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Duke Nukem Forever Hands-On

Steve Butts | 9 Feb 2011 16:00
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After completing the final battle in his own videogame, Duke starts to confront the current Cycloid menace. I get the feeling that the first part of the game is intentionally mundane, at least as far as the gameplay goes. I mean, Duke's empire is obviously prosperous and the Duke brand is plastered over every surface in the game, but the actual gameplay for the first several minutes seems limited to turning faucets on and off, making popcorn, and signing autographs. It's not exactly Heavy Rain and it doesn't seem to have much direct effect on the actual gameplay, but it's nice to find little bits of interactivity in the world. It's also not so bad to punch out an unidentified-but-obviously-recognizable actor behind the scenes of a familiar-but-legally-indistinct late night talk show.

One of the coolest touches in the game is the Ego meter. Rather than having an actual physical shield like most of today's heroes, Duke is protected by the sheer force of his masculine self-image. When enemies beat him down, he has to pause to regain his confidence or else face the real possibility of actually being killed. While it's functionally the same as similar mechanisms in other games, the clever ways the designers find for Duke to increase his Ego are what sells it for me. He might, for instance, get an Ego boost from lifting weights, or from admiring himself in mirrors. Of course, Duke also gets drunk off of only one beer, which hardly seems to fit the manly ideal the designers were going for.

As Duke makes his way through his casino, he'll punch, shoot, and otherwise disembowel every Cycloid, Pigcop and miscellaneous beastie who comes his way. I won't spoil any of the specifics of the story or the gameplay here, because much of the appeal is in discovering the unique interactions and secrets the designers have hidden throughout the levels. Some sequences, like crawling through ducts or gathering power cells for a reactor, are laughably old-fashioned. Others, like exploring the casino as an action-figure sized Duke complete with a drivable RC car, are fresh, funny, and, most importantly, fun.

So even though the game's release will finally put an end to all the "Did Not Finish" mockery, there is still some potential for ridicule lingering around the edges of this frustrated adolescent fantasy. It is a game that will already be nostalgic for itself on the very day it comes out. Whether its retro-approach will feel like a refreshing resurgence of past glories or merely the ragged remnants of an outdated design remains to be seen. Whatever you think of the game's tone, it has a high bar to clear in terms of anticipation. As Duke himself says when asked if the game is any good, "After twelve f***ing years, it should be." It's a bold statement to put right in the game and we'll all have a chance to see whether it's true or not when the game is released this May.

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