The Average Gamer

All Hands On Duke – Multiplayer Preview (PC)

On Friday 6th May, original UK release date of Duke Nukem Forever, a crowd of games journalists were summoned to the back room of a bar and plied with drink, mini burgers and boob-shaped cupcakes. On the big screen was a bevy of large-breasted CG “beauties” and off to the left was a sweet 4 vs 4 setup running none other than Duke Nukem Forever’s multiplayer. GET IN!

Capture The Babe

First up was the notorious Capture The Babe mode which sparked disapproval all across the world of games journalism. Capture the Babe is exactly what you expect it to be – Capture the Flag but you have to grab and carry off a woman instead of a flag. Score more points than the other team to win and you only score if your babe is in her rightful place when you arrive with the opposition’s. The minor twist here is that the babe will try to cover your eyes with her hand until you press a button which stops her. I mean, which smacks her on the arse, though if we hadn’t been told that by a PR firm a few weeks back, you’d barely know it from the first-person viewpoint animation. I’ll comment on that particular storm-in-a-teacup in a separate article.

The map we played was nothing special – a destroyed highway bridge with ramps leading up and down, containers, bit of vehicles and rubble to hide behind and the occasional jump pad to bounce you from one level to another. If there was a decent sniper weapon and camping spot, none of us found it. This match felt very much about simple 4-person teamwork – grab a decent gun (because duke’s default pistol is pants), work in pairs to defend your babe, capture their babe and watch your partner’s back.

Hail To The King

Next up was the control point mode. Stand on the control point to claim it for your team, keep the other guys away and watch the points rack up. Run for the new point when it moves. As you would expect from any control point map, attack and defense are a lot of fun. You get a floating HUD symbol to point you in the general direction of the new location which saves you from running around blindly while not making the new control point too bloody obvious.

Again, the map gives you multiple levels to run around and plenty of obstacles to hide behind. A few of the fences and shipping containers are electrified for added damage but in this post-Bulletstorm world, the lack of tools to really drive your opponents into environmental hazards makes them feel unsatisfying. Cosmetic, even.

In some corners you’ll find a small crater filled with glowing alien goo. Step into these and you shrink down to mini-Duke. As we only played one round of each game type, I have no idea what the point of this was. It slows you down and since all the weapons are now bigger than you, you’re stuck with the one you were carrying. Perhaps there was size-dependent shortcuts around the map? I didn’t find them. I’d imagine it makes you harder to hit if you can reach and squat on a control point before the effect wears off. Felt to me like the slower running speed overwhelmed the advantage of a smaller hit box.

NB: I didn’t manage to play this map for long. It’s entirely possible that the craters didn’t cause this at all and I may have just shot in the back with a shrink ray. Twice. On the same crater.

Dukematch

The individual Dukematch mode was a little different. Set on an outdoor Western-themed map, you’re given only Duke’s bare fists which, fortunately for him, are capable of killing a man with a single blow. Exploring the saloon and other buildings will yield a small supply of remote-triggered pipe bombs and mines. Whilst it is hilarious to see fuchsia-clad Dukes explode into a tangle of bloody limbs after a single punch, in practice the match quickly degenerates into a hailstorm of pipes. Everyone learns to lurk on the upper levels of buildings, throwing bombs onto the hapless Dukes below who just want to replenish their pipe supply.

Team Dukematch (I assume)

The final mode available was a more typical deathmatch with guns but a rather unusual setting. Lots of mini-Dukes blasted their way around kitchen counters, reminding me of that classic racer, Micro Machines. I didn’t play this myself; again, we saw 8 Dukes charging at each other across a map filled with themed environmental hazards like giant hot griddle plates. Look at Spong’s multiplayer preview for more info on this.

In all game modes, when weapons or ammo have been taken, their spawn location is marked with a spinning nuke symbol. While this is pretty handy for people new to the FPS multiplayer genre who aren’t used to learning weapon/ammo spawn points on their own, or for people like me who just have a rubbish sense of direction, instinctively I feel like it’s another step towards dumbing down games. In the grand scheme of things though, marking a spawn point is probably more akin to automated note-taking than my personal bugbear of reducing complexity.

Customisation

Given that all the multiplayer avatars are Duke, you’d expect things to look boring pretty quickly, wouldn’t you. Not so! Customisation is the buzzword of the year with Brink claiming to have over 100 quadrillion unique character models (none of them female) and Rod Fergusson talking about pink guns. As you play through Duke Nukem Forever’s multiplayer, you gain levels and unlock shirts, hairstyles, sunglasses and other cosmetic bits and bobs.

In many games which laud customisation (like the original APB) you barely notice these cosmetic details as the overwhelming variety just blurs into a mish-mash of avatars. Here, perhaps because everyone starts with the same iconic character model, the addition of a fez or sunglasses really helps you to identify a particular nemesis. Probably. There were only 8 of us in the match, after all…

In Summary

I really enjoyed the Duke Nukem Forever single player preview back in October. Sure, DNF has none of the advances in destructible scenery or cover combat but it does have a enjoyable silliness about its whole premise. The multiplayer side of things doesn’t hold the same appeal or sense of humour. Next to 2007’s Team Fortress 2 Minecart mode and Global Agenda’s Demolition (a.k.a. Capture the Robot) from last year, Capture the Babe feels insipid. Deathmatch and variants on control point modes are enjoyable, which is why they can be found in virtually every multiplayer FPS and, as said earlier, shrinking yourself during a normal-sized match detracts rather than adds to the gameplay. The mini-Duke kitchen map is a laugh but I saw that concept in the Arena mode for SiN Episodes back in 2006.

Between the co-op environmental multiplayer of Bulletstorm, the weapons and executions of Gears 3 and the sheer variety of options in Team Fortress 2, Duke Nukem’s multiplayer has aged very badly. In terms of innovation within the FPS genre it feels slightly behind Unreal Tournament Classic, which I last played in 2002. With Duke Nukem Forever coming out in mid-June, I’d be very surprised if anyone is still into the multiplayer by the end of July.

Preorder Duke Nukem Forever from Play.com to get their exclusive First Access bonus and play the demo before everyone else. The game will (hopefully) be released in the UK on 10th June 2011.

Check out ElectricPig’s preview for another opinion.

Got a question for the publishers of Duke Nukem Forever, Gearbox Software? Randy Pitchford will be doing a Q&A at BAFTA tomorrow, Wednesday 11th May 2011. Buy your tickets now. I’ll be there so if you can’t make it, leave your questions in the comments section below. I’ll ask what I can.

Screenshots

2 Comments

  1. Philip Morton

    10th May, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    I didn’t write a preview, but if I did, it would have been at least as negative as yours. Some of the write-ups out there have stayed to the facts and not ventured into opinion, which is a shame.

    I found the game to be poor and the ‘humour’ even worse. It’s like someone immature making a joke which they think is funny, but actually isn’t and everyone else knows it. You feel embarrassed for them and slightly uncomfortable yourself.

    • Debbie "Weefz" Timmins

      10th May, 2011 at 8:34 pm

      Hey Philip. Yeah, as you can probably see, I was disappointed by the multiplayer. It’s not BAD but with the choices available now, it’s just not that compelling.

      I don’t mind the humour. I used to watch The West Wing and Beavis & Butthead. Not at the same time of course ;) But if you’re in the mood for some childish puerile humour then Duke’s not bad, at least not in the small doses I’ve had. It helps if you think of it as the developers laughing AT Duke rather than taking him seriously, even though the latter might be closer to the truth…

      Might get quite tiresome after 10 hours of it. We’ll find out in June.