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Duke does Vegas: hands on and chat with Randy Pitchford

We played Duke Nukem Forever in Vegas this week and spoke to Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford on gaming's greatest myth. Upshot? Gum supplies are negatory.

Las Vegas was a fitting location to experience the first 90 minutes of Duke Nukem Forever. A city fuelled by gambling and sex, Las Vegas embodies everything we imagine Duke to be. This self-indulgent bastion of luxury is host to the game itself, the chosen resting place of Duke, settled down after defending earth from the last alien invasion. Now the owner of Lady Killers, the biggest casino in Vegas, Duke lives a flamboyant lifestyle; the ladies love him and the men dream to be him. He’s about as Dukish and it’s possible as a Duke to be.

The game’s tone is set instantly with famous quotes from his previous adventures proudly flashing across the screen, as I’m directed to hold down the right trigger to p**s down a toilet. Internet memes and nostalgia-based humour are rife from the get-go, and you experience the game’s short tutorial sequence with Duke playing himself in his own game. Constantly self-referential, he comments on how long the game took to release as two girls go to town on his lap. They turn out to be twins in school uniforms, music video stars and the dumbest of blondes, which pretty much sets any expectations for practically every female you meet in first 90 minutes; and most likely the entire game.

The marble walls of Duke's luxurious penthouse are lined with paintings of naked women and busts of his own body. Exploring the apartment reveals a bunch of extras and rewards. Taking a leak will net you an increase on your Ego meter, Duke’s health bar. Curious gamers will find plenty of these actions and items to further increase Duke’s vitality; they can be discovered by admiring your shades in the mirror or even eating donuts in the TV studio. It’s the player’s reward for exploring and experiencing those odd little additions that made Duke Nukem 3D so addictive. You can interact with pretty much everything you encounter in Duke Nukem Forever, which means you’ll have plenty to play around with if you get bored with the games storyline.

The whole thing is very different to Duke’s last adventure. There was a certain charm about Duke Nukem 3D’s visual style and movement. The action feels a lot slower this time around and, when compared to other recent shooters, it feels a little clunky.

Comparing Forever to something like Black Ops, though, is probably akin to putting Mario Kart and GT5 in the same room. There are still well over 3,000 fixes in queue over at Gearbox, but CEO, Randy Pitchford, was quick to defend the game’s current lack of polish.

“I mean the game has been in development forever and my biggest commitment was we need to play it,” he told me in a UK-exclusive one-on-one.

“There is something very rare about this kind of gameplay that Duke 3D pioneered."

There’s no denying the game looks dated. Success will depend on whether or not players focus on the comedy and, to be blunt, the fact this endlessly-developed game has managed to release at all.

Pacing, chipmunk voices

Pacing is certainly one of Duke Nukem Forever’s strong points, however, changing up gameplay to keep the action fresh and enjoyable.

“There is something very rare about this kind of gameplay that Duke 3D pioneered,” Pitchford adds.

“It innovated on pacing by alternating between shooting, cognitive puzzles and interaction”.

You’ll never get bored of a certain section, as DNF gives the player such freedom to explore and engage in Duke’s world. One minute you’ll be shooting down pigs, then you’re suddenly three inches tall and jumping into a fan’s RC Car.

Duke will occasionally chirp in a chipmunk voices during his minuscule state as you spin around the casino track. It’s entertaining watching pigs grab their legs and hop on one hoof should you “accidentally” bump into them. The segments are short enough to keep it entertaining.

The first real puzzle requires Duke to move around a statue of himself to reach a higher area of the casino. You play around with a control panel in front and move the statue’s arms about until you can reach your destination, then you tap a button to drop the mini buildings down and jump on them before the timer runs out.

Watch on YouTube

Duke Nukem Forever launch trailer

It felt old school; Duke Nukem Forever is old school. Duke, and any other characters around you, will drop hints on what needs to be done if you find yourself stuck. Sometimes these hints repeat themselves over and over, but it’s just part of the territory. That’s what games used to do.

Some of Duke’s classic weapons were available to play around with, the Ripper being one of them. You can pick up beer and steroids to aid Duke in combat. Beer increases your attack damage but blurs the screen. Steroids also increase strength, allowing you to instantly kill any enemies in your path. You can pick up items on the floor and throw them at enemies, sometimes resulting in a down-state with allows Duke to run over and execute them. This involves an animation of Duke punching aliens in the face or kicking them over.

You can pick up beer and steroids to aid Duke in combat.

You don’t just have guns as your disposal; while there was no Shrink Ray to be seen in the demo, Duke also collects a number of new gadgets to allow for more strategic play, including a the self-explanatory freeze gun and trip mines.

“This brings some alternative ways to deal with your challenges, which was something Duke originally innovated on and we don’t have anywhere else,” Pitchford says.

While we wait for the reviews, though, it seems clear from what we saw that Duke Nukem Forever will be a simple game for simple tastes. This is likely to shock no one. if you find Duke’s outrageously narcissistic attitude amusing then it looks like you’ll be enjoying hours of cheesy lines, sexist dialogue and t*ts. Lots of t*ts.

Randy admits that there is no way any game could live up to 11 years’ worth of expectations, but for an IP as strong as Duke, you only naturally expect a game with a sense of grandeur. Ultimately, selling Forever on nostalgia and comedy may well be enough.

Duke Nukem Forever will finally launch on May 3 in the US and May 6 elsewhere.

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