Over the past week or so I’ve played multiplayer components of two shooters that sit on very different sides of the coin. Brink is something new, something different and something to excited about because of its insistence to steer away from the norm. Duke Nukem Forever’s multiplayer is a different proposition entirely; unlike Brink it represents the norm, albeit not today’s norm.
Not a million miles away from Quake or the original Unreal Tournament, Duke’s stubborn refusal to embrace the modern structure of a multiplayer FPS makes it feel decidedly old-fashioned. Yet, it’s that stubbornness and clarity of design principles that also makes it feel oddly refreshing and charming.
Then again, nostalgia tends to work like that.
Like multiplayer shooters of old, Duke is fast; compared to your COD’s, Halo’s and Battlefield’s it feels like lightning. This is not a game about taking cover, finding ‘camp’ spots or working out which loadout is best suited to each map/your play-style. This is a game about running to the centre of the map, jump-strafing away from incoming projectiles and keeping your finger on the trigger.
In fact, there are no loadouts. In another tip of the hat to shooters of a bygone era, weapons are dotted about the map as pick-ups – run over the floating, glowing, rotating implement of death to wield it. Everybody starts with a pistol, so being the first to get your hands on a machine gun, shrink ray or freeze ray can yield great results. This being a Duke Nukem game, trip mines and pipe bombs can be found in abundance across the majority of maps, the latter of which is particularly satisfying as (like the rocket launcher) foes are disintegrated into a pulp of blood and bone upon detonation.
Other ‘old-skool’ features such as jump pads, a lack of any sort of radar and a red versus blue set-up further enhance the overwhelming sense of nostalgia. Whether this insistence to design the multiplayer in such a way is a good idea remains to be seen. Personally, I can’t see the approach going over at all well with the hardcore shooter fans that populate online arenas today. Forever’s multiplayer may be accessible, fast and entertaining but, it lacks the detail that players thrive on and keeps certain franchises popular over the long term.
For example, aside from cosmetics ‘enhancements’ to your avatar (everybody plays as a red or blue Duke), there’s very little (at least from what we’ve played), there’s nothing to unlock or ‘aspire’ to and, rather than reward players for adopting different play styles across different maps, Forever is intent on having players play from the same playbook – as evidenced by the lack of a customisable load-outs.
If the lack of success experienced by Quake Arena Arcade is anything to go by, serious online players are looking for more than just a pick up and play shooter. They’re looking for something to delve into and keep them occupied over the long-term. They’re looking for an excuse to buy just one game a year.
Our demo session involved three maps and two game modes. Accompanying the standard Team Deathmatch was Capture the Babe, a predictably macho/misogynist/Nukem approach to what is traditional known as Capture the Flag. Capture the Babe, unsurprisingly, replaces the flag with a curvaceous babe – a babe that doesn’t take too kindly to being hoisted from the glowing pad she so happily inhabits and trundled off to the opposition’s neck of the woods.
Roughly every 15 seconds the babe waves her hand in front of your face, obscurely your vision and making you vulnerable to enemy an ambush. The solution to this so handy of problems? A simple, sharp slap on the butt. It’s all done with that typical air of satirical, masculine humour that Duke games have thrived off of in the past but something tells me a few women in the audience are going to see it as distasteful. Then again, does the Duke care? No. This is game for red bloodied males, females be damned!
Of the three maps I have no idea as their names thanks to the blistering pace the 2K/Gearbox rep was setting up each game for us – further enquiry with the PR staff generated zero leads. Easily the most interesting and memorable of the three was an arena set in a small kitchen filled with shelves, sinks and boxes of food. The twist was that all players were under the influence of the shrink from the off, making what would have otherwise been a small map a large one. Of course, when everybody is small then no one is but the novelty value lasted for at least a few games.
The other two maps were decidedly more standard fare, one taking place in a factory that has been overrun by a giant alien and the other a dusty, rocky desert outpost dotted with dilapidated wooden shacks. The overrun-factory map’s alien elevated it above the desert map in terms of pure fun, not least because you could battle it out in the interior of the thing (its stomach, perhaps?) and use glowing orbs dotted about its body as jump pads, allowing you to fire rockets from above at the poor sods below you.
In short, like the single-player, Forever’s multiplayer feels exactly like you’d expect from a sequel to Duke Nukem 3D. The problem is that it feels like what you’d expect from a sequel released ten years ago, as was the original plan. As I’ve said already, I’m having a difficult time believing that it’s going to go over well with today’s shooter crowd.
Still, our time with the multiplayer was a lot of fun. Whether fun is in itself enough anymore remains to be seen.