How Awful Is The Duke Nukem Forever Demo? Pretty Awful.

Posted by on June 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Oh, Duke. We all know about your game’s tortured development cycle, eventual death at the hands of your perfectionist creators, and resurrection under the watchful eye of Gearbox (creators of the awesome Borderlands). Now, after fourteen years of development (FOURTEEN!), First Access Club members were given an early download for the Duke Nukem Forever demo, a week and a half ahead of its release at retail. So how is it? In as few words as possible: tragically bad.

Before Quake, Unreal, and Call of Duty shaped the first-person shooter landscape, there was Duke Nukem 3D. Colorful, raunchy, tasteless; qualities that those franchises sought to avoid. Duke Nukem may seem anachronistic as a character in an era where we’re min-maxing our Modern Warfare profiles, but it provides a welcome source of humor throughout. Unfortunately, it’s a bizarre mix of old and new gameplay that feels so very wrong here. (It should be noted that this is the same demo that Gearbox used to reveal the game at PAX Prime last year.)

In the first level, we start at a urinal in a locker room. You pull the right trigger to pee, which can carry on for a time if you just hafta keep pulling. As you pay attention to the variety of extra things you can do, like turn faucets and showers on and off or draw on a whiteboard (which is as frustrating to manipulate as it is interesting to see) you see why this game was in development was so long: 3D Realms was stuck ironing out the most insignificant and superficial elements of the game for years. Interactivity in Duke Nukem Forever feels like a step back to a time before Half-Life 2 existed, which changed how we mess with the environments

You wander through this stadium, which is filled with human fodder, and wind up on the football field with Cycloid, the end boss from the last game (y’know, before most of you were born). Maybe it’s at this point where we’re supposed to laugh at the Olde Tyme Gameplaye, but unloading all of your ammo into the boss, then running across the field to pick up another batch (conveniently provided as 69-round magazines) for about four or five rounds is far from endearing. You finally win, kicking Cycloid’s eye through a field goal. The camera pans out to reveal that you were Duke playing Duke in another video game while being ‘serviced’ by some cute girls in school girl outfits, where he makes a clever jab at how long the game’s been in development.

Now bear in mind, this first level is here to show off the scripting. There’s exactly one enemy and the game’s funny. Okay, I’ll keep going. The second level takes place at some other random part of the game, starting you off in a monster truck racing through a dusty desert canyon. For some reason, the game feels that the truck needs a laughably implemented ‘fuel’ element to arbitrarily hinder your progress. There’s only one point where you need to run out of gas, and that’s when you need to hoof it through a monster maze. Instead, my truck ran out of gas a jump away from that segment and the game didn’t do much to explain that I needed to refuel it. Instead, I jumped off the ledge and died when I was supposed to boost jump over it with my truck. The game set me up at the next checkpoint, anyway. Hmmm, okay.

So now you’re on foot, allowing you to experience moment-to-moment firefights. In a bizarre decision, the developers decided to limit Duke to two weapons at any time, Halo-style. I understand the need to modernize, only Serious Sam or Bulletstorm have you running around with ten to fifteen weapons at once, but the level provides a such a thoroughly vertical slice of weapons in such a short period of time that it’s a pain to manage them. The AI is awful. Line up in the same spot and the pigs will advance on you in the exact same lines every single time. They stand unfazed as you shoot them, giving you little feedback on how well you’re buzzing on them.

Toward the end of the level, an alien ship floats above you, requiring special explosive ammunition to dispatch. That’s fine, except there’s very little of it in the level. I spent twenty minutes backtracking in solid “It Came From 1998!” style, trying to scrounge enough explosives to take the chopper thing out. After a point, I gave up and let Sam go at it (the beefy load times didn’t help). (UPDATE: Yes, I missed the bloody ammo crate. Maybe I need a modern arrow or compass point to tell me what to do. UPDATE 2: This was not an admission that I needed my hand held. This game seems to have missed some prime game-testing opportunities. If a player is stuck on a level, don’t leave them stuck on a level. This isn’t 1996 anymore.) After having to restart once, he was able to pull it off. He spent another few minutes wondering where the hell to go next and ended up in a mineshaft where a required cart ride sequence glitched out, leaving it suspended three feet in the air.

