Wait, who? Gearbox Software, the Texas-based dev who's helping to bring 3D Realms' pre-Google (think about it!) labor of love to consoles, is behind this revival along with publisher 2K Games. "This is a game you can't make promises about," Gearbox prez Randy Pitchford told an audience of incredulous gamers this morning. "Haven't we not been teased enough? We don't want to tease. We just thought we'd bring it to PAX." And Gearbox didn't just bring a trailer – although it did bring one of those – but more importantly, there's about 15 minutes of playable game. Let that sink in for a while.
While we weren't able to grab video of the trailer – you'll have to settle for my account – Pitchford did say that people could take pics. Actually, he said, "You've got cameras. You've got cellphones with cameras on them. Take all the pictures you want [...] We'll even take the pictures for you." You know, when Duke Nukem Forever was first announced, I didn't have a cellphone yet ... and the idea of a cellphone with a camera on it? Madness.
Before the trailer began, Pitchford took another opportunity to assuage gamer's concerns. "It's coming in 2011. It's coming in 2011. It's absolutely going to come, and we will have it shipped. We brought you Borderlands last year. We know what we're doing. It's coming on the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3 and Windows PC." And it's not just single-player; Pitchford says that DNF's "competitive multiplayer kicks ass; it's out of control."
And then, we went right into the trailer: The world repelled an alien invasion and a hero is revered. We see statues of Duke, the hero, the savior of Earth, "a man whose very presence sent aliens running back to their motherships." And then, like all alien invaders sent packing, they "came back angry." They tore the planet apart, but made one mistake: "They shouldn't have gone after our women," the narrator says.
"Dammit! Why do they always take the hot ones?"
It's the husky voice of the Duke, with the same prepubescent sense of humor. "Nothing gets between me and my babes!" he coos. As if on cue, the trailer cuts to scenes of (what else?) strippers! There's a handful of scripted attacks – a punch to the groin elicits a response from Duke. A frozen enemy gets kicked and elicits a "rest in pieces" response. A giant, really ugly, three-boobed alien elicits a particularly puerile response: "Hell, I'd still hit it." In other words, this is Duke Nukem, the same crass character that took the late-20th century gaming world by storm. In an era of epic storylines and earnest, touching stories about space marines, I haven't decided if Duke's personality is a refreshing, testosterone-infused breeze or an anachronistic relic, amusing in that "ironic" way. But there's time to make that decision later. For now, let's get to the hands-on.
You make your way out of the room – it's a locker room in a football stadium – and you catch a glimpse of the level's boss, a giant cyclops, waiting for you in the field. He knocks you back, and Duke flies backwards. The parts we played never break that first-person experience. It's like Half-Life ... but with boobs. Your path blocked, you make your way through the stadium's tunnels until you find a weapon, the Devastator. Grab that, an elevator takes you to the field, and you start shooting him in his stupid alien face. The rain wets the screen, a jet drops ammo, and you simply avoid the enormous cyclops while pummeling him with rockets.
Once he's defeated -- which you do by running up to him, slamming on the A button and ripping some tubes out of his head – he drops to the ground and his eyeball falls out. But, in keeping with the whole "interactive environment" thing, you have an option: Kick a field goal. Press A and you do just that. "It's good!"
Then the screen pulls back, two women have their heads in Duke's lap and there's a ... maybe a slurping sound. One says, "Was that good, Duke?" The other says, "And how about the game?" Duke responds, "Yeah but after 12 fucking years it should be." Fin. That's the end of Level 1.
And that's my personal takeaway: This game works. It may not be the best game ever -- who knows, I only played 15 minutes! -- but it's a game. And it works. And it doesn't look, at least graphically, like it began production in 1997. Thematically? Well, that's a different topic. And while the graphics aren't going to put Crysis 2 to shame, they're fine ... good even! The film grain effect does a nice job of improving the overall image quality.
For now, this is enough. It's more than enough. After 13 years in development, and then being pronounced dead, Gearbox has performed something of a miracle here. Pitchford and company didn't just raise the dead, but they did so without most of those pesky zombie side effects. Duke Nukem is here and he's alive.