When the 2001 E3 build of Duke Nukem Forever leaked online the other day, emerging from its 90s strip club smelling of beer masked by a half-pack of Hubba Bubba, it pricked our curiosity. Sure, the build was obviously incomplete and buggy, but perhaps at least it could’ve helped us visualise a timeline where Duke Nukem Forever came out in the early 2000s and was actually alright, rather than the head-in-hands embarrassment we got with the 2011 game.
The leaker of the 2001 build initially said they planned to release it in June, but it turns out they just couldn’t wait that long and we’ve found — via Kotaku — that it’s available to download right now from the Internet Archive (complete with the Unreal Editor used to create the original maps, source code and, for some reason, the entire 4Chan thread where it was initially revealed).
To be clear, this is nowhere near what you could consider a game: it’s a work-in-progress build that was never intended for the public. Apparently it’s a little tricky to get working, but on the Reddit thread for the build there are a few people chatting about how to get it to render at the right resolution, removing the d3d8 wrapper, and other pointers to make it playable.
While just about everyone agrees that the build is extremely rough and little more than a vertical slice, players are reporting some interesting ideas lurking around in there. Redditor TM2P mentions things like interactable in-game touchscreens, parasite-infected civilians and zombies, a Bioshock-style ‘Pipe Dream’ hacking, and a suspenseful sequence where you need to escort a civilian through the darkness. Oh, and a dedicated ‘piss’ button of course (which I shake my head at now, but I’ve no doubt a 14-year-old me in 2001 would’ve found the most hilarious thing in the world).
So Duke Nukem Forever (2001) is back, albeit in creaky fragmented form. It’s worth noting that with the source code also available, there’s nothing stopping modders from building it out into something resembling a complete game. While fans are delighted with this unexpected revival, the leak has drudged up some rough memories for the game’s developers, leading to a pretty savage Twitter spat yesterday between Apogee co-founders George Broussard and Scott Miller about what went wrong during the infamously ill-fated development.
With all those unresolved bad feelings, perhaps it’s for the best this one’s now in the custody of the community rather than its makers…