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Duke Nukem courts controversy with cheeky multiplayer mode

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Duke Nukem Forever

No one would ever accuse Duke Nukem of being a closet feminist, but the cigar-chomping, buzz-cut sporting, alien butt-kicker is stirring the pot once again.

The multiplayer modes for the imminent Duke Nukem Forever have been announced (via the April issue of Official Xbox Magazine) -- and one, dubbed "Capture the Babe," has raised some eyebrows.

The game itself is developer Gearbox Software's take on the classic "Capture the Flag" style of play, where competing teams try to steal a totem and return it to their base.

Only in this case, it's a woman.

If that were all there was to it, few would bat an eye. But when the magazine asserted that the 'babe' would sometimes freak out and have to be calmed by "gently [giving] her a reassuring slap," critics began to erupt.

"Sorry, but this is not okay," says Adam Rosenberg from MTV. "Despite OXM's reassurances that "it's more goofy than offensive," the fact of the matter is the game asks you to slap a woman when she starts to protest at being hauled around like a flag. You don't have to be a civil liberties expert to recognize that this is not the kind of behavior that should be encouraged." It's a sentiment shared by Owen Hill from PC Gamer, who writes that "abducting and slapping women has never been on my gaming wishlist" and that he's "finding it hard trying to imagine how this could work out fine."

Female gamers aren't exactly thrilled, either. Commenter 'PenPenPenguin' writes on game blog Joystiq, "As a female gamer, I really do not approve of this feature...and I don't think it's a smart move on the part of the development team."

Gearbox's CEO Randy Pitchford quickly took to Twitter to calm critics, noting "Duke can give the girl a love smack on the booty - not face!"

That may quiet some people, but it certainly won't make the matter disappear.

It's the latest in a long series of controversies for DNF, which is due out in May. Few video games have experienced the kind of attention (and derision) as the endlessly delayed game, though part of that can be credited to its unprecedented 14-year development cycle. But after seemingly being cancelled in 2009 when original developer 3D Realms fired the entire development team, it resurfaced last year and will arrive on shelves in just a few months.

Gearbox, it's worth noting, is not developing the multiplayer elements in-house. Canadian studio Piranha, which has worked on the PSP versions of Medal of Honor: Heroes 2 and Need for Speed: Undercover as well as the upcoming reboot of MechWarrior, are leading that charge. Gearbox, however, is overseeing and signing off on the work.

Pitchford tells OXM that the goal of the game (whether in single-player or multiplayer mode) isn't to shock people, but he acknowledges that there will be some uncomfortable moments.

"We try to get right up to that edge and then relax enough so people don't reject it," he says.

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