It's somewhat hard to believe that after so many false starts, E3 presentations, and setbacks that Duke Nukem Forever is finally going to hit store shelves in a matter of days. At E3 2011, we got to sit down, crack open a cold one and get some playtime in with one of the Dukematch multiplayer modes in a 4v4 match. Despite the obvious engine upgrades, the game plays exactly like Duke 3D did back in the late '90s, and that's far less of a slight than it probably sounds. For fans of the original, the game plays just like you remember it: an uncomplicated excuse to use all manners of violence against a sea of cloned Dukes.
Our match took place in a highway area with a few overpasses that had been reduced to rubble. The chosen mode was a king of the hill variant in which a Duke atomic symbol appears at a spot in the map. For as long as one team holds that spot and the other team doesn't contest it, the holding team gains points on the board, and while killing each other is obviously important, those kills don't contribute toward the score. Every so often, the point moves around the map, at which time both teams scramble to get to the new location, beat down the other team, and continue gaining points.
You only start off with a basic pistol, which feels quite woefully inadequate, so upon spawning in, it is pretty important to find an upgrade. In the map, we found all the old Duke mainstays: freeze ray, ripper, rocket launcher, shotgun, shrink gun and even the almighty Devastator. Every weapon felt a lot like it did in Duke 3D, with the only exception being that of the freeze ray, which now fires a continuous beam rather than a series of ice crystals. Other pick-ups include holoduke, pipe bombs and steroids, which allow you to get berserk and splatter people into a fine paste with one hit from your fists.
The pacing of the matches is fast and frantic, with everyone running and jumping around while firing at one another. No one has much survival time in a Dukematch when standing still, let alone when you are facing down opposition armed with pipe bombs and RPGs. The ability to shrink your foes and step on them was just as fun as it was over a decade ago, as was the ability to freeze an enemy and then shatter him into a million pieces with a melee attack.
If there is one thing that would screw up Duke Nukem Forever, it would be that of any attempts to modernize it, which thankfully does not seem to be the case. The game simply played like a more polished and fully three-dimensional version of Duke 3D, and rather than ride on the coattails of nostalgia, it was a genuinely fun experience. With the release of the game only days away, it won't be long before Duke Nukem Forever can be purchased, installed and actually played. Whether or not hell freezes over at that point is unknown, but at least we'll be getting a game that features a strong multiplayer with straight-up, old-school gameplay.
Greg Hale also contributed to this preview.
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