Aside from the odd conversation broken mid-sentence due to the sudden flash of skin dressed in schoolgirl or french maid outfits intercut between gameplay footage, most people that are crowded into the back room of a swanky London bar manage to maintain focus on the screens directly in front of them.It's here that seated competitors are charging through Duke Nukem's multiplayer modes, and it's here that (most) of the attention is being held.
2K are celebrating Duke Nukem barrelling through yet another broken release date by letting the assembling throng try out a game they should have been rights been playing a decade ago, let alone this week. So after a short wait in the rough queue system behind the seated players, we slip on some headphones and take a massive boot stomp back in time.
We're on a brief run through of two maps, a canyon that's seen the rough end of an earthquake which has created two plains of warfare; the gorge's bottom and along the broken fragments of a freeway above with crashed vehicles serving as cover and sniper point. A inclosed kitchen that initially plays havoc with our perspectives before we realise our Dukes are shrunk to the size of mice. The former is a team-based capture the flag match, the pole replaced for a stripper (Capture the Babe), the latter a duke-it-out, no-holds-barred,free-for-all.
There's no surprises with the guns dotted around each area and gleaming an inciting gold hue. Shotguns prove as splatter-tastic as ever, the chain gun eats up ammo with chunky zeal (though a steady aim is essential) and the freeze ray comes across as trying to hit flies with an elephant gun. Only the starting pistol seems dreadfully underpowered, the excessive kick from firing making it useless for sustained barrages. Best to map out the locations of the nearest hand-cannons in your mind if you want to survive.
While Capture the Babe has us ass-slapping our unwilling hostage when she repeatedly puts her hands over our eyes, obscuring the view, its the kitchen that provides most laughs of the two, charging as we are through delivery boxes and up broomsticks to shelves. Jump boosters cannon us further onto the work surfaces, hopping onto cooking burgers to avoid damage on the grills, and dodging into open microwaves to pick up rocket launchers. Gearbox have littered the stage with pint-sized Duke dolls, which cause more than one competitor to unload their ammo clips accidentally and give away their position.
We're restricted from digging around in the menu system pre-match, representatives hovering over the glowing green PC towers like wary parents in a china shop, slapping hands away from choice menu option morsels. We're informed there's only one place we can have nosey around in, the Changing Room area, which lets you outfit your Duke with unlocked hats, glasses and vests. As its early into the event's play sessions, only a pair of John Lennon-style specs are available, and surmising the outfits behind the other silhouettes doesn't yield anything that looks particularly bizarre - surprising given the subject matter.
But while we may yet be surprised with the outfits, the multiplayer wanders up with a pint of the old familiar. In the week were Splash Damage is trying to recombine advances in modern-day multiplayers into something streamlined and exciting, Duke feels a throwback to Doom-day matches in every possible way.
Though that could work in Gearbox's favour, the nostalgia trip becoming the hook to Duke's emergence to swing audience's interest on, rather than the cross on which to crucify him in comparison to the trimmings expected in today's MP. There's no dedicated perks, no progression system, no attachments, but also, no bullshit. Even five years ago a multiplayer with no quirk to call its own (Prey's portals for example) would have a hard time competing against the emerging COD class of experience. Duke ignores the murky depths of bloated perk excesses and keeps to the simple philosophy: seek and destroy. In today's world, Duke has the brevity and accessibility that makes it more NBA Jam than NBA Live. Or, to put it another way, no matter how much you love your Royale with Cheese, sometimes you just can't help hanker for a plain and simple classic hamburger.
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