Duke Nukem Forever: 4 big reasons it's 100% old-school authentic (while also 100% fresh)

Before my most recent session with Duke Nukem Forever, I had plenty of questions. Even having previously played through the PAX demo, I had questions. Superficially, I knew this game was Duke Nukem. It had balls-out action. It had one-liners. It had all the iconic weaponry. But as a fan of Duke Nukem 3D since its original 1996 release, I needed to know more.

How Duke Nukem would the full game feel? And how Duke Nukem could it get away with feeling, after thirteen years and countless developments in the FPS genre? Would Duke Nukem Forever be a legitimate and worthwhile sequel to Duke 3D, or just another FPS with the name tacked on? Having fine-toothed the game’s opening couple of hours with my fanboy comb, I now feel like it’s the former, 100%. Here’s what you need to know.

The level design is pure old-school creativity

This is the biggie. Whatever his reputation as a ‘roid-raging, blood-lusting sex-pest, Duke Nukem is a hero with brains. The fact that he can fill them with so much porn and booze and still save the world repeatedly is testament to their size.

Above: Remember when this was all new and exciting? It is again, but maybe even better

Duke Nukem 3D was far from a dumbass shooter. It was a pioneering title that progressed the cause of explorable, cerebrally-challenging environments and interactivity within FPS worlds. Basically, it did a lot of the things Half-Life got credit for before Half-Life even did them. But hey, it’s always as much about what you look like as what you do, and a bespectacled theoretical physicist is always going to get more brain kudos than a bleach-blonde muscle man.

Anyway, the point is Duke 3D’s level design was a splendid mix of ballsy, up-close shooting and brainy, head-scratching environmental navigation. Few FPS in recent years (Valve notwithstanding) have continued in that vein, preferring a hand-holding approach of “walk forward to next cut-scene while pulling trigger, press X to win upon arrival”. Yeah, CoD, I’m looking at you.

Duke Forever, by contrast, feels like a revelation. It throws environmental conundrums at you like a double-speed highlights reel of Grand Designs. Even simple physics problems like manipulating a busted pipe as a seesaw to reach higher ground are like a breath of fresh air, albeit one recirculated through the air-con from 13 years ago.

Above: Poker chips = Tiny-Duke staircase. Obviously

Later on you’ll find yourself in Duke’s self-aggrandising museum to his own greatness. You need to reach a balcony above, but there’s no obvious route. Then you spot a huge diorama, depicting a statue of the king looming Godzilla-style among some model skyscrapers. Then you notice that the diorama has controls. A bit of experimentation will raise and lower buildings, and a bit more with rotate the statue. Eventually you’ll have a make-shift staircase with which you can reach the statue’s arms, and from there you can jump up to its head and leap off to the next floor.

Later still, you’ll have a little run-in with a shrink ray, which will lead to a Toy Story-style race around in an RC car. Eventually you’ll hit a partially open fire shutter that’s closed too low to the ground to drive under. The solution? Get out, crawl your tiny self under the gap, then use the furniture and décor in the next room as a platforming jungle gym to reach a door switch the equivalent of 50 feet above you.

This is the world of Duke Nukem 3D, truly evolved

It’s amazing how intensively 3D Realms and Gearbox have fleshed out Duke’s universe. This is unmistakenly the skewed, cartoon version of our own world we saw glimpses of in Duke Nukem 3D, but it’s so much more expansive and realised than we’d ever imagined it before. Again there’s a Half-Life reference to be made, as the jump feels really rather similar to that from the the first game’s Black Mesa facility to the wider world of Half-Life 2’s City 17.

Suddenly we know exactly who Duke is and how he fits into the world around him. When the aliens return, we get to use his direct video link to the President and the heads of the military (they warn him to stay out of what they hope will be peace talks, but he doesn’t listen). TV news reports detail the invasion live as it happens, referencing nearby locations like a local Duke Burger franchise. It’s a heady brew of world-building, story-telling and satire, with more than a twang of Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! about it.

Above: The pigs are back. And this time they're way more organised

And then there’s the gap-filling, which is an absolute treat for long-time fans. Following his 1996 exploits, Duke is now a millionaire celebrity, living it large in the penthouse of his own Las Vegas casino. The walls are littered with blown-up publicity shots of his manly achievements since then. Duke taming a shark. Duke hunting lions. Duke with award statues. There’s even a poster for “Hail to the King: The Musical”, which you can see a real-life version of here.

And that’s to say nothing of the references to his past heroism. The events of Duke Nukem 3D are now a landmark of world history. Statues and memorabilia litter the walls of Duke’s hotel as screaming fans queue outside and invitations for TV appearances continue to come in (the Johnny O' Lenoman show, anyone?). And in a really sweet moment, when you finally get your hands on Duke’s iconic lever-loading shotgun, it’s the Duke 3D original, obtained by smashing its glass display case in Duke's trophy room. Oh, and going by another poster I spotted, the “Bleach Blonde Biker Bimbos” movies are still big news.

And speaking of the world of Duke Nukem 3D...



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  • mahajinx - February 18, 2011 11:24 a.m.

