19th June 2011 - Duke Nukem Forever, the winner of 9000 Vaporware of the Year awards and harbinger of the Apocalypse on the fact that so many outrageous bets will need to be fulfilled upon its release, has been released to the public. The sequel to the influential Duke Nukem 3D from circa 1996 has finally hit shelves and it only took about fourteen years to get here. The biggest joke in the entire games industry now has its punchline, problem is the set-up was more hilarious.
You play as the King himself, Duke Nukem. 12 years after saving the world by himself, Duke has become the most famous and wealthy man on the planet, and hasn't changed a bit. Take that last part for what its worth. Unfortunately, the aliens have returned and are out for revenge, and to do that they are going to...do exactly what they did before. Steal Earth's women to do a rip off of Aliens, and turn any resistance into brainwashed pig creatures because don't fix what isn't broken. With the aid of the Earth Defense Force, Duke must save the world and be a bad ass while doing it.
Story wise, the plot is only used to railroad the player into one level after another, with any characters other than Duke being around only for the sake of a joke, being a red shirt, or both; some even staying around longer than tolerable. Which wouldn't be so bad if the jokes weren't old or chuckle worthy at best. Yes, there is a story, but sticking to Duke's B-level Action Movie roots, its not what you're there for. You're there to kick ass and chew bubblegum, second part optional.
Speaking of the combat, it's alright. If you have been looking for a throwback to what shooters were like before Halo and Call of Duty 4 came out, the gunplay of Duke Nukem Forever is just that, with the exception of spending two hours running around looking for health and ammo. Unfortunately, the mechanics of regenerating health, represented by Duke's Ego, just doesn't gel with the frantic bullet dodging insanity of shooters of yesteryear. Like in a modern shooter, in order for your health to come back, you simply not have to take damage, whether you take what little cover you can find or just strafe around the gunfire like some squirrel after five cups of coffee is up to you. Problem is this breaks gameflow along with the illusion that you are supposed to be some action hero who has saved the world by himself with just a crap load of guns and some cheesy one liners. What isn't explored, or mechanically encouraged, however, is the Execute moves Duke can do. After dropping an enemy down to their last bit of health, you can run up to them and perform a spiritual successor to the Mighty Boot attack and finish them off, the reward is getting a full bar of health back. If this was implemented properly, it could have created a truly Neo Retro experience, mixing the best of the old and the new into something unique. But it isn't. Most enemies go into a berserk mode when on low health, it's impossible to gauge whether or not a pistol shot will finish them off or set up an Execute, and most aggravating of all, ally NPCs shotgunning them in the face before you can run up and get your health back like a potty mouthed energy vampire.
This problem compounds in the Boss fights. Once again, in a mix of the old school and the new school, the Bosses are hulking masses of ugly, and the method of beating them comes down to memorizing attack patterns, knowing when to attack, what you can stop, getting into a rhythm, etc. But the modern mechanics trip on this again. Having enemies that you can't Execute leaves the entire encounter to trial and error and if you don't get it right on first go, you'll spend two agonizing minutes at the loading screen waiting for the level to reload so you can try again. This level design might have been acceptable if the game reloaded instantly, but since it doesn't, it feels like punishment. Furthermore, the bosses attacks are hard to the point of unforgiving. Taking a chunk out of the player's health when messing up trying to hit a weak spot is one thing, putting the player completely in the red and leaving him prone to a killing stroke for five seconds is worse, because even if he survives getting up, the player is trained to go into hiding to regenerate health because that is the only strategy, and even then a killing stroke can come from anywhere. The good news is the boss fights do get more entertaining and fun near the end, the problem is it's only one fight, namely the final fight of the whole game.
On the subject of the rest of the game, the level design has got to be the most disjointed and inconsistent I have ever played. One level can be a bunch of tedious gun fights followed by a vehicle section, the one right after can be a fixed turret level where a single mistake is an instant death, and, most vexing, is a level taking place entirely in a strip club where Duke has to do a fetch quest. No, really. To play through the single player campaign is to also experience various trends that have been removed from First-Person games for good reason. Platforming sections for example. Unless the platforming is dictated by the player in terms of platforms or established skill, an example is using the Gravity Gun in Half-Life 2, trying to jump platforms from a first-person perspective is dangerous, tedious and aggravating. You have to jump exactly as intended, which is difficult, especially when being able to gauge distance, and on best case scenarios, you miss the jump and have to start at the beginning, worst case you instantly die and have to reload. Both have inherent flaws obviously, but tell that to the retro side of Duke Nukem Forever.
Also, there's a reason we got rid of underwater levels in 90s era Shooters. To top all of this off, mechanics come and go for no reason whatsoever. One level might have you shooting fire extinguishers to put out flames, another might have you operating a forklift, then five hours later those taught methods are out on their ear for you to do physics puzzles, then a Pipe Dream esque puzzle from first-person perspective, then you have to learn to ballroom dance and use the steps to get across hot coals. Okay, maybe not that last one but it gets so disjointed that that could have been in it and I wouldn't have been surprised. For the advertised gimmicks of the game having perfectly simulated pinball machines, pool tables and basketball courts, they are only around to enhance the health bar and are shallow and vestigial additions at best.
As an addendum, some readers may remember how optimistic I was after playing the demo. Well, there's a punchline to that joke as well. The desert level with Duke's monster truck, along with the surreal Duke Burger level, has some of the best designed levels in the whole game, a perfect mix of the old and the new into something great. Short lived however because that's only two to three hours out of a fifteen hour long campaign.
There is multiplayer for what it's worth. Fans of the old school will get a kick out of it, since a few levels are copied from Duke 3D, and mechanically it's identical to the Quake games. Memorize maps, find power-ups and hidden weapons, frag the noobs to oblivion and back, rinse and repeat. But for everyone else, it will come off as dumb, shallow and horrid. For my two cents, nostalgia can only mask so much rot.
Almost to fit the disjointed level design, Duke Nukem Forever is a graphical hodgepodge. Some areas truly show great polish and fidelity, while at the same time there will be rendered backgrounds that would shame the first generation Source engine. The character models look spot on, but everyone has a major case of robot face. Not a single hint of emotion no matter what they're saying or doing, which gets very disquieting in the aforementioned strip club level. Seriously, nightmare fuel. Texture wise, they always seem to catch up rendering and aren't done until ten seconds after you start playing, and even then some tearing will occur.
The score of Duke Nukem Forever is alright. Generic hard rock with orchestral accompaniment. Sounds are mostly forgettable though.
I'm not going to mince words, if you're a hardcore Duke Nukem fan, you'll find something to like in Duke Nukem Forever despite the flaws. But at full price, don't do it. Wait for it to wind up in the bargain bin, and given the general reception of the game already, that won't take long.
Duke Nukem Forever could have been great given some more polish and care into implementing its mechanics, not to mention cutting the fluff of twelve years. But it was released on hoping nostalgia and reputation would be enough. As it is now, it's a disjointed mess of non sequitor levels, mismatched mechanics and a C grade script for a B grade movie. Sorry, but this time you can't bet on Duke.
AAG SCORE: 5/10
- Duke Nukem's brash lowbrow humor is still intact
- Alright musical score
- Interesting mix of old and new Shooter formula that works out to “meh”
- Duke's old weapons are still around, still fun to use
- Functional but forgettable Multiplayer
- Schizophrenic level design
- Disjointed pacing
- Inconsistent Graphical Areas
- Aggravating Boss Fights and Load Screens
Reviewed and Written By Tyler Chancey