Duke Nukem Forever was first showcased at E3 2001 – and subsequently disappeared as it entered a period of development hell. A decade later, it was finally released for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 after Gearbox Software acquired and completed it, but it underwent a critical mauling for being dated, ugly and ill-performing. Now, the original version of the game has resurfaced, in the form of a leaked demo build.
The data was leaked by user ‘x0r’ on 4Chan, per fan site Duke4.net, who claimed the build was taken directly from the E3 2001 demo shown off to the public. The identity of the leaker is not clear, nor is how they got their hands on the long-sought-after build.
In addition to screenshots, the leaker posted a number of gameplay snippets, which were later confirmed to be real by George Broussard, Duke Nukem creator and co-founder of 3D Realms.
According to Broussard, the leaked demo is extremely incomplete, and fans should heavily temper expectations when seeking out the footage.
‘There is no real game to play. Just a smattering of barely populated test levels. I have no knowledge who leaked this,’ he wrote on Twitter, with emphasis that he did not wish to speak about ‘retreading a painful past’.
In a later reply, Broussard expanded on the nature of the demo, stating it was only a scattered reflection of the development team’s efforts. ‘Most of what’s there are small level snippets, level designer tests, or some fake build out areas for an E3 demo,’ he said. ‘There’s some guns, yes, but next to no gameplay code or much AI/enemies or anything. It’s just some art/levels for the most part.’
The footage shown off features the titular Duke roaming through dark corridors and what appears to be a strip club known as ‘Slick Willy’ – which should give you an idea of the poor attempts at racy humour Duke Nukem has often been criticised for.
It appears exploration and shooting are largely functional in the build, but as Broussard states, there are no major enemies present. For the most part, the footage depicts a standard, run-of-the-mill shooter with nothing too notable about this early look. That said, it does look fairly polished for its era.
Regardless of its quality, these snippets are a fascinating glimpse at Duke Nukem Forever, a game which has become a boogeyman of a sort in modern gaming – a cautionary tale for developers. This version of the game differs greatly from its modern counterpart, but it does show off major potential that ultimately went unrealised. Should this version of the game have been released, it’s possible the Duke Nukem franchise could have had a very different future.