You heard right, guys. Duke Nukem Forever isn't just a running gag about a game that will never come out. Not anymore. It was confirmed last year that Borderlands developer Gearbox Software had acquired the rights to complete work on this long-awaited first-person shooter. While this may not seem like the most obvious choice of studios, it turns out that Gearbox frontman Randy Pitchford, and several of Gearbox's founding members, got their start at 3D Realms many years ago working on the original Duke Nukem 3D from 1996. And now, in 2011, we've played through the first part of the game and have much to report. Please be advised that this story covers the first 90 minutes or so of gameplay and may contain minor spoilers and some descriptions of sexually explicit scenes.
Our play session started soon after we selected one of three difficulty levels: piece of cake (easy), let's rock (normal), and come get some (hard). We started a new session on normal difficulty and ran through the same content we covered in the PAX 2010 demo last year. This was the same introduction, with Duke starting a new adventure by standing squarely in front of a urinal, relieving himself (if you're wondering, in the Xbox 360 version, you press the right trigger button to pee), then meeting up with Earth security forces being attacked by aliens, picking up the multi-rocket-launching devastator weapon, and reliving the football field boss battle from the original Duke Nukem 3D. After the battle ended, the scene cut to a close-up shot of a video game controller being held by Duke himself. It was then revealed that he had actually been playing his own licensed video game (which had also, coincidentally, been in development for 12 years). Oh yeah, and while he had been playing, he was apparently being orally pleasured by twin giggling pop stars dressed as schoolgirls. So…there was that.
After finishing the game, Duke did some channel surfing, revealing both the music video for his twin girlfriends' new hit single, as well as an ad for his upcoming late-night talk show appearance on Damn, It's Late! with Johnny O'Lenoman. Saving the earth all those years ago made the cigar-chomping tough guy a celebrity. And now, he has turned his international fame into a multimillion-dollar empire and has appeared both in his own award-winning motion picture and in a glitzy Las Vegas musical revue in his own casino, the Lady Killer. Which is where he now takes up residence. In the penthouse suite, of course. As a matter of fact, everything would be perfect for him if it weren't for those pesky aliens, who have returned to Earth but claim they come in peace this time. Worse yet, the president seems to have fallen for the aliens' ruse, but the Duke, well, he ain't buying what they're selling. (And he later finds out that the aliens haven't changed a bit and that they have once again returned to Earth…to steal our chicks.)
In this early part of the game, we took Duke on a leisurely stroll through his own fabulous digs, exploring both the late-night TV studio and the casino. Over the course of this early game, we augmented our mighty hero's already-colossal ego. No, seriously, that's what your health bar is called in this game--"ego." The ego meter works a lot like the replenishing health you've seen in modern shooters like Halo and Call of Duty--if you take a hit but can get to cover, your meter will eventually refill itself.
You can permanently increase your maximum ego level by defeating boss monsters, and temporarily increase it by doing "Duke-like" things, such as hitting the rec room and pumping some iron or working the heavy bag; by giving some snot-nosed kid your autograph; by admiring yourself in the mirror; or by putting some jerk TV producer in his place by knocking him out cold. In this part of the game, we also got the chance to experience nostalgia in the form of various exhibits built to sing the praises of the character and his previous adventures, from an art museum that features screenshots from the original DOS side-scrolling Duke Nukem games, to an exhibit with bronzed versions of aliens and weapons from the 1996 game, to a behind-velvet-ropes throne where some kid waited for the coin-operated camera to snap a nostalgia photo.
After obliging the adoring fan, we hopped onto the throne ourselves, and it descended to our high-tech secret mission room, the Duke Cave. (Yeah, that's really what it's called.) Our hero arrived to find that the president, and the general of the US Army, were teleconferencing stringent orders that he not show any kind of hostility toward the aliens, despite the fact that they were currently all suspiciously congregating outside Las Vegas' most successful restaurant, Duke Burger, and despite the fact that power had been cutting out throughout the casino, and despite the fact that we had already observed aliens climbing the walls and sneaking through the guts of the building.
After listening to the speech, we'd had all we could stand and headed out of the control room to blow off some steam, only to find aliens in the rec room doing curls and reps with our equipment. We couldn't stand for that and immediately put up our fists and punched the aliens' lights out. Fortunately, we discovered a cache of our secret weapon: beer. Beer temporarily makes you "tougher" (a handy benefit when you're up against pulse-rifle-wielding aliens armed only with your fists), at the minor cost of making your view blurry. Beer is one of Duke's regular items, which can, in the console versions, be accessed with a press of the controller D pad.
