Games are often delayed because developers wish to improve their game, and no game has been delayed more than Duke Nukem Forever. Beginning development in 1997 and involving three separate studios, DNF has experienced hundreds of revisions and alterations, and is almost unrecognisable compared to its first iteration. Ultimately, 3D Realms, Triptych Studios and Gearbox Studios have created a game that is mired too heavily in the tropes of video games of old, but is nevertheless a fun experience for some time
The story component of DNF is the major focus, and it is a weird. To give away any one part would be to ruin the whole’s effect, but it is safe to say that it’s really odd. So odd that I was having trouble even knowing what the hell was going on from time to time, which took away of most of anything’s impact. Much of it feels to have been done in service of one reference or another, and it’s decently done, but overused and tiring by halfway through the game. There are a hundred different references to games that were made during the game’s own development, and DNF is very self-aware, commenting on its own age and sequels. These are all funny, but they make you think that if the game had actually come out of time, none of these jokes would have been there.
There are two major features that do need to be explicitly mentioned. The first is the world interactivity. Like in Duke Nukem 3D, you can do all sorts of things in the world that would otherwise be a texture on a wall. It’s cool how much you can do if you spend the time looking around the world. You start by pissing in a urinal. You can play pinball and air hockey. You can draw on whiteboards in different colours. I did, whenever I got the opportunity, just because I could. The amount of stuff you can do is something that you can’t in any other modern game. Unfortunately, you’re limited by how precise you can be with a thumb stick. Air hockey and drawing are tricky, and always looks super awkward. The fact that you can do it at all, though, is amazing.
The other is the baser humour, and particularly the boobs. There are a lot of boobs in this game, some and are literally shoved in your face. This game appeals most to a juvenile audience, because the amount of poop jokes, sexual innuendos, uses of the number 69 and display of female breasts seems like a 12-year-old’s stand-up routine. It’s sometimes creatively done, but still extremely childish. If you have any problem with this humour, then stay away, but if it doesn’t bother you, then it shouldn’t be an issue.
DNF plays like a game that should have come out in the late ‘90s, funnily enough. The shooting is competent, and functions similar to every other shooter out now, but it feels old from the start. You don’t snap to targets, or aim down sights. For the most part, combat involves circle strafing while shooting, and occasionally hiding somewhere to let your Ego (Duke’s shield equivalent, of course) recharge. The weapons are the same as in Duke Nukem 3D, and are fun to use. Ammo boxes are an old feature which did not need to be there, but it’s not a deal breaker. The driving and platforming sequences that break up the shooting are decent, and show creativity. Overall, shooting aliens is fun, but by the end you’ll want to play another game, since those will have all the other nice touches that DNF lacks.
The biggest problem with the gameplay, however, is how quickly you can die. For all of Duke’s Ego, it is fragile, and you can (and probably will) get killed in a few seconds, even on normal difficulty. You can get Ego boosts from interacting with the world’s objects, but they feel inconsequential. The constant deaths are aggravated by the long load times, which feel like an age when you die over and over against a boss. It’s a totally unnecessary difficulty spike, and only serves to artificially extend the game’s length.
Aside from the campaign, there is the multiplayer segment, which is completely competent. It functions very similar to old-school multiplayer games like Quake, being fast-paced and twitch-orientated. It tends to be part race: if you get the rocket launcher first, chances are you’ll get a bunch of kills. It’s a refreshing change from Halo or Call of Duty, but nothing in it feels new. There are 4 standard game types and challenges and level progression and cosmetic customisation; it’s very run-of-the-mill. The only innovative part is “My Digs”, a room where various trophies lauding Duke are put on display based on your level. These range from pictures to interactive games to various women roaming around. It’s a neat feature and speaks of some of the creativity that went into this game, even if the rest of the multiplayer feels old. The fatal flaw in the multiplayer is its antique nature, which will run out of steam far quicker than current popular games will.
Duke Nukem Forever is a good old romp, and players should enjoy the time they have with it. Its content is quickly depleted, however, and there are flaws in the gameplay that should have been easy to fix. Purely, this game is a testament to man’s persistence, and is a landmark in video game development, but the resulting game does not do justice to the hard work done over so many years.
Score: 3 stars of 5 – Fun, but lacking in content. Rent, don’t buy.