What were we all doing 12 years ago? Or, more specifically, on the 28th April, 1997? That was the day Duke Nukem Forever was first officially announced to the world. Five days later, Katrina and the Waves won the Eurovision Song Contest for the UK, while Oasis were planning to scar the eardrums of their fans with Be Here Now. It was the year of the first Diablo, Mario Kart 64, GoldenEye and the first Fallout.
Put simply, 1997 was bloody ages ago. Duke Nukem didn’t show up then, nor in any of the next 11 years either. Killed off, forgotten and laughed at for more than a decade, the oft-used phrase “Never bet against Duke” seemed silly.
And yet, here he is, almost unbelievably, getting ready to kick ass and chew bubble gum once more. It’s so close. We’ve even had a chance to play the damn thing, though ‘play’ is an elaborate way of saying that we spent most of our time bumping into cubicle doors and scooping things out of toilet bowls. More on that later, unfortunately
efore we could lay hands on the controls, an enthusiastic speech was delivered by Randy Pitchford, head of Gearbox Software, Duke’s new owners. A rousing 40 minutes of inspirational chatter about the game, with just a hint of repetition and tortured car crash analogy, was followed by sweeping eight journalists onto two plush couches with a screen each and a pair of headphones. Tinkling away on the other end was the classic Duke Nukem theme tune, albeit with a more modern, jazzed-up riff. We sat down to play.
Or rather, the others say down to play. We actually spent our opening minutes with Duke Nukem Forever searching through toilet cubicles and playing with taps. The demo we played started off just before a recreation of the famous gridiron stadium battle from Duke 3D, giving us a little chance to familiar ourselves with the controls and play with the environment. There was even an interactive whiteboard, which we resisted the urge to scribble profanity all over.
So, while the others were throwing rockets at the big baddie, we were picking excrement out of the toilet bowls and seeing what we could splatter it against. It turns out that you can smear the walls and floors with it if you want, though Gearbox haven’t yet seen fit to allow you to smother wounded soldiers with poop.
Playing such a highly anticipated game isn’t just about having fun with faeces, of course. It’s about finding out just what the hell 3D Realms were doing the whole time. Initially, it’s perhaps easy to just look at it with one dismissive raised eyebrow and wonder ‘Is that it?’ The hype has grown DNF to the point that we were almost sad to see that it’s just an old-school shooter, albeit one with a frankly bonkers amount of detours, references and distractions.
It’s these distractions that are so critical though, because Duke Nukem Forever’s success isn’t going to be in the basic underlying action it provides, but in what is draped over it. People weren’t coming out afterwards praising the action – which is the standard shoot, shoot, shoot again kind of stuff – they were raving about the little things. We weren’t talking about faeces just for the toilet humour; it’s actually an important part of Duke’s appeal.