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

There%26rsquo;s an RPG-like amount of random crap to do

Remember how amazed you were by the little interactive details in Duke Nukem 3D? How mind-blowing it was to take a break from saving the world in order to play a bit of pool? How dubiously thrilling it was to fire up a cinema projector and watch a softcore porn loop? How refreshing it was to take a piss after a close-quarters fire-fight? Well Duke Nukem Forever runs with that design philosophy to an insane degree. It runs right around the world twice and it keeps on running.

Above: You can spend at least ten minutes just exploring Duke's penthouse. Ten fun minutes

There are Duke 3D-style distractions all over the place. I found more than ten in just the first 90 minutes, and this time around they%26rsquo;re built into the game as a central mechanic. Aside from simply creating a great sense of attachment to the game world by making Duke%26rsquo;s universe feel like a real, fully functioning place, performing particularly %26ldquo;Duke-like%26rdquo; actions will score you a health bar increase.

I nailed a bunch of them during my playing time. Things like taking a beer break or checking yourself out in the mirror are fun little discoveries, but some of these interactions become whole games in themselves. A pinball table in Duke%26rsquo;s training room is so fully-featured that it alone must have taken a couple of dev staff a good while to make. It%26rsquo;s almost a releasable download game in its own right.

Benchpressing to sculpt Duke%26rsquo;s less literal guns becomes a mini puzzle quest, as you search the room for enough weights for a satisfying work-out, and then carefully balance the bar in order to make it useable. You can also shoot hoops on Duke's basketball court, but I was crap at it and didn%26rsquo;t sink a single one. It%26rsquo;s telling that I wasted five minutes trying though.

It%26rsquo;s fun for the sake of fun

Modern games tend to find one thing they%26rsquo;re good at and stick to it. And there%26rsquo;s absolutely no shame in that. Gears of War has honed a single, simple gameplay mechanic and kept it fresh and exciting over the course of two games so far, and that%26rsquo;s no mean feat. Duke Nukem Forever though, takes such glee in mixing up the gameplay that you could collect it all together and make a vastly over-rated TV musical.

Above: FUN!

There%26rsquo;s a slow-burning intro with minimal combat. Then there%26rsquo;s fist-fighting and a bit of improvised melee using award statues. Then there%26rsquo;s toe-to-toe shooting. Then there%26rsquo;s a pitch-black stealth section which lets you stalk alien prey using night-vision sunglasses. Then you%26rsquo;ll need to collect power cells to reboot a generator. One of them is visible through the window of a locked room.The room also containsanother radio-controlled car (controller mercifully on your side of the wall) which you'lluse to navigate a 3D maze and push the cell out through a letter box. Then there%26rsquo;s that driving bit I mentioned. Then a cool set-piece with a plummeting lift. And a turret battle against a full-scale air invasion fleet. This is all in the first hour-and-a-half. All of it. Ideas. Duke has them.

Above: Avoid him or stub his toe. Your call

And the craziest thing about all of this, the wonderful, perfect, craziest bit, is that none of it would matter half as much without the thirteen year delay. If it had been released when first planned, Duke Nukem Forever would have been impressive but a logical evolution going up against a Half-Life 2 doing similar things. Now, with H-L2: Episode 3 still God knows how far away and a glut of more conventional shooters filling the shelves, Duke Forever is getting a chance to shine on its own terms. As a big, ballsy, clever, fun ball of wit, design and silliness that truly stands out from the pack and does so with flair. It had to wait until everything old was new again in order to make that impact, but now that I%26rsquo;ve played it, now that I really get it, I%26rsquo;m actually kind of glad it did.

Feb. 14th, 2011

David Houghton
Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.