People have been waiting for Duke Nukem Forever for…a long time. The wait will finally be over this June when the game hits store shelves. While the single-player game will offer a substantial adventure with several new features, the multiplayer will, in many ways, pay tribute to the old-school, twitchy, sci-fi deathmatch games of yesteryear. The game will have four different multiplayer modes: Dukematch (free-for-all deathmatch), Team Dukematch (team-based deathmatch), Hail to the King (a king-of-the-hill mode with randomly spawning control points), and Capture the Babe (the game's highly talked-up take on capture the flag, which we'll get to later). We got our hands on the game's multiplayer and have much to report.
Our first go-round with multiplayer was in free-for-all Dukematch in a Wild West-themed map known as Morningwood. Even though the map's locale was an arid, outdoor setting with only a handful of buildings, the actual layout resembled the kind of tight, quick deathmatch maps that old-school Quake and Unreal Tournament players know and love. The map spawned various weapons in specific spawn points (empty spawn points were occupied by spinning nuclear trefoil icons that started off red, changed to yellow, and then changed to green before respawning new weapons). Lower-end weapons, such as shotguns, seemed to spawn on the outskirts of town, while the high-end stuff, like the rocket-propelled grenade launcher, ripper minigun, shrink ray, and the double-barreled missile launcher known as the devastator all spawned either within the derelict houses or on difficult-to-reach-but-easy-to-shoot catwalks above and around the buildings.
Interestingly, the shrink ray is one of the weapons on this map, and its slow-firing energy burst still shrinks its target to a humiliatingly small size (and makes your opponents vulnerable to being squashed by running up to your tiny foes, targeting them with the crosshair, and pressing the fire key again), but this map also had numerous gaps and holes leading into its buildings and through cover that could be navigated only by players who had been shrunk.
It took us all of 11--maybe 12--seconds to realize that Duke's default weapon, a shiny gold handgun with a nifty red laser sight, just didn't pack the punch of his old semiautomatic pistol. This meant that each time we died (and we admit, we got fragged quite a few times by the 2K Games staffers and testers in the session), we really had to get moving in search of better hardware. It took us a few moments (and several deaths) before we got a general sense of the map's layout (keep in mind that this was the first time we had played the game in multiplayer, as well as the first time we tried any of these maps), but soon, we were snatching up weapons and bunny hopping like mad while trying to snag as many kills as possible. We were only occasionally thwarted when someone would either pick up the golden Duke statue (which doubles your damage output with any weapon) or steroids (which makes you more resistant to damage and makes your melee attack--a punch, rather than the mighty foot of yore--deliver almost-always fatal damage). We also picked up a couple of pipe bomb kills by tossing the items like grenades; interestingly, these weapons now explode on contact if you can tag your target with a direct hit.
After playing through Dukematch, we jumped into Team Dukematch, which took place on a level called Hoover Damned. The map consisted of cordoned-off streets outside of a hydroelectric plant that had been infested with a gigantic, fleshy alien outgrowth above it. This map had a pretty linear design that seemed to encourage players to keep moving in groups from one end to the other, bookending their trek with jump pads that launched us up into the pulsating alien growth, where the RPG waited for us.
We found ourselves slowly but surely recalling some of our old deathmatching skills in this map, especially when we picked up one of the game's all-new weapons, the railgun. It worked just like the similarly named weapon from the Quake series, with an instant hit scan on its laserlike beam that works well under fire and even better if you have a moment to stop, perch somewhere safe, and use the zoom alternate-fire mode (pretty much all of Duke Nukem Forever's guns have a zoom or iron-sights alt-fire mode) to get a better shot. This map was also the first one we played that had a jetpack, which worked much like it did in Duke Nukem 3D, propelling you upward and letting you temporarily fly before it ran out of juice. It was also the first one we played with laser trip mines, which worked just like they did in the original game; you can set them up in a narrow corridor to be spanned with a laser sensor that will set off the mines with a bang if anyone tries to walk through.
After a session or two on this map--and maybe just a teensy bit of railgun camping--we briefly jumped out of the game to explore some of the game's unlockable items. Duke Nukem Forever will have a full in-game achievement system that will earn you experience points for completing various goals (such as getting a railgun kill or falling to your death). Once you gain enough experience points, you can spend them in the My Digs area. This is a portion of the multiplayer game unique to your game profile and takes the form of a swanky Las Vegas penthouse that Duke calls home. With enough experience points, you can unlock and add various fixtures to your virtual bachelor pad, including comical movie posters and other objects that appear in the single-player game, so that you can create your own little historical archive of Duke and his adventures.
