Review by Nintendological

"Duke Nukem Forever: Straddling the Gap Between The Past and the Present"

Overview:

Though Gearbox did their best to recreate a Duke that lives up to the established character, I feel that Gearbox was too focused on maintaining the comedic aspect of the franchise. Gearbox fails to bring that same level of attention to the gameplay that was equally as important to making Duke Nukem himself and Duke Nukem 3D such a memorable instance in gaming history. Duke went from having the 90s era impossible-to-carry arsenal of 9+ weapons, to only being able to carry two arms and an explosive. Gone are the health power-ups and armor that required players to skillfully evade fire and conserve resources. Instead, Duke has an "Ego" bar that doubles as his regenerating shield and his health. The constant adrenaline-pumping action sequences of old have been stifled by constant interruptions from doors that you have to pry open, platforming segments and gimmicks like RC car driving and turret battles. As a result, the gameplay comes off as a bit uneven. It is not like entering Hollywood Holocaust where you are immediately opening fire on hordes of alien foes as you charge through the area. Instead, you find yourself stalking enemies in the dark, using your "Duke Vision" and using executions on felled foes.

To an extent, the gameplay seems to be a hodge podge of mechanics borrowed from modern titles like Halo and even Batman Arkham Asylum. Does that make it a bad game? Hardly. Modern FPS games are all derivative of one another, so Duke is merely following suit. However, fans that were expecting a revival of the old 90s FPS will find themselves wanting a bit more. Duke is average when compared to its modern competition and disappointing to those who wanted a revival of an older gameplay style.

What saves Duke Nukem Forever is the faithfulness to the atmosphere and attitude of the character. You don't doubt for a second that you are Duke Nukem. From an opening sequence involving two-on-one fellatio, to the chauvinistic and self-aggrandizing rhetoric of Duke himself There is nostalgia to be found, there just isn't much of it. Gearbox's fatal flaw rests with the fact that they have not created the kind of title that modern audiences want, nor have they recreated the kind of experience that nostalgia seeking fans had hoped for. Ultimately, Duke sits some where between both the past and present, never quite doing justice to what the genre was in the 1990s or what it is in the 2010s.

Graphics 7/10: Visually speaking, Duke Nukem Forever is a solid game. Though the title is not hard on the eyes, the engine in use sets Duke apart from its modern brethren, and not quite in a good way. The level of detail found in this game is hauntingly familiar to fans of Half Life 2 and Doom 3. While those two games have aged gracefully, it is disappointing that the nearest visual comparisons for this 2011 video game, are two titles from 2004. While the texture maps used for the characters are done well enough (if set texture detail is set to Ultra), all of the textures for the environment are either generic, or low res. One would hope for greater clarity as they approach an object from the distance, but instead you are met with a muddled texture. Character texture maps look modern enough but do not compare to those seen in UE3. Love it or hate it, UE3 has defined the aesthetic of this generation. Though Duke Nukem Forever is a leap above most of the games we all enjoyed in the early 2000s, the graphics for Duke Nukem Forever seem as curiously out of place in this era as the eponymous protagonist. In short, the visuals are serviceable but hardly a stellar effort to deliver something compelling.

Sound 7/10: The sound is nothing too impressive. Typical grunts and screams and gun discharges fill most of the soundscape. Unlike Duke Nukem 3D, which was rife with memorable tunes such as "Stalker," Duke Nukem Forever has a largely forgettable soundtrack. There is a stellar rendition of Lee Jackson's famous "Grabbag" that can be heard when the game starts, but that kind of driving rhythm is lost once the actual game begins. The saving grace for this game is the amount of voice acting that you encounter. NPCs ego-stroke Duke with all kinds of colorful commentary. When you aren't near an NPC, Duke is busy issuing one-liners without skipping a beat.

Control 7/10: WASD configuration strikes again. There are no real surprises there. Players are given the option to use the Xbox 360 Controller for Windows. This title is very friendly for controller using players, including an auto-aim function specifically for controllers. I prefer to use a keyboard and mouse, but in this case, I am willing to entertain the idea that Gearbox wanted to make this player accessible to a broader audience on the PC. That kind of effort would have led me to score this section with an 8/10, but I find that the KB+M controls are a bit clunky. I have had moments where I can make a head shot with ease. Other moments, I find myself going for a head shot and dead-on shots seem to only graze the enemy. Controlling the RC car also seems stiff regardless of if you are piloting it via remote, or behind the wheel as a shrunken Duke. It is nothing egregious, but it is noticeable.

