We'll spare you any history lessons on Duke Nukem Forever. If you follow video games at all, you likely know the long, rocky, infamous--and did we say long?--history behind this first-person shooter. All you need to know is that it's actually playable here at PAX 2010. Granted, as you'd expect, there's quite a line to see it. But if there was ever a game where a lengthy queue was appropriate, it's this one. CEO of Gearbox Randy Pitchford certainly knows. "I heard the line outside was 13 years long," Pitchford joked while giving a presentation on how new developer Gearbox picked up the project after 3D Realms collapsed last year.
To give a quick summary, Pitchford described his personal attachment to the franchise (Duke Nukem 3D was the first game he worked on before forming his own studio) as well as the reason publisher 2K Games trusted Gearbox to salvage the project ("we brought them a megahit with Borderlands"). But it was a quick introduction, followed by a new trailer and the opportunity for everyone there to get some hands-on time with a couple of different levels.
The trailer was Duke at his ridiculous best, punching giant aliens below the belt, spouting one-liners, and taking more than a few self-referential jabs at himself. After that, it was time to play the game. The demo started off simply enough: You're standing in front of a urinal in a men's room with the screen politely directing you to pull the right trigger to begin urinating. This opening scene sets the table rather appropriately for a brief but utterly absurd demo. A few seconds later, you walk up to some EDF forces in a locker room drawing plans to deal with the current alien invasion on a whiteboard. One soldier--the only one left standing amid a number of mangled survivors--invites you to offer your advice, and after a little first-person whiteboard scribbling by the player, that soldier remarks something to the effect of, "That's a great plan! If we had done that, that guy over there would still have his arm!”"Pause. "And at least one of his balls."
Duke, being a man of action, quickly runs through the tunnels of this football stadium--it turns out that's where the demo starts--and out onto the field. Standing on the 50-yard line is a giant one-eyed alien monster called the Cycloid. Fortunately, Duke has just picked up a rocket launcher called the Devastator. Using this handy little weapon, you run all over the rain-soaked field dodging the boss's attacks while occasionally firing rockets at his single, solitary eye. After a couple of minutes, the beast is felled, and Duke celebrates by ripping out his eye and kicking a field goal with it.
After this, the game's first level, we were quickly transported to the 15th level. This one begins in some arid canyons with Duke cruising along in his signature monster truck. The controls are simple: just pull the right trigger to accelerate and hit the B button to handbrake around a corner. This sequence seemed like a bit of a palate cleanser, as there wasn't a whole lot of challenge--just cruise along, look cool, and splatter the occasional pig alien too stupid to get out of your way. But you run out of gas before arriving at a small canyon village and have to do on-foot battle against a bunch of ugly aliens.
To help even the odds, the game scatters a few useful guns around the little town. There's the railgun, which comes in handy for remote sniping; the shrink ray, which turns your enemies into tiny things that are almost too adorable to kill; and a turret gun for dealing with a landing enemy spaceship. Unfortunately, we weren't able to progress past said spaceship before the allotted demo time was over. But we'll go ahead and assume there were aliens, guns, and one-liners to be found after a successful completion. Call it a hunch.
If there's one thing that surprised us about the demo, it's this: Duke Nukem Forever is pretty darn fun for a game with such a tumultuous development. The comic timing was impressive, the guns felt satisfying, and the graphics were quite pleasing to look at. Of course, this is a Duke Nukem game through and through, so there are some inherent elements to it that will instantly turn some people off. But pick up a controller, spend a few minutes with it, and you'll be surprised at how well it has turned out. Whether the rest of the game can follow suit is something we're eager to see. Stay tuned for more.