Gearbox Software's Randy Pitchford could've chosen any number of approaches when discussing his company's newest title, Duke Nukem Forever to a room full of eager gamers at PAX, but he's a pretty straightforward kind of guy. He knows that gamers have been waiting for more than a decade to hear something - anything - definitive about the game, which has been started, stopped, abandoned, reclaimed, and generally futzed around with so much that its title seemed to be a reference to its development process. He knows that gamers feel lied to and jerked around. So rather than utter a speech that had been carefully constructed by PR wizards into his headset, he just looked straight into the audience and cut to the chase:
"You're gonna play Duke Nukem Forever, I shit you not."
And I did. But we'll come back to that in a minute.
Given Forever's checkered past, you could be forgiven for wondering if the game is actually any good, or if it's just a cobbled together digital corpse waiting to be reanimated for a fast buck. That's a fairly cynical world view, but seriously, after 12 years, who could blame you? What you may not know is that Pitchford's career began when he moved to Texas to work on Duke Nukem 3D. You may not know that after the collapse of 3D Realms, his first thought was "We have to save Duke!", leading to nearly the entire Duke team joining on at Gearbox. This is about love, people.
Love, guns, cigars, tits, and foul language, that is. Gaming may have become more mainstream since Forever first went into development, but the man himself is the same as he ever was. He drives a big-ass truck. He makes dick jokes. He likes getting blowjobs from blonde twins dressed as schoolgirls. He's here to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and he's all out of gum. Hail to the king, baby.
Forever is true Duke, through and through, and all the absurdity that implies. The game finds Duke fighting in the name of an extremely noble cause: Aliens are abducting our women. More specifically, our hot women. Clearly, this is a transgression that a hero like Duke simply cannot abide. My time with the demo was limited, but it began with Duke at a urinal, draining the snake before heading out to kick some alien ass.
After dodging alien fire and sidestepping the corpses of soldiers who weren't lucky enough to be blessed with Duke's innate awesomeness, it was time to fight the Cycloid, a huge, one-eyed monster looming on a football field. The fight itself was pretty standard - grab big gun, circle strafe, reload, repeat as needed - but I polished the Cycloid off by shooting it in the ass (ok, you didn't have to do it that way, but come on, it's Duke Nukem), then kicking its eyeball through the goalposts on a football field.
The next level started with a quick jaunt in a four-wheel drive truck, followed by a shootout with pigmen who squealed when their body parts went flying. This is not a game that inspires deep introspection. This is not a game that's likely to be put forth as a champion of the "games are art" argument. What it is, is a surprisingly good time that doesn't take anything too seriously, especially itself. In the game's trailer, one of the nubile twins asks Duke if the game is any good. He replies the way pretty much all of us would:
"After 12 fucking years, it should be."