will probably annoy the new-age fanboys who feel they need to make every decision in the game themselves and keep it morally 'in line' with their own ways of thinking, but this game isn't about that. It's about telling the story of a humble celebrity superstar who gets all the bitches, all the bling and still manages to kick ass while doing so. Sit back, enjoy the ride and be pleased that you're even allowed to help Duke out as he kicks ass and chews bubblegum all throughout the game-scape.
Speaking of which, being a title in the Nuke'm genre, you'd be dumb to expect a realistic "can only hold two weapons at once" approach, or one where the arsenal is limited to a pistol, machine gun and rocket launcher. Of course these guns exist, but where would the fun be in that? While Crysis 2 might have it's nanosuit to give its player base a bit of creative license when it comes to taking on their foes, Duke has a large outlet of weaponry that not only allows gamers to kill their enemies just how they want, but lets them have a lot of fun with it too.
Confirmed weaponry so far includes:
• Duke's size 13 boot in kick form
• Punching and striking with the stock of a gun
• M1911 automatic pistol
• Classic single barrel shotgun
• Shrink ray
• Freeze thrower
• RPG with lock on
• Ripper chaingun
• Devastator twin linked rocket launcher
• The Enforcer
• Laser trip and proximity mines
• Railgun sniper rifle
This rather expansive arsenal should give gamers plenty to play with and keep the gameplay varied throughout. Undoubtedly some will become fan favorites as the ripper, shrink gun and laser trip mines did in Duke Nuke'm 3D, though early demo play has only permitted a few of the weapons to have been tested in the wild. I can personally confirm that the Devastator is damn fun to play with but that the projectiles are slow enough to cause inaccuracies at distance, making for some interesting gameplay elements.
However, while the game play itself is always a strong seller for a Duke title, it's the protagonist that draws gamers in like a moth to a flame. Shooting is all well and good, but as every Bond villain and enemy of Bruce Cambell will know, death would not be complete without a witty one liner. Mr Nuke'm, as he's known to his fans, is well versed in this art that hasn't been well practised since the early days of Monkey Island's insult sword fighting. His catch phrase that he's "here to kick ass and chew bubble gum" is well represented as one would expect, but there are also many other clever quips that Duke slips in to verbally teabag his foe before he finishes them off.
On top of this, our protagonist hasn't been sitting around for the past decade, it's clear he's also been brushing up on his movie references, which will no doubt be scattered throughout the title. One quote that stands out in a recent trailer is, "I'm from Las Vegas, and I say kill 'em all." Clearly Mr Nuke'm and I are mutual fans of the Starship Troopers franchise.
Language isn't the only adult theme found in this title though, sex, as always, is ever present. As the demo and main game begins, Duke is being "taken care of" by a pair of scantily clad twins which he begrudgingly has to leave in order to partake in his TV show appearance. However, they won't be the only occurrence of females worshipping the King throughout his latest game. There's already footage that appeared in the official trailer showing Mr Nuke'm enjoying a strip show and also being a little bemused at the movements of a certain massager as it whirs around on a desk top.
Comedy in many forms is also present with the typical gamer-beloved toilet humor making a comeback. Anyone that's played the demo will find themselves learning first and foremost how to allow the King to relieve himself; urination that is, the girls handle the rest. On top of this is the interesting inclusion of smoking. Now everyone knows Duke loves a fine cigar, as he's a fancy gentleman, but this isn't something often seen in other mediums. Gaming is still holding on the smoking-looks-cool theme that Television and Music have done away with. Bravo Gearbox, the king should be able to relax with a stogie at the end of the day; hell he's done a lot of ass kicking.
While it doesn't look set to push the boundaries graphically or tell a story that no one has ever heard before, Duke Nuke'm Forever is shaping up to be a fun game, a funny game and one that will have plenty of memorable moments. And the thing is, this will probably make DNF one of the better games of 2011, though as the King said in the trailer, it should be with the development cycle it's had.
Of course, there will be some disappointed fans of the original who say that this one isn't like Duke 3D and there will be those that feel it's not new enough. However, if sales of Serious Sam HD and Second Encounter HD are anything to go by, there's still a decent size audience out there that is likely to enjoy the frantic gun and word play found in this upcoming FPS that it should sell and review well; as long as Gearbox hasn't dropped the ball somewhere unexpectedly.
So, 13 years after the intended 1998 release date, Duke is now ready to head the attack against the pig faced alien hordes once again; those dirty pigs better get their hooves off our strippers.