Then came the obligatory ‘buy this game, it’s awesome’ splash screen and trailer, but not before the game forced him back out to his truck to refuel it. I really want to blame Gearbox and I sorta don’t. Based on the condition this demo is in, it would’ve probably been another decade and fifty million dollars to fix the fundamental issues with this game. At the same time, if Gearbox wanted to convince people to pick up this game with this ancient demo, they’ve taken the completely wrong tack here. It’s 2011, you can be retro without being tacky (Painkiller) or you can be modern and sophisticated (Half-Life 2, Deus Ex) but for some reason, 3D Realms decided that a poor mix of both was what this game called for. I don’t care how nostalgic you are for more Duke Nukem, you need to give this demo a once over before committing your currency. I was hoping to plunk down some hard cash on this monument to what is truly the longest in utero game in history, but Gearbox has effectively scared me off.


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  • Wondersheep

    strange. when I played the demo it came up on screen it had run out of fuel.
    and as for taking down the alien ship there is an ammo crate next to where you pick up the rpg.

    now granted it did look rough but I still really enjoyed it.

  • useruseruser

    I thought it was distinctly…sub par. As has been mentioned there is ammo crate right next to the turret.

  • Kevcormier

    tried the pc version?  seems to me duke nukem and console just feels wrong.

    • Anonymous

      I was exclusively a PC gamer when DNF was unveiled and I love my Steam account, but I just don’t buy that this is a better experience on PC because of its heritage. This game is undercooked for completely different reasons.

  • Guest

    People making judgements on a DEMO.. mind you this was the SAME demo that was out more than a year ago..

    Say what you want, Im still giving them support. Rather give Gearbox, 3D Realms, and/or ID my money than Activision. Its my money I’ll do whatever I want.

    I enjoyed this and had FUN.

    Im still betting on Duke, DEAL WITH IT.

    • Anonymous

      Here’s a hint: if you’re going to demo a product you want people to buy, make a good demo. Easy.

      • Lithium9mm

        Ok… look at God of War 3… they released an E3 Demo and it was HORRIBLE. Creating demos is expensive, that’s why devs like Valve are smart in not even releasing any. I honestly loved the demo since it was such a huge throwback to old school FPS games. Yeah, maybe it’ll feel dated for a younger audience, but it’s a game made for the people who’ve been playing FPS since Wolfenstien 3D.

        • Balls O’Steel

          “Creating demos is expensive, that’s why devs like Valve are smart in not even releasing any.”

          Am I the only one who remembers all those games which became smash hits because of their demos??? Like, oh I dunno, Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, or DUKE NUKEM 3D?

          I nearly did a spit-take when you described DNF as a “throwback to old school FPS games.” If anything, this game embraces qualities which are the very antithesis of old-school FPS games. Duke Nukem Forever may very well be a game in which the player character’s name is Duke Nukem, but it is not a Duke Nukem game as far as I’m concerned. On a gameplay level it is a complete betrayal of what made Duke Nukem great.

  • I don’t know.. I’m about to jump into the Demo version off Steam now. I can’t say I’m going into this with high-expectations. It didn’t feel that impressive from the videos I’ve seen.

    I like the Duke, but the bets are off for something so archaic. Even if today is too muddled in over-hyped, unnecessarily complicated, realism-focused and otherwise dull shooters, the fact is that the Duke probably should have stayed in retirement. I guess I’ll get my impression of it when I run through the Demo.

    • Just got done with the demo…. I… find it pretty subpar… 

  • Pansy

    sounds like you wanted someone to hold your hand telling you what to do the whole demo

    • Anonymous

      Inadequate level design does that.

      • Tdavisku

        you sound like a complete faggot!!

        • TDAVISKU

          DUKE FOREVER BITCHES!!!!!!!

        • TDAVISKU


    • We all have to justify those 50-dollar pre-orders, don’t we?

  • Robert Maroon

    You can also pick up a turd from the toilet and throw it around.
    Maybe it is a representation of the demo itself.

    My two WTF moments:

    1. Jumping in front of the mirror: the nimation was really sub-par
    2. Zooming without any weapon in hands: it lacked smoothness

    It failed to impress (that’s what a demo is for): no buy.


      Its a DEMO you cum guzzler!! Get over it. This release is gonna be epic!!

