Duke Nukem 3D might not look like much now — the 1996 game wasn’t much more than a Doom clone with attitude. (“Attitude” = dialogue borrowed from Army of Darkness.) But it’s hard to express just how refreshing Duke‘s sense of humor was. Sure, it was basically a fratboy fantasy — with strippers galore! — but the game had all sorts of funny little touches, and the overall tone of parodically steroidal beefcake action felt genuinely vivid and exciting. (Even better was the added level where you went to the White House to rescue President Clinton; it’s basically the “JFK vs. Zombies” mini-game of Call of Duty: Black Ops a decade and a half ahead of schedule.) Now, after a long, long, long, long development phase that essentially shut down Duke developer 3-D realms, the long-awaited sequel Duke Nukem Forever is set to hit stores.
Early reviews have not been kind to Forever, so I began playing the game with some trepidation. When you turn on the game, you see the words “Duke Nukem Forever” descend over a waving American flag. Said flag then explodes. Ooohh, we’re getting political! The first level, titled “Duke Lives,” is actually a remake of the football-field boss level from Duke Nukem 3D. I am not being unkind when I say that this first level is almost unplayable. I died two or three times before I figured out that there was no secret to killing the boss alien: You just keep firing your gun and dodging his lame attacks until he’s dead.
Somehow, I kept on dying, and during the relentlessly long load times, the game kept offering me helpful hints guaranteed to make my sainted mother wince: “Take Steroids to make your melee attacks stronger.” “Drink Beer to make yourself tougher.” “Destroy Egg Pods before Pregnators hatch.” “You can pick up Rats.” All good advice, especially the thing about the Pregnators, which I think is just a geeky way of saying “Always use protection.”
Anyhow, when you finish the first level, there’s a twist: It turns out that you, Duke Nukem, have actually been playing a game called Duke Nukem Forever. And while you’ve been playing it, a pair of hot blonde twins in schoolgirl outfits have been, well, doing something very NSFW. Said hot blonde twins exclaim that the videogame sure looks cool, which is almost certainly the first time hot blonde twins have ever said anything about videogames.
So, to sum up the first ten minutes of Duke Nukem Forever: “Oh, how nice, a callback to the old game for the fans! That’s funny, I remember this level being more fun in 1996. Wait, the boss just stomped on the ground 50 feet away from me and I died? Oh wow, they’re making a meta-joke! And another meta-joke. And another…”
Gamers, I’m clearly going to be busy with Forever all weekend. Are you looking forward to Duke’s new adventure? Or do you suspect that this will be the Chinese Democracy of videogames? And no, Chinese Democracy wasn’t good.
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