13 years. We've waited 13 years to see Duke unzip his flies and relieve himself in a urinal and groan with delight. The opening area of Duke Nukem Forever is a great homage to the bathroom hijinks of old while showing that you'll be seeing improved interactivity for that long, long wait. After emptying his bladder by hammering on the right trigger, Duke can turn on taps, hand dryers and ooze soap over the counter from a wall dispenser. Cracked mirrors show an impressive warped view of the environment in real-time and, delightfully, a turd found in one of the cubicles can be picked up and bounced off a wall. Outside, a locker room whiteboard can be drawn on with markers and subsequently erased, much to the approval of a nearby soldier. Initial thoughts? Duke Nukem Forever may have some contemporary tricks up its sleeve but is still as wonderfully jovial and crude as ever.
The fun and games soon wear off once you take a look around. Wounded soldiers shower blood from missing limbs, walls shudder from distant explosions while pained screams echo down corridors. It's not particularly harrowing, but it does a good job at letting you know there's a war being waged outside, and that Duke is needed to save the day. Setting off to take some names and kick some ass, you follow soldiers round a labyrinth of corridors with small skirmishes breaking out in wider expanses - which is strangely reminiscent to the early stages of the original Halo - and there's an urgency to press onward despite not quite knowing what you're up against.
Eventually the corridors open up to the main event, a vast open-air American football stadium housing a towering mechanical beast armed to the teeth. Despite its imposing appearance, it's a simple boss battle of circle strafing to avoid attack and responding by launching projectiles from a double-barrelled rocket launcher, and occasionally pausing to grab more ammo from supply caches at the edge of the field. Once downed, a QTE sees Duke rip the lone eyeball from the Cyclops, kick it over a goal post and bellow a colourful remark. Then, seconds later, the screen pulls out to reveal that the game so far has been played by Duke himself with an Xbox 360 controller while being pleasured by two women at the same time. Asked whether the game he's playing - which so happens to be titled Duke Nukem Forever - is any good, Duke responds: "After 13 years it better f**king be."
It's a welcome acknowledgement to the game's turbulent past, one of which Gearbox president Randy Pitchford is more than eager to explain. Despite a lack of previews, the game has been in full development since its announcement in 1997, and has been given various rewrites and engine updates over the years. 3D Realms had decided to factor the game's lengthy development into the story with the latest revision, as evidenced by the introduction to the title, which sees Duke effectively crowned king of the world after saving the planet 13 years ago. Owning fast food franchises, hotel chains and casinos all in his name, his fortunes are shattered when aliens once again return to Earth seeking peace, something he reluctantly tolerates until they pillage the planet of its women. Duke single-handedly sets off to put things right.
When 3D Realms closed last year after failing to deliver the game, Gearbox Studios revealed that it was in an extremely lucky position to have good relations with publisher 2K Games, and know about the brand enough (Pitchford himself worked on Duke Nukem 3D) to easily take over development. At this point it was effectively complete and just needed to be strung together and polished, and with help from some of the original staff, Gearbox has been secretly finishing the game for over a year. As such, the title is playable from beginning to end and is well on target for release early next year. In short, the game they're releasing isn't just in name only, but will be the actual project that's been teased all this time.
As expected, it can come across as being fairly dated in parts. While the opening segment of the game felt fairly modern when it came to gameplay and visuals, the second hands-on portion wasn't as smooth. It saw Duke climb into a monster truck and head through dusty canyons, using boosters to jump over chasms or flatten wondering Pig Cops. The visuals showed a grainy, bland look that PC games had five to ten years ago, with low resolution textures and sparse environments, along with a truck that looked remarkably box-like and handled as such. But it's entirely playable and when taken into perspective there is a real old-school charm to it all. The following segment of run-and-gun gameplay was just as enjoyable, as Pig Cops strolls from behind rocks ready to be taken down by a shotgun or the classic Shrink Gun that allows you to stamp on your foes.
The segment was practically over as soon as it began, but it was evident that brainless action of old still holds appeal. Duke's crass comments and the childish humour peppered throughout - from a life bar representing his ego to a maximum ammo count of 69 rounds - manage to raise a smile, and I couldn't help but enjoy my short time with it. Its history is going to sell it alone, but it defeated any scepticism that such a character couldn't be relevant in today's market, and in an age of shooters where headshots and kill/death ratios are paramount, playing something as laid-back and straightforward as this could be just what the market needs. Nothing could ever live up to a 13-year wait - Duke Nukem Forever certainly won't - but there's a good chance an enjoyable game is going to be waiting for patient gamers on the other side.
Duke Nukem Forever will be available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC early next year.