  • Oliver Stevenson

    I agree 100%. Very buggy, only the first level was funny, and it was impossible to overlook how bad the gameplay was. Shame :/.

  • Mysupremesunday

    If it had more enemies, with the ability to carry loads of guns, it would have been fun.  I was going to buy it, but the demo made me know it was trying to be modern when all it needed was to be good old duke.  Before I felt the urge to buy it because I owe it to myself to at least play it and I would have fun playing an arcady shooter, but from the demo I can tell it won’t even be worth a rental.

  • wellthen

    well to be honest Gearbox has only really polished it. So any complaints as to it’s quality is on the previous devs part

    • Anonymous

      Exactly. Gearbox only picked this game up recently and have been getting it ready for ship status.

      • Sean

        Oh yeah? So I guess you guys were physically there during the development process.

        • Anonymous

          Dude. Seriously. Gearbox announced they had acquired all of the assets from 3D Realms and have spent the past two years getting the game to completion. Read any interview anywhere around the time of the announcement. Seriously. The facts are there, they’re everywhere.

  • Naysayer

    I don’t really care how bad or good Duke Forever will be, I’m still going to enjoy playing it and thats my final say on the topic. 

    • Robert MAroon

      To be read as: “I don’t care if it is a bowl of shit, I’m still going to enjoy eating it and thats my final say on the topic”.

  • djneibarger

    the demo was truly horrible. my 18 yr old son and i spent the entire time laughing at how poor the quality was, and rolling our eyes at the lame, cliche, boring one liners. slow loading, low res textures, weak character animations, completely unimpressive gunplay and explosive effects. what a MAJOR disappointment.

  • Anon

    Duke Nuken Forever: pre-alpha stage material for $60. What a fucking joke.

    Fuck you Gearbox.

  • Hanamichi

    the reviewer is some casual hipster who got into gaming last year

    • Banhammer

      The commenter is some troll that annoys the sh*t out of everyone.

    • Abib

      I Felt the same way when i was reading this article. But well, can’t hurt listen to his opinion before buying this game, even if the article sound dumb as shit and its picky about mistakes that most of games have anyway.

    • Anonymous

      Research is hardly your strong point. Case in point:, or, the list goes on and on, dude.

      • Sean

        Haha, just because you’ve written reviews for some classic games doesn’t prove anything. You could’ve played them for the first time last year for all we know. Regardless of whether or not research is this posters strong point, intellect certainly isn’t yours.

        • Anonymous

          I really wish this made sense. I’ve only been gaming for a year, but I don’t even particularly like Call of Duty, have been following DNF’s development for fourteen years, and have written in-depth articles about my favorite games from the mid to late 90s? I just… it just doesn’t make any sense at all.

    • djneibarger

      even if he did just start gaming last year it wouldn’t matter since DNF looks, sounds, and feels like extremely low quality game that was made on a shoestring budget 10 years ago.
      gearbox blew it. DNF blows.

  • AO1JMM

    14 years people…..14 very long years!!!!!!!!

  • KoRnCreep

    Duke 4ever looks and plays amazing on a PC.
    Consoles are the real problem!

    • Anonymous

      No, they’re not. My friend played it on PC and wasn’t a fan, either.

    • djneibarger

      sorry but no. this game is a pure rip off. i wouldn’t even pay $10 for it as a downloadable. the diehard duke nostalgia nuts may be in denial right now, but this game is crap.

  • Nickisdumb

    Sounds like you just wanted to bitch. God forbid the almighty “Nick” doesn’t like the way a game performs. So many games do similar situations. If you’re so jaded that you can’t stand playing, then do us all a favor and just don’t write about games ever again. You sound like an arrogant homosexual interior decorator who just found out they’re all out of the pink curtains he loves and they didn’t keep them around for HIM.

    • Anonymous

      When you live in a house that’s built on an uneven foundation, leaks everywhere, and has gaping holes in he walls, you don’t say ‘Well, at least it’s a house, stop complaining about houses.’ I wish I were alone in saying that DNF is a tragic mess fourteen years in development, but I’m not. Maybe you should stop complaining about on-point reviews or stop apologizing for bad content.

