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Duke Nukem Forever preview: A night with the king, baby


Duke Nukem Forever carries fourteen years of baggage, packed with a gameplay ethos from a bygone era -- so very, very gone by. After playing through the first couple hours of DNF, it's clear to me that this is a project ripped out of time; an amalgam of ideas that's difficult to separate into the new and the old. Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford told me that finishing Forever is about completing the vision of the original design.

DNF is sort of like the movie A.I., where Steven Spielberg picked up an unfinished Stanley Kubrick project, and in the end you couldn't really tell where one's vision began and other's ended. That's DNF, like a game of telephone, or a (really slow) relay race, or a dish prepared by a line of chefs, each adding an ingredient to the recipe along the way. The end result of DNF may be tasty, but it's visibly crowd-sourced by several eras of game design.

Somehow DNF still comes out an authentic followup, exuding the blatant -- and, by some accounts, even delightful -- immaturity of its predecessor. If you came of age with Duke Nukem 3D, then you're probably going to have to suspend some years of maturation to enjoy DNF. I'd say it could even be a sort of bonding experience if you've got your own teens now, but then they probably hate your guts, and even if they don't, it would be excruciatingly embarrassing to play DNF with them.

Gallery: Duke Nukem Forever (2/9/11) | 7 Photos

I picked up playing DNF where we previously left off, with Duke kicking the eye of a giant Cycloid for a field goal. The camera pulls back through the fourth wall to reveal "the real" Duke as the player of this video game version of himself, with a pair of twins orally pleasuring him as he plays. Make no mistake, Duke Nukem Forever has the sexual politics of a '60s advertising executive. Women are bimbos, men want to be Duke, and kids want to be him even more.

From this point, the game plays out as a continuous narrative, like Half-Life 2 or Dead Space 2. After Duke has, uh, finished, the really-real player (you) is treated to a segment that passes as "character development." You learn he lives in the penthouse of the Lady Killer casino, a Las Vegas shrine, built for Duke after he saved Earth from certain destruction.

Since then, new aliens have come to the planet, but both the President and Commander of the Earth Defense Force warn Duke not to assume the worst about these new visitors. "You're a relic from a different era," the president tells him. "We can't just shoot first and ask questions later."

As Duke, you head into your casino, meeting a little boy who asks you to sign your biography: Why I'm So Great. This launches a sort of minigame where you can sign the book however you'd like. In the spirit of the game, I tried my best to do an Etch A Sketch rendition of a pair of boobs. You continue strolling around the casino, witnessing an actor's Christian Bale freak-out (clearly, one of the more recent additions to the game) and, visiting the bathroom, you hear a rather loud bowel movement and its maker exclaim, "Oh yeah, who's the man?!" from one of the stalls.

Eventually, the aliens do attack, and it's time for you to spring into action. Your health is represented by "EGO," a regenerating bar, and you can drink beer to make yourself temporarily tougher, but at the expense of your vision -- the drunken blur effect makes it incredibly difficult to see what's happening in the gameworld. You'll get ahold of steroids, too, which boost your melee attack to a one-punch kill.

Your path to the rooftop -- where the alien mothership is parked -- is blocked by various puzzles. Some are as basic as a seesawing pipe you have to walk across, while others are more engaging, including my favorite: steering an RC car through a set of obstacles from the other side of a glass wall. You use the car to slide a power node under a door, and once you have the node and stick it into the machine you need to power on, a voice predictably responds, "You really know how to turn a girl on." Your route will also have you crawling through the vents of the casino, in which you can turn on "Duke Vision," activating a sort of blue-tinted night vision.

Of course, your primary modus operandi is "just shoot first." DNF's gunfights aren't compelling, but they're competent: keep blasting as you strafe to avoid enemy laserfire (you know, like you learned in grade school). Pushing through the casino, you happen upon a very large gun-pod weapon. Hopping into the control chair, you lift off and enter an age-old, stationary "turret" scenario: Just blast the mothership while staving off the mini-ships gliding in to laser bomb Duke. Once you ... nukem all and disable the mothership's BFG, you offer a salute with your middle finger and descend back into the casino to fight off the remaining invaders.

Things don't go quite as planned, however, and you find yourself miniaturized. As Mini-Duke, you must drive an RC car (which took some getting used to), fight off "rodents of unusual size" and even clear some first-person platforming segments. I'm not talking Mirror's Edge here, but DNF welcomely ventures into territory that's strictly avoided in most shooters. In one Mini-Duke section, you have to jump up to a roulette table, bounce on a stool and hop across some boxes; and another mixes in a puzzle element, where you have to rotate a Duke statue to reposition its arms as platforms up to another level. It took some fairly precise jumps to clear both of these sections.

You eventually meet up with those twins again, and one says she knows where she'd stick Mini-Duke -- in her "hot pocket." For better or worse, you avoid this particular proposal, as Duke is returned to normal size, and you fight off a room full of aliens, only to discover their diabolical plan: They're taking Earth's women -- including Duke's party babes! "Not my babes, not in my town!" Duke swears. "You alien motherfuckers are going to pay for this!"

The rest of what I played was pretty much classic, run-and-gun gameplay. I blasted through wave after wave of aliens, in a room here, on the street there. You find out from the EDF Commander that he and the President were (obviously) wrong and that the aliens have taken over the Hoover Dam to open some kind of wormhole. But, the general reminds you, "We have a more immediate problem: They're taking our women." And that's something Duke Nukem just can't stand for.

Gallery: Duke Nukem Forever (boxart) | 5 Photos

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