    I gave up on this game as pretty much everybody else, I guess. So I was pleasantly surprised and quite happy to learn of its definite revival, even more so that Gearbox took over the development. All my worries about the final quality and addictiveness went out the window :), as I knew the game is in safe hands now. Ok, maybe I'm a bit biased about Gearbox now because of Borderlands :), but if they've proven anything with that game, it's that they really care about their products. I'm expecting Duke to be as fun and addictive, and ooze equal amounts of charm. And then, when you think you're finished and done with it, you - get a whole BUNCH of new DLCs! :)) Gearbox ftw! And Duke! And of course 3D Realms too, they've had a lot of say in the development themselves! :)) Also, kudos to GR, you guys are the best, my favorite 'hang-around' place on the internet! :) (yeah, I'm biased ;) )
  • slighter9 - February 18, 2011 8:48 a.m.

    "Eventually you’ll hit a partially open fire shutter that’s closed too low to the ground to drive under" gewd engrish ftw!
  • Fraught - February 17, 2011 8:12 p.m.

    Even though when they said it's finally getting made, I thought "eh, they'll dig it up and shit all over it, probably," but I must say, I'm genuinely surprised. And I want to try it m'self.
  • Spybreak8 - February 17, 2011 4 a.m.

    Looking forward to Duke Nukem Forever and Bulletstorm just for the no holds bar of fun and overly excessive demeanor overall.
  • philipshaw - February 16, 2011 11:38 p.m.

    I still think it will be dated the day it comes out
  • FinderKeeper - February 16, 2011 10:58 p.m.

    I like the attention to detail... like how the buttons on the controller spell "DUKE" (D in place of X, U in place of Y, K in place of B, and E in place of A) :-p
  • hoba - February 16, 2011 6:32 p.m.

    @GayforGilbert Thank the lord for that. It just wouldn't have been the same otherwise...
  • jackthemenace - February 16, 2011 4:49 p.m.

    WANT. 'Nuff said.
  • Rivenscry - February 16, 2011 1:55 p.m.

    Thanks for the response David, I get it now why those references were made. Sorry if I sounded like a troll/ whiner but I guess I was just peeved that Valve would put a "Square Enix sale week" over the pre-order of Portal 2... (madness) But really, sorry again for the comment that to me now seems a little on the douchey side, thanks for your understanding. I can sure relate to the sheer amount of work put in to these articles and I certainly share the love for all things Freeman and am still patiently, albeit a little strained now, for Episode Three. Though it will be bitter sweet as Valve have said that after Half Life 3 and its off-shoots, that they will finish with the Half Life series for good. I think that this best describes my reaction: Thanks again for your time, see you next time. Yours sincerely, J.
  • GayforGilbert - February 16, 2011 12:34 a.m.

    @hoba: Yes, it is.
  • killorabbit - February 16, 2011 12:29 a.m.

    The Megadeth cover of the Duke theme is superb. Definitely recommend looking it up on youtube.
  • nuno004 - February 16, 2011 12:25 a.m.

    "Looks like it's, time to kill" again, i am looking very forward to this 'cause i have been waiting too long for this
  • e1337prodigy - February 15, 2011 10:43 p.m.

    So hopefully it gets the same kind of ratings as HL2? Lets just hope it continues like that for more than 90mins. Finally a change of pace, from those same old fps. Although they are good, they don't work your brain like HL. So hopefully DNF will. Might make Valve pull their finger out and get on with HL3/episode 3 or whatever it is now.
  • hoba - February 15, 2011 9:51 p.m.

    I'd long since given up on this game, what with it being one of the biggest non-Daikatana-related jokes in the industry. But the more I read about this, the more I turn into the giddy fifteen year old I was when DN3D was released. I can still remember little quotes from it, like pressing the action button near the Duke Nukem II arcade machine, and hearing Duke say "Hmm, don't have time to play with myself." It is still Jon St. John voicing Duke, right? It has to be...
  • beardo180 - February 15, 2011 8:58 p.m.

    After reading this article it is easy to understand why the game took so long
  • Battlecrafts - February 15, 2011 7:54 p.m.

    Duke Nukem is the fantasy of every guys. He's like the Chuck Norris of the video game : ridiculous... hahahah
  • Montag - February 15, 2011 6 p.m.

    @Ingema Kudos to you sir As a really old fart (I bought 3D Monster Maze new.... from my paper round earnings) I have to agree 100%.
  • Fiirestorm21 - February 15, 2011 4:56 p.m.

    Any game that looks to stand toe-to-toe with Half-Life 2 in terms of design is one that I need to pay attention to. (More so, in this case, since it being DNF had already had my attention.)
  • LTS - February 15, 2011 4:15 p.m.

    Last time I had balls out fun with a video game: Twisted Metal II Stuff like LBP is fun, but not balls out.
  • GR_DavidHoughton - February 15, 2011 4:07 p.m.

    The Half-Life/Half-Life 2 references (and believe me, they're pretty much my favourite games of all time, and the ones I can bang on about for days) are down to similar design philosophies rather than tone or characterisation. Ignore the presentation of both series and look at them historically as part of the evolution of FPS design. Both Duke Nukem 3D and Half-Life made a genuine push forward at around the same time in terms of interactive environments, expansive level design, creative, nuanced weaponry and believable geography. Half-Life 2 pushed that further to an insane degree in 2004, turning its original design concepts into a living, breathing world. Early builds of Duke Nukem Forever around the same time seemed to be aiming for a similar evolution, and those aims can still be clearly seen in the current version of DNF. Hope that clears it up.

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