Soon, we discovered that we had an alien infestation in the cave, so we beat down every alien we encountered on the way to the reactor room, which we had to reach by sneaking through the pipework in the dark. Fortunately, we had access to Duke's second regular item, "Duke vision," which is night vision provided by a really cool pair of sunglasses. After creeping through the pipes and smacking down a bunch of other aliens (which can't see in the dark), we made our way to the reactor room, where three power canisters had been removed, killing the electricity. After fighting through a few waves of aliens, we discovered and replaced two of the canisters, though the third, as it turned out, was hidden in a walled-off compartment that housed a remote-control car and a miniature stunt course. It wasn't clear why there would be an RC car course right next to a nuclear reactor, but we were quick to use our console controller to guide the little RC car around the stunt course and around and up a few rows of shelves to knock down the third and final reactor canister, which we quickly nabbed and used to power up the reactor.
As it turns out, the reactor was attached to a gigantic laser turret cannon, and as soon as the juice was restored, the cannon began its ascent to eventually reach the roof, where an enormous alien mothership waited for us. Firing continuous bursts at the ship gradually gnawed away at its sizable health bar, but our cannon had a heat meter at the bottom of the screen that gradually filled up the more we fired. When the meter filled up completely, the cannon overheated and couldn't fire momentarily, so we found ourselves easing off the guns every so often. Meanwhile, the gigantic ship periodically trained its cannon either on nearby buildings to tear up the skyline or on us to tear up our ego bar. It also periodically called in dropships that unloaded jetpack-equipped aliens with pulse rifles, along with small fleets of gunships that drilled us with lasers of their own unless we changed focus and concentrated fire on them. After a few deaths against this challenging boss, we finally defeated the giant alien capital ship, but not before its exploding debris trashed our cannon and sent us flying. Before we blacked out, Duke gave one last gesture of defiance (and we'll give you a hint: he wasn't pointing at anything).
We awoke a few hours later on the roof to find that a hysterical woman was trapped in a busted elevator. After climbing in to assess the problem, we hopped back out to find that the support line had been cut and that the elevator had begun to plummet. We seized the emergency brake, which had more or less the exact same heat meter as the cannon, and carefully leaned on the brake but avoided overheating until we finally stopped the elevator from freefall. Naturally, the grateful young lady propositioned us, but before we could pull out the little black book, we took our first step out of the elevator to find the casino a burning ruin and infested with pulse rifle aliens and rampaging pig cops, which are much bigger, faster, and meaner than they ever were in Duke 3D.
Fortunately, we also picked up a high-powered pistol to go with our pulse rifle to help us deal with the bad guys. Unfortunately, our manly killing streak came to an end after we stepped onto a shrink mine, which shrunk us down to the size of a small toy. Conveniently, we ran into some kid with a remote-control car he was happy to lend us. After thanking the kid (and hitting on his mother), we hopped into the pint-size racecar and began burning teeny-tiny rubber through the flaming rubble of the casino, making jumps over fallen placards and speeding past alien invaders who chased after women (zapping them to teleport them away before teleporting themselves) and pig cops who lunged at us but could be temporarily neutralized by colliding headfirst with their shins, which caused them to momentarily hop around in pain.
We made our way to the other end of the casino, occasionally hopping out of our little racecar to deal with a jumping puzzle or two that required us to open barred gates, until we finally met up with a human soldier who was guarding a foyer with both our twin girlfriends and an anti-shrink panel to restore us to our normal stature. We restored ourselves to normal size and nabbed a conveniently located pump-action shotgun, but just as everything seemed to be getting back to normal (and the twins, in an effort to comfort each other, started to kind of make out with each other), new alien enemies appeared--the "teleporting Earth girls away" kind--and they used their devious powers to take potshots at us before temporarily disappearing and then reappearing elsewhere in the room. Though we killed several of them, they eventually managed to successfully steal away the twins, which enraged Duke and caused him to swear he'd get revenge (and also to do some other swearing).
While we've played only an hour or so into the game, we've seen that Duke Nukem Forever isn't just a straight-ahead shooter. There are minigames, puzzles, boss fights, and plenty of interactive environment objects to mess with, and we were assured that we missed out on several of the early game's Easter eggs. There will presumably be plenty of other hidden secrets throughout the game as well. And you'll be able to hunt down all those secrets, ammo caches, and flushable toilets yourself very soon. Duke Nukem Forever ships to stores for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC this May.