Duke Nukem Forever has the nostalgic sense of a late '90s shooter with its laurels deeply embroiled in mechanics long cut from its shooter brethren. On a technological level, it’s the most uninspired game I've played this year. The presentation is funny but only in the funny-how-bad-it-is kind of way. In terms of story (what little there is), Duke Nukem Forever is a sequel to Duke Nukem 3D. The aliens that Duke defeated twelve years ago are back to exact revenge and steal Earth’s women. Now the buxom babes' fates lie with the "King." Players visit several unremarkable locations, including the Duke Cave, an alien hive, and the Hoover Dam, and the pacing is horrible. For the first hour, the only action entails Duke playing a video game starring himself while being pleasured by twins. The occasional driving section or rudimentary puzzle aims to artificially extend the life of the single-player but only hinders the overall quality.
Fans that were hoping to play Duke Nukem Forever in clear, crisp, high definition at a smooth sixty frames per second have had their hopes dashed. The textures load slowly, the characters move with robotic animations, and the partially destructible environments feel drab and empty once the gunfire stops. There are less graphically intense experiences out there, but Duke Nukem Forever looks dated in every sense of the word. The frame rate refuses to remain consistent, dropping into terrible single digits should more than three enemies occupy the screen. In the boss battle against the Alien Queen, firing one rocket crippled the game to a few frames per second. I hope you enjoy killing the same four enemy types over and over as well, because you’ll be murdering identical Pigcops and Octabrains the entire campaign.
Bosses can only be damaged with explosives or turrets.
The controls don’t fare any better, handling like a clunky mess of mediocre responsiveness. The platforming is touch-and-go, often penalizing players with a minute-long loading screen after one wrong misstep. The gunplay is competent at its best, but the aiming feels disjointed. Duke looks around when you move the analog stick and fires his weapon when you press the trigger, but lining up a shot on Duke’s enemies in close-quarters requires finesse – something this game lacks in shameful quantities. Trying to beat down a Berserk Pigcop turns into a contest of how fast you can mash the melee button before the humanoid warthog clobbers Duke's steely jaw. Couple the poor controls with the deplorable load times of the console versions and the consequences for dying mean sitting through another lengthy loading screen.
Duke Nukem Forever doesn’t take itself seriously and that’s beneficial; otherwise the sheer amount of pop culture references would seem like blatant plagiarism. Within twenty minutes, I caught references to South Park, Full House, Christian Bale’s freak-out aboard the set of Terminator: Salvation, and the game’s own development time. Periodic bursts of irony are sprinkled in for good measure, too. Duke openly mocks the use of advanced armor suits like Master Chief’s when his regenerating health bar (Ego) and two holstered weapons carry the undeniable inspirations of Halo. Likewise, in one of the campaign’s later sections, Duke has to solve a valve-based puzzle to redirect the flow of compressed air to clear his path before simply stating, “I hate valve puzzles.”
You heard it here first.
The extent to which Duke can interact with his surroundings is unprecedented, but it’s not in the most mature ways. The single-player begins with Duke peeing into a urinal, and the sophomoric humor only increases from there. Miscellaneous tasks range from stealing feces, ogling boobs, microwaving popcorn, playing pinball, and lifting weights. Certain tasks permanently raise Duke’s Ego, like admiring himself in the mirror, signing an autograph, or curling dumbbells. Unlucky enemies can be executed to immediately refill Duke’s Ego in the midst of combat, but I expected more creativity than a mere uppercut or boot to the face. Duke can also drink cans of beer laying around the environment to receive spurts of invulnerability, or pop some steroid pills to enhance the strength of his punches, but his beer goggles kick in after only one drink and Duke’s “vitamins” give him a gnarly case of roid rage.
Fanatics of Quake Arena may enjoy the fast-paced, frenzied multiplayer, but the firefights suffer from constant lag spikes and the variety of game types (a meager four) lack the ingenuity I associate with a developer of Gearbox's caliber. Duke Match and Team Duke Match are your standard deathmatch and team deathmatch modes respectively, but capture the flag has been reworked into Capture the Babe. Players must rescue the opposing team's damsel in distress while she squirms and obstructs the carrier’s view, but not even Capture the Babe feels unique after playing Bioshock 2’s Capture the Sister mode. Rank progression unlocks new furniture for Duke’s bachelor pad, like an abysmally functioning air hockey table, but the incentive to keep playing wanes after a few hours.
The multiplayer leaves much to be desired.
Undoubtedly, in terms of frat boy humor, Duke Nukem Forever’s biggest competition this year is Bulletstorm. Both games are saturated with sexual innuendos and subpar dialogue. Each game brings its own array of ordnance to the mix, but Grayson Hunt’s arsenal left a lasting impression on me, whereas there’s nothing new for players that have already experimented with Duke’s previous weaponry. Never have I juggled an enemy with a quadrupled barrel shotgun outside of Bulletstorm, and the single-player was just nonstop, over-the-top heated exchanges of lead with nonexistent puzzle solving. But in Duke Nukem Forever, there’s way too much downtime between skirmishes. The one-liners that Duke spews forth from his chiseled jaws are cringe-worthy and let down by the completely forgettable cast of support characters.
In spite of all my criticisms, I can’t shake the lasting impression that these design flaws were intentionally contrived for the sake of nostalgia. I only bring this up because of Gearbox Software's track record. Borderlands was a fantastic co-op RPG/shooter romp through a chaotic wasteland that received four worthwhile expansions. Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway looked gorgeous and featured talented voice acting, though the firefights fell prey to repetition. Gearbox also ported Halo: Combat Evolved to the PC and developed six total spin-offs in the Half-Life series. I find the evidence almost embarrassing to believe that the developers would stamp their names on what feels like an unfinished product.
Meet the extent of DNF's enemy variety.
Now I reiterate, is Duke Nukem Forever worth the wait? Sadly, no. Ten years ago, this game would have set an industry standard for what was technologically possible in a video game, but the paper-thin plot, slow-to-load textures, haphazard animations, poor voice acting, hit-or-miss gunplay, and uninspired multiplayer all sum up to a lackluster experience in today’s expectations. Whether these mistakes were made deliberately may never be known, but that’s still no excuse for selling such an underwhelming product with a $60 price tag.
If there are any compliments to be given here, they’re few and far between, though Duke is still the same bubble gum chewing, alien destroying, machismo-oozing womanizer after all these years. Whether or not you’ll enjoy this game lies with your love of Duke and interest in toilet humor, but as for me, I have no motivation to play this game again. Duke Nukem Forever is exactly what fans should expect from a Duke Nukem video game – pure fan service – but here’s hoping Duke’s subsequent adventures receive a little more polish.
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Release Date: June 14, 2011
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2-8 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), Playstation 3, PC