We have played the lost Duke Nukem Forever build from 2001

This weirdly squished Duke-ification of classic art should tell you everything you need to know about this week's surprise leak of a build of <em>Duke Nukem Forever</em>.

Enlarge / This weirdly squished Duke-ification of classic art should tell you everything you need to know about this week’s surprise leak of a build of Duke Nukem Forever. (credit: 3D Realms)

Earlier this week, a retro game leaker teased ’90s shooter fans with something they’d never seen before: in-game footage of 3D Realms’ infamous vaporware game Duke Nukem Forever, based on an unfinished build from 2001. (That’s not to be confused with the game of the same name that Gearbox eventually launched in 2011.) Was this an elaborate fan-made fake of Duke-like content in a dated 3D engine, or would this turn out to be the real deal?

We thought we’d have to wait until June for an answer, as this week’s leaker suggested that the build and its source code would be released to coincide with the 21st anniversary of the game’s tantalizing E3 2001 trailer. But after this week’s tease, the leakers decided to jump the gun. On Tuesday, 1.9GB of Duke Nukem Forever files landed on various file-sharing sites (which we will not link here), and Ars Technica has confirmed that those files are legitimate.

Want to fight a robot that lands somewhere between Terminator and Robocop? <em>Duke Nukem Forever</em> will let you do that, licenses be damned. (When it's about to die, by the way, this robot distorts players' perspectives with a video-fuzz effect and the all-caps word "degaussing.")

Want to fight a robot that lands somewhere between Terminator and Robocop? Duke Nukem Forever will let you do that, licenses be damned. (When it’s about to die, by the way, this robot distorts players’ perspectives with a video-fuzz effect and the all-caps word “degaussing.”) (credit: 3D Realms)

As it turns out, this is a surprisingly playable version of Duke Nukem Forever from October 2001, though with so many bugs and incomplete sections, that’s not saying much. Most of this content, which includes moments from the aforementioned E3 trailer, was shelved by the time the game reached a cobbled-together retail state in 2011. So we’re finally getting a closer look at how the game could have turned out differently if it had launched closer to 2001.

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