      • Nickisdumb

        I’m saying before condemning an entire f-ing game (as the author seems to have been doing), wait until it comes out before taking a big “N Lawrence Pfeifer” type of crap all over it. I REALLY hope DNF doesn’t come out as bad as it is perceived to be so far but we just don’t know yet (especially since the demo is the same as from a year ago at PAX)….oh and take Nick’s balls outta your mouth.

        • Anonymous

          Here’s the deal: if you’re going to hype up the release of the demo of your game, it better be a pretty good demo. It wasn’t. This a review of the demo, not the full game, it says so in the title. Maybe the full game is a magical donation from Jesus Christ himself, so why would Gearbox sabotage this hype (and why would so many agree with me) with a bad demo. I don’t know, but the demo convinced me to no longer put down $60 or more, as I had been planning for years, toward this game.

          • Nickisdumb

            Are you one of those people who pre-ordered this game way back in 1997? I wonder if anybody still has their receipts…

            I would agree about the “good demo” part, but there ARE good games that have bad demos. This game may not be one of those games but I’m still not willing to piss all over a franchise like the author did because of a demo. Duke’s OTHER games since Duke3d haven’t exactly endeared many to the franchise, either, though….

            If the game even has a fraction of what it seems like we can do (for interactivity), it’s still not going to be matched by many games. Very few games have the level of interactivity the way this came might. Silly stuff, sure, but just messin around havin fun.

          • Anonymous

            If simple, silly interactivity were the only problem, that might be okay. Even Deus Ex, which released in 2000, had similar stuff, but it was actually conducive to what you were doing, the skills you were building, etc. This is just window-dressing. I know games can have bad demos, it happens, but I’ve never had a really bad demo like this on a genuinely great game, maybe on an average game, sure. On the flip side, I’ve played good demos for truly bad games, too. (Too Human springs to mind). If Gearbox wanted to put their best foot forward on one of the most hyped games of all time, this shouldn’t have been it, there’s just no excuse.

            And yeah, Gamestop said they’d be awarding holds for those who have old school pre-order receipts.

            Thanks for stopping by :)

  • it’s a demo moron N 
    don’t mean to be harsh but come on. A demo, they still have time to fix up things 

    • Anonymous

      Did you read the last paragraph of the article? At all?

    • djneibarger

      the game comes out in a little over a week and a half, you don’t release an unfinished demo with this many problems, and there’s way, way too much wrong with it to fix short of throwing it all out and starting from scratch.
      just get over it. gearbox blew it, duke nukem forever is an epic fail.

    • DNFisapieceofshit

      By the time a developer releases a demo, the game has already been finished.  There’s no time to stop production and fix whatever is causing the game to suck — funny coming from a game that’s been in the works for over 14 years.  

  • Danb

    bad graphics,slow dated gameplay.I loved previous duke nukem games but this is bad.Real shame.

  • A_actual_gamer

    Are video game fans these days  so wussy ( yes I mean the other word but we will go with that ) that people cant find  glowing gold ammo boxes  that people need a arrow indicator?  Maybe you should go back to casual gaming….

    • Narafed

      So wussy? No maybe we just don’t like bad games. The demo has too many glitches, I actually ran into one where a mine cart was suspended in mid air (one of the ones you are supposed to push to the end of the track in order for it to work) and another where the “pigcops” would jump off of a small cliff-side into the exact same area to try and get to me as I sniped them from a distance making it overly easy. I truly hope the game doesn’t have these issues and until I read otherwise I’m staying the hell away from the full version.

  • Dragonboykev

    Gears of war 3 had gameplay from one year after it was being created an it was already excellent. It also had a beta which was also excellent and continuously releases in-game footage only increasing my positive verdict on it. Usually when a demo is released and the demo is bad it’s not going to be a good game. Though there are some exceptions. 

  • Duke nukemz

    i have been a duke nukem fan since i was about 6 i loved the previous games and i know the demo was a bit rough but it is duke nukem and he is back !!!

  • Dutch

    So, Duke Nukem Forever ended up bellyflopping, stacking up only to the likes of such legendary craptacularness as Daikatana. Metacritic has it ranked between 47-58 out of a 100 across all platforms. I guess that’s what happens when a video game gets John Romero’d out the ass over a development cycle of 14 years.

    • Yeah, it sucks. I really wanted to buy it and play it but after playing the demo and seeing the gameplay online I won’t.