Gameplay 6/10: Mixed-bag is the best term to describe the way this game plays. On one hand, Duke attempts to invoke older FPS games from the 90s with features such as toggle run and corridor level design as opposed to open world maps. On the other hand, the game employs tropes from modern FPS titles such as the rechargeable shield and the two gun limit. It would be one thing if Duke excelled in both areas, or even excelled at one and lagged at the other. Unfortunately, Duke Nukem Forever winds up creating a gameplay experience that never fully realizes the nostalgia it should be creating, nor does it manage to fully embrace the conventions of modern FPS titles. The culmination is a title that does not quite fully satisfy either audience.

Corridors may not be dynamic, but they were such a threat in the 90s because they were often filled to the brim with enemies. Duke Nukem Forever finds players turning corridor after corridor with only a few enemies here and there. Huge battles are instead reserved for what I like to call "the arena." At the end of each corridor stretch, there seems to be some area where Duke is sealed in and forced to battle a wave of foes. After successfully dealing with the wave, players are allowed to exit "the arena" and continue down more corridor.

Though the environments in Duke vary a bit, but you won't find too many large, open maps. To that end, the need for a rechargeable shield is less realized in this title. Modern FPS games are more about fighting in a battle field rather than enduring a wave in a corridor. To that end, a rechargeable shield serves as a complement to modern level design that requires a distinct awareness of enemy positions. For Duke Nukem Forever, the rechargeable shield comes off as a moment of having your hand held by the designers. Just hide behind a corner and run in and open fire. Wash, rinse, repeat. Not quite strategic. Even more agonizing is the straight forward, "Toucan Sam" level design (just follow your nose). You won't be rewarded for exploration in this title, like you were with Duke Nukem 3D. You go where they tell you to, and block your way if you even see something that remotely resembles an alternate path.

Perhaps the worst offender in this category is something I call "floitus interruptus." Hear gun fire coming from another room, just hold on for a moment while you pry the malfunctioning automatic door open with your bare hands. The first few times it is amusing. After all, it takes a hell of a lot of physical strength to pry open non-operational doors for something like an elevator. After a while, these kinds of moments turn into a situation where otherwise enjoyable gameplay is being interrupted. That is not the only example. Sure the old Duke Nukem had you hunting for key cards to go through a door, but at least you were shooting mobs. Duke Nukem Forever has the player racing around in an RC car, wasting minutes of the game not engaged in combat. Turret segments, which seem like a great way to diversify the action, wind up seeming more like an on-rails shooting segment, again slowing down what is an otherwise enjoyable experience.

The saving grace for this category is that when Duke is actually having a gun fight, it is indeed a good time to be had. Enemies fly when the shotgun is let loose in their face. Swallow some steroids and watch mobs literally burst into giblets as you throw a punch. There are more than enough circle strafe/bunny hop battles to remind players of good times with QIII. Executions, though ill-timed in some moments, offer a sense of excitement about the melee combat. It is not quite as satisfying as ripping a chainsaw gun through your enemy in GOW, but it is satisfying enough.

Nostalgia 8/10: This is a special category for Duke Nukem Forever specifically. Duke Nukem Forever isn't just another sequel to a long established franchise. It is a game that was meant to recapture a moment in history when characters were rude and silly, and game scenarios were farcical in nature. Duke Nukem Forever is meant to be a bit of something new, with a lot of something old. In other words, making what was old, new again. Though the game does not quite deliver on all fronts for this category, long time fans of the Duke Nukem character, will find themselves enjoying the potty humor that seems to have been lifted from The Hangover. The innuendos and overt sexuality are done in such an inelegant fashion, that one can't help but have a flash back to the time when parents blamed everything on D&D, Marilyn Manson and PC first person shooter games. The one liners are there. The over-the top toilet humor is there. Nude women are abound. The style of humor is not quite as outrageous as it once was, perhaps because we are so desensitized and jaded. And the one-liners don't quite seem as off-the-wall. All the same, the atmosphere comes together in such a way that you are bound to remember all that you loved (or hated) about Duke Nukem 3D and the character that Duke Nukem changed into as a result.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/15/11

Game Release: Duke Nukem Forever (US, 06/13/11)


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