We also ducked into the Change Room, which is another part of your unique multiplayer profile that houses the different multiplayer apparel you've unlocked. As you play more multiplayer games, you'll unlock different gear to equip on your character model's head, face, and torso. This is to remedy the fact that in multiplayer, all players will be Duke Nukem--or a reasonable facsimile, with the same flat-top haircut, sunglasses, and tank-top shirt. However, you can unlock a wide variety of eyewear (including several types of sunglasses), shirts (and ponchos), and different headwear, including different haircuts, wigs, and totally different heads. (For whatever reason, the 2K testing staff seemed most fond of using the jack-o'-lantern pumpkin head in multiplayer, but you know what they say…it takes all kinds). One samurai helmet later, we were out of the customization tools and ready for some more multiplayer action.
Our next session took place on the Duke Burger map in Hail to the King mode, which works the same as king-of-the-hill modes you've seen in other games. On this map, a control point spawns randomly and players on either of the two teams must try to capture and hold it for as long as possible until a new control point spawns somewhere else. In this case, all players were effectively shrunk to a tiny size and were running wild in the kitchen of one of Duke Nukem's licensed theme restaurants. Naturally, there weren't any shrink rays on this level. However, there were plenty of gigantic stoves, refrigerators, cleaning supplies, and a giant-sized grill where the golden Duke statue hovered above some sizzling hot hamburger patties that damaged us while walking across them. The better weapons in the map were set to spawn in the kitchen's deadly dishwasher and menacing microwave oven--each of which could be turned on by opening fire on the door. If you can lure a greedy enemy player into snatching weapons that spawn inside either of these appliances and then blast the door shut afterward, the appliance will turn on and immediately frag the player inside.
This map also had a jetpack, as well as a Holoduke. The Holoduke is an item that temporarily makes you invisible (and free to run and fire) while a holographic version of your character model stands stock still and pretends to fire guns while spitting out deadpan, robot-voiced put-downs about you and your mama. This map basically had two vertical levels: the incredibly tacky checked linoleum floor where the control points spawned and an upper level of shelves where most of the better weapons and items spawned alongside deceptive-looking plastic Duke Nukem action figures. When coming around a corner, these figures had a tendency to look an awful lot like an enemy player. The game helpfully placed onscreen markers to indicate where the next control point had spawned to help us make our way there. Because the floors generally provided very little cover, we found the control points very easy to capture and very hard to hold, so while we racked up quite a few kills, we also got fragged ourselves plenty of times.
Our final session took place on a Grand Canyon-esque level known as Highway Noon in the much talked-about Capture the Babe mode. Yes, this is the mode that resembles capture the flag, except that instead of a flag, it's a young lady in a schoolgirl costume who constantly makes flirty remarks. Yes, capturing the opposing team's babe causes you to sling her over your shoulder. And, yes, as you carry her across the map to your own base, she'll eventually get dissatisfied with her current situation because getting carried over Duke's shoulder just gets boring for her. She'll express her dissatisfaction by making sarcastic remarks and eventually waving her hand in your face to attract your attention, which also prevents you from seeing anything in front of you. When this happens, you can press a context-sensitive button to give her a "spank"; this happens offscreen (you can't see anything happening and instead hear only a light smacking sound), which causes the young lady to stop waving her hand in your face and, maybe, playfully giggle a little.
That's basically all there is to it, except that Capture the Babe mode also has a few other wrinkles. Unlike in traditional capture-the-flag modes in most first-person shooters, you don't need to have your own team's babe in place at your base to earn a capture point; you just need to lug the opposing team's young lady back to your base's main spawn point. In addition, when you're carrying, you can't use any weapons except the garter gun, which is a weapon that each young lady carries, appropriately enough, in her garter. This gun is very damaging, but it also has an extremely low rate of fire, and because you also move more slowly while carrying, you're better off having teammates cover your escape than you are trying to fight your way back. Oh, and one other thing: If you get hit by a shrink ray while you're carrying, you'll immediately be fragged because the young lady on your back will end up being too big for a miniaturized Duke to lift.
Much ado has been made about the Capture the Babe mode, though it really doesn't seem all that different from other multiplayer modes you might have played in other games. And, much ado has been made about Duke Nukem Forever, but we can tell you that its multiplayer has the classic deathmatch feel of some of the best shooters that helped established the genre…back before multiplayer shooters all became gray and brown military-like shooters. Duke Nukem Forever launches this June.