A Build Of The Scrapped Duke Nukem Forever 1996 Has Leaked, And It Is Playable

dnf 96 vs helicopter

Before the Master Chief, before Gordon Freeman, before the DOOM Marine, and even before BJ Blazkowicz there was Duke Nukem. Of course, we're talking about 2D Duke Nukem. It took 3D Realms/Apogee Software two titles, Duke Nukem and Duke Nukem II, before reaching Duke Nukem 3D, but the vulgar character has been a video game icon ever since that debut. However, there was a point where Duke Nukem Forever-in-development-hell was harkening back to the king's roots.

In the same year as Duke Nukem 3D's release, 1996, there was already development of Duke Nukem Forever, in all its 2D sidescrolling glory. Thanks to the sleuthing of some motivated individuals we now have some artwork and even a limited but playable build of the game.

Three screenshots of the game were posted by Twitter User Vinícius Medeiros. Later he uploaded the builds and data to The Internet Archive. This is all hot on the heels of the Duke Nukem Forever 2001 team showing off that they have a playable build of the 2001 edition thanks to even more leaks.

dnf 2001 restoration screenshot
Duke Nukem Forever 2001 Restoration Project In-Game Screenshot

Gearbox Software, the development team behind the little series known as Borderlands, acquired the Duke Nukem intellectual property later on. Their 3D vision of Duke Nukem Forever was released in 2011 to quite a bit of critical ire. The game was disappointing and we haven't seen Duke Nukem show up in a new title ever since. 3D Realms was later acquired by Interceptor Entertainment, later renamed to Slipgate-Ironworks, which if you climb the parent/subsidiary chain, goes all the way up to Embracer Group.

Embracer Group has been gobbling up entertainment industry intellectual properties for quite some time, primarily focused on video games. Gearbox was itself acquired by Embracer Group early in 2021.

dnf in dosbox1
Screenshot of Duke Nukem Forever 1996 running in DOS Box

Gearbox and Embracer have seemingly had little to no response to the Duke Nukem leaks, though. It's unlikely they will, these are admittedly significantly old assets and abandonware versions of the titles. More than 10 years have passed without a new entry and Gearbox hasn't done anything but port the classics to consoles and handhelds in that time. Still, it's very cool to see how far the title came since those 2D roots and how there was some development overlap of the two titles at the time. Hail to the king, baby!