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Duke Nukem Forever

Can you teach an old Duke new tricks?

One worry about Duke Nukem Forever's single-player campaign is its resolutely old-fashioned feel. The Duke's delayed return seems to exist in a world far from the FPS front runners. Perhaps inevitably after a 14-year wait, he's been left behind.

But then maybe that doesn't matter. For many, Duke Nukem represents a delightful exercise in nostalgia, a gleeful excuse to relive their glory days sat in front of a boxy old CRT monitor, chuckling at the Duke's arrogant, womanising ways.

Based on what I've seen, those people will find much to love in the multiplayer component of DNF. Largely forgoing a decade's worth of evolution, this is a stripped back, pure example of the form, with little of the complicating faff. It's just Duke vs Duke in a battle to the death.

But there is another group of people to take into account, one that Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford is yet to convincingly suggest will be lured by DNF. For many, the Duke isn't the star of a era-defining title, he's merely the subject of endless magazine and internet features on the subject of failure.

For these people, the prospect of a slight, four mode multiplayer with no innovation whatsoever may seem like nothing but a tacked on addition to a game that is little more than a zombie, a reanimated husk that should have remained dead.

The correct stance, however, is probably somewhere in the middle.

We should start with Capture the Babe. Stirring up controversy when it was announced, CtB is a multiplayer mode in which, it was suggested, you must slap a woman to progress. And that's true, to a degree. But the resulting furore was unwarranted. The reality is far more prosaic.

Capture the Babe is Capture the Flag, the mode in which you must grab an object from one area of the map and safely return it to another, all while avoiding the bullets of your enemies. But in this case the flag is a blonde woman, incessantly babbling bimbo-esque come ons.

Occasionally, with the blonde slung over your shoulder, running from one part of the map to the next, she'll panic and her hand will obscure your view. To calm her down and remove her hand you must pat her on the bum.

Now, you don't see this act at all. But it does happen. And that's it. It's stupid and silly, not misogynistic and sexist. Well, actually it is sexist. But it's so farcical you won't care.

Elsewhere, the modes don't even offer this small amount of novelty. In addition to CtB, there's Dukematch (Deathmatch), Team Dukematch (Team Deathmatch) and Hail to the King (King of the Hill). All matches are four versus four, with everybody playing as either a blue or red-shirted Duke.

There are no load-outs or upgradable guns. Instead, all the weaponry comes from drop points sprinkled across the maps. Alongside more obvious stuff like rocket launchers and sniper rifles, there's some real classics taken from Duke Nukem 3D.

The Shrinker pretty much does what it says on the tin, allowing you to stomp a now miniaturised enemy under the Duke's combat boots. If you can catch them, that is. Should you get zapped with the shrinker you can still run around and shoot, the only difference is that you are slower and weaker, with your bullets only doing 10% of the normal damage.

So that's a fun gun to grab. As is the Freezer, another weapon that explains itself, freezing opponents solid so that you can shatter them into a thousand pieces.

These weapons all feed into maps that result in some fast-paced, frenetic battles fuelled by a sense of crazy abandon. This isn't a tactical game, never was. Each level is good enough to provide some fun shootouts in everything from car and concrete strewn highways, to Wild-West themed towns. Gearbox are no stranger to making multiplayer maps, after all.

Meanwhile, of the ten maps that DNF will ship with, there's at least one recreated from Duke Nukem 3D. Called Dukeburger, it's one of the best of the bunch, a giant comedy kitchen diner stuffed with quirky incidental details, with our flat-topped heroes running around at a fraction of their normal size. It's perfectly silly fun.

But it's also retrogressive. All of this could have been plonked onto the side of a game ten years ago and it wouldn't have stood out. Indeed, DNF multiplayer's only concession to modern tastes is the inclusion of an XP system. But from our taster it just seems to unlock throwaway customisation trinkets like glasses with attached noses and hats. Your desire to keep coming back won't be fuelled by progression, it will be purely because you want to play the game. Just like the old days.

So perhaps now you can understand my feelings about DNF's multiplayer. It's doesn't look bad, at all. It's actually quite fun. But it's also pretty unremarkable. Beyond being Duke Nukem, it lacks any kind of distinguishing hook.

Don't be confused, the vast majority of 3D Realms and Gearbox's effort has gone into creating and finishing the single-player component. That remains the most intriguing part of DNF. The multiplayer looks to be just a throwaway addition, the lure of which will likely be dependant on your attachment to the source material.

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