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Duke Nukem is a series that has historically gone for the jugular in both content and explicit material. When Duke Nukem 3D was released more than a decade ago, parents’ groups and the media demonized the game as yet another video game menace responsible for deteriorating the minds of corruptible youth. When I had the chance to play through the first ninety minutes of the long-awaited sequel, Duke Nukem Forever, I couldn’t help but think about what the people who demonized the game so long ago would think if they saw the Duke now. If you were worried that Duke Nukem would be a watered down, less caustic version of himself in his much-anticipated return, then concern yourself no longer. The King is back, and he’s in top form.
The game opens with Duke fighting against an alien horde with his bare hands. The armed forces are at his beck and call, and everyone thinks he is the best thing ever. After fighting a huge one-eyed alien, the Duke seems to have eliminated the threat, and can get back to being his badass self. However, instead of chomping down on his signature cigar, the camera pans out to reveal the real Duke Nukem, who has been playing as himself in a video game based on his life. Incidentally, he’s also been receiving some “special” attention from “The Holsom Twins” during his playtime. It’s good to be the Duke.
However, as you might expect, a real alien threat presents itself soon enough, and Duke Nukem has to save the world all over again. It’s been twelve years in the game world, and even though Duke has not aged (why would he?), he has gotten some serious celebrity status over the years. With his own casino, strip club, TV shows, musical revue, and personal legion of lady followers, Duke Nukem has evolved into a parody of himself. If you thought he was over the top before, you haven’t seen anything yet. I won’t spoil anything big here, but if you shrink away from gratuitous sexual content, over-the-top violence, or “inappropriate” humor, then you’ll want to forget this game ever existed, because it has offensive material in spades.
Of course, these moments make Duke Nukem Forever endearing in its own way. Since the original was such a lightning rod for controversy back in its day, it would only be natural for its successor to push the envelope. However, in an era where we’ve seen the Mass Effect “Sexbox” controversy and multiple studies telling us how good or bad gaming is for us (depending on who you believe) it would be natural for the game to shirk away from its roots. However, Duke Nukem Forever does no such thing, and I have to applaud it for staying true to its ridiculously over-the-top roots.
However, as far as actual gameplay is concerned, Duke Nukem Forever does play it a bit safe. The game plays like your standard FPS, and if you are expecting anything else, you might be disappointed. Though we ran through the first dozen levels or so on “Normal” difficulty, the game wasn’t terribly challenging, especially if you are an experienced shooter. Though there are some memorable puzzle elements that require a bit more thought than your general shooter fare, the game’s format is largely a paint-by-numbers shooter. There are a few mini-game opportunities that are fun (you can waste quite some time playing pool or driving around with an RC car), but these little diversions hardly add substantial value to the game.
Although I was initially put off by its reliance on genre conventions, as I played through the game’s ridiculous scenery, and listened to Duke’s always spot-on commentary, I couldn’t hide the goofy grin on my face. So much of Duke Nukem Forever relies on your relationship with the series and the character. If you aren’t a longtime fan, you might find yourself annoyed by the generic-feeling aspects of the game, or the lack of a compelling story that reaches beyond double entendres for genuinely unique one-liners. However, if you are a Duke Nukem fan, expect to be blown away.
Of course, the folks at Gearbox and 2K were quick to point out that the game isn’t finished yet, and though what we played through was certainly representative of the game at large, we were assured that the game was going to be tweaked and adjusted in several ways before launch. However, from what we’ve seen so far, Duke Nukem Forever looks like it will be an amazing experience for fans of the franchise, and a generally pleasant experience for those who enjoy the FPS genre at large. Sure, fighting aliens and saving the world sounds a little generic, but Duke does it with such style, it’s hard to say no to the guy. And yes, that’s what she said.