The Good: Boobs, poop
The Bad: Loading times, framerate, graphics
The Interesting: This game was released in 2011 for $60
Boss Kowbel: Duke Nukem Forever has the nostalgic sense of a late 90’s 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. It’s 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. Players visit several key locations including the Duke Cave, an alien hive, and the Hoover Dam, but the pacing is horrible. For the first hour, the only action consists of Duke playing a video game starring himself. The occasional driving section or rudimentary puzzle attempts to artificially extend the life of the single-player but only hinders the overall presentation.
There are less graphically intense experiences out there, but Duke Nukem Forever looks dated in every sense of the word, and the frame rate has a terrible habit of dropping should more than three enemies occupy the screen. The textures are slow to load, the character animations seem robotic, and the environments are destructible but feel boring and empty.
The controls don’t fare any better either, handling like a clunky mess of mediocre responsiveness. The platforming is touch-and-go, and the gunplay is competent, 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. Trying to beat down a Berserk Pigcop turns into a contest to see how fast you can mash the melee button before Duke’s face gets clobbered.
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 the first twenty minutes, I caught references to South Park, Full House, and Christian Bale’s freak-out aboard the set of Terminator: Salvation. Duke frequently emits cringe worthy one-liners from his chiseled jaws, and the periodic burst of irony is sprinkled in for good measure too.
The extent to which Duke can interact with his surroundings is unprecedented though, 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, playing pinball, lifting weights, and drawing on whiteboards. Certain tasks can permanently raise Duke’s Ego like admiring himself in the mirror, signing an autograph, or curling dumbbells, and drinking cans of beer or popping steroid pills temporarily alters the gameplay.
The fast-paced, frenzied multiplayer finds its roots in Quake Arena, but the firefights suffer from constant lag spikes. Capture the Babe offers a different take on the tired capture the flag formula – retrieve the opposing team’s damsel in distress while she squirms and obstructs the carrier’s view – but not even Capture the Babe feels unique for those who’ve played Bioshock 2’s Capture the Sister mode.
In spite of all my criticisms, I can’t shake the lasting impression that these design flaws were created deliberately to provide a nostalgic feel, but in no way does that excuse the $60 price tag. I only bring this up because Gearbox Software isn’t known for producing bad games. The developers have dabbled with a wide array of first-person shooters and their expansions, including Borderlands, Brothers in Arms, Halo: Combat Evolved, and Half-Life. It’s almost hard to believe Gearbox would stamp its name on what feels like an unfinished product.
So, 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 generic multiplayer all sum up to a lackluster experience in today’s expectations. 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 is based on 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 next time around.
RPGeesus: According to the in-game timeline, Duke Nukem Forever’s single player was completed in 2009. This should be indicative to anyone that DNF has been sitting around for quite a long time, and its age shows. This is a game that has its roots in the 90s, and plays like it should have come out at its first intended release time. This is not to say the game isn’t fun, but it wallows in issues that have been patched out of every other modern first-person shooter, and overstays its welcome by the time you feel done with it.
For the most part, Duke Nukem is a plain and simple shooter. Duke carries two guns, has a regenerating shield, which is his Ego of course, and you circle strafe aliens while filling them with lead or blowing them up. There are platforming and driving segments, which are decent and break up the gameplay, but those are really only side actions to the main fare. Shooting aliens is pretty fun, for all it’s worth, and would be even better if your Ego could stand any real punishment whatsoever. Duke Nukem is meant to be this arrogant, invincible hardarse so it feels odd to be hiding for long stretches behind cover, or dying over and over and watching the loading screens. The loading times are actually horrific. They are some of the worst I’ve seen in a while.
Duke himself has not evolved much since the days of Duke 3D. He still loves boobs and makes lots of movie references and thinks he’s amazing. In fact, this whole game seems to serve a 12-year-old’s sense of humour. You get boobs shoved in your face, you can pick up and throw poop, and everything that can be the number 69 is the number 69. I’m surprised 420 wasn’t mentioned once. These jokes, and the metric boatload of game references it makes, are funny early on, but they feel dated already, as if the world moved on before the words even came out of Duke’s mouth.
Then there’s the multiplayer. If you’ve played the multiplayer of Duke Nukem 3D, Doom, Halo, or Call of Duty to some extent, you know what to expect. You spawn, shoot people with weapons, die, spawn, repeat. With only four modes, the variety isn't great. There’s level progression, and you can unlock some neat stuff in a section called “My Digs”, but apart from that you aren’t missing anything special that you couldn’t easily get anywhere else.
Ultimately, Duke Nukem Forever lives and dies by how fun and how funny the player finds it. It’s kind of heinous to think that this took 12 or so years to come out, but as a historical landmark it’s undoubtedly significant. If you really want to play the game, give it a rent, but don’t go into this expecting more than a rather middling shooter.
Dan Broadbent: Let me start off by saying that I played the Xbox 360 version of this game, which is apparently the worst version in terms of graphics, frame rate, and load times. However, the fact that there is a better version out there is no excuse for this version’s technical shortcomings. The graphics border between mediocre and atrocious with some elements looking so pixelated they appear to be straight out of Duke Nukem 3D. The load times and framerate drops are the worst I’ve seen in this generation of consoles. From a technical standpoint, Duke is as bad as it gets.
Looking past the technical shortcomings, there is some fun to be had playing Duke Nukem Forever. I played it in quite possibly the most fun way; while drinking with a friend. I found myself laughing at many of the references to movies, tv shows, and other games that came out during the insanely long development cycle of this game. I also found myself quite amused with most of the bathroom humor and sexual innuendo found in the game. That pretty much sums up the good to be found in Duke Nukem Forever.
All jokes and history aside, Duke Nukem Forever is an incredibly mundane first person shooter. While the controls are fine, it doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before. The campaign has a wide variety of levels and game-play mechanics such as driving and getting shrunk to keep it somewhat interesting. One annoying aspect was that some parts seemed way too hard for normal difficulty. While my level of inebriation may have effected the difficulty, there were definitely some spots that made me consider putting down the game for good.
If this game were re-skinned with a generic space marine, and had all it’s humor removed, there would be nothing left to recommend. The humor and history are what give this game an almost “so bad it’s good” vibe. If you like dumb jokes, juvenile humor, and are interested in seeing one of the biggest train wrecks in gaming history, give this game a rent, otherwise, skip it.