Review by UnknownMercenary
"The gameplay might have been changed to fit current conventions, but Duke's spirit lives on"
After the wildly successful Duke Nukem 3D, the developers at 3D Realms set out to create a sequel that would be bigger and better. Announced in 1997, Duke Nukem Forever languished in development hell for almost 15 years, with a few showings at E3 before disappearing from the industry radar almost completely. When 3D Realms had to shut down in 2009, all hope for DNF was extinguished until the franchise rights were bought by Gearbox and they helped polish and push DNF out the door. DNF certainly doesn't (and could never) live up to a 15 year wait, but is it fun?
DNF, unlike all of the Duke Nukem games that came out during the long wait, is a direct sequel to Duke 3D. It's been 12 years (lampshade hanging) since Duke Nukem defeated the alien race that tried to steal all of Earth's women. In that time, Duke has become a successful entrepreneur, owning both a casino and a strip club, and languishes in his own status as the man who saved the world by being a guest on talk shows and having musicals written about him. Duke's retirement ends as the aliens return to, once again, take our chicks and do the nasty with them. The plot doesn't get more deep and complex than that, and with the exception of one level in the game, maintains a mostly funny and upbeat attitude. Wise cracking one-liners, pop culture references and digital female nudity await.
Certain gameplay mechanics have changed, but DNF is still very much a shooter rooted in old school gameplay. Instead of the huge 10 weapon arsenal of yore, Duke is now limited to only 2 weapons as a concession to the massive console market. While this may be a deal breaker for some, it works well within the game. Most weapons carry enough ammo for you to blast through quite a few enemies before running out, and fresh weapons aren't that hard to find either lying on the floor or on the corpses of aliens. If you have a weapon that you absolutely have to hold onto, there are ammo boxes scattered around levels that refill all ammo for any and all weapons. Returning tools of destruction include the Ripper, Devastator, Shrink Ray and Freeze Ray from Duke 3D, along with the FPS staples of pistol and shotgun. Pipebombs and trip mines also return, and can be quickly tossed without having to manually select them. The new additions to Duke's arsenal, which include a scope-mounted railgun and various alien laser weapons, aren't particularly creative, but every single weapon available is potent and at least worth trying out.
Another change is that Duke now has a recharging ego shield, which works similarly to the regenerating health systems of many other recent FPS shooters. Instead of being protected by a vest or power armor, Duke's sheer manliness lets him shrug off bullets and explosives. While the regenerating ego makes the lower difficulties very easy (and quite dull if you force yourself to play it like any recent Call of Duty title), the regeneration is slow enough on higher difficulties that taking cover to wait for the health bar to fill up will more often than not get you killed. The most you can do is go for a quick breather before charging back into the fray as enemies will toss pipebombs to flush you out, or charge you in numbers or even teleport behind you and shoot you in the back. There are a few mechanics in the game that will keep the odds in your favour though. One is the execution mechanic, where Duke can punch or kick the crap out of dying enemy to completely fill up his ego bar. This brings a certain element of risk to firefights, and still makes being able to aim and shoot accurately while moving an imperative skill instead of turning DNF into a "pop out, shoot, pop back in" style game. The other mechanic is the ability to boost your ego cap via environmental interaction. One thing Duke 3D was known for at the time was environmental interaction, and it returns in DNF now with a purpose. Doing certain things, such as winning a game of air hockey or getting a lap dance from a stripper raises Duke's ego, which in turn allows you to absorb more damage. On lower difficulties, it's not really necessary and only serves as an incentive for exploration, but on higher difficulties it's absolutely necessary to make it through tough stages and boss fights.
Duke's powerups return as well, being another element that's been missing from big name FPS games for at least a decade now. The classic steroids and Holoduke return, with the Holoduke now being useful enough to employ in the singleplayer campaign. New items include beer, which gives Duke damage resistance in exchange for less mobility, and Dukevision, which replaces nightvision but still allows him to see in low light areas. The jetpack is sorely absent from singleplayer, but can be found on multiplayer maps. As I mentioned earlier, the 2 weapon system was a concession to consoles, and these items are the reason why - in order to accommodate having both items and guns without resorting to a clunky menu, the 2 weapon system was implemented.
Most of your time spent in DNF will involve murdering aliens, but the game changes up the pace a lot by throwing in puzzles and vehicle sections. Some of these feel sloppy, or thrown in for the sake of having them in a "me too" sense, but for the most part they're a lot of fun and give you a nice breather in between combat sections. Quite a few of the puzzles involve manipulating the physics of certain objects, and others include simple platforming segments. The highlight of these puzzle sections are the extended sequences where Duke is shrunken in size and has to navigate the environment while avoiding simple hazards like mousetraps.
Levels this time around are more linear, but that doesn't mean there isn't opportunity to explore. The game no longer keeps track of statistics like the number of secrets found, but there are still quite a few. The most notable ones are the easter eggs (some of which are tied to the game's achievements), but the majority of them are either ego boosting items, or supply boxes of pipebombs and trip mines or powerful weapon hidden in a hard to reach area.
Graphically speaking, DNF can hold its own (considering the FPS juggernaut of the industry is still running on tech that is as old as DNF itself). Some of the girls in the game still hail from the uncanny valley and the look of the levels is wildly inconsistent, but for the most part DNF looks good. There are a few instances where textures take a few seconds to load and you see the low resolution versions, but that's always been a problem with the Unreal engine itself. Most notably, DNF showcases the best implementation of full body awareness in any videogame. Gone are the days of climbing ladders and opening doors without seeing any part of your body. Where the game falters is in the effects. Do yourself a favor and turn off the film grain, and find a third party tool to disable the ugly depth of field. In terms of audio, DNF is no slouch either. Jon St. John returns to voice Duke in all his glory, and the newest remix of Grabbag is as adrenaline pumping as ever. The voice work for everybody else is cheesy and cringe inducing in a way that has to be on purpose, as DNF doesn't take itself seriously at all.
On the normal difficulty, the singleplayer campaign should take most players between 8 to 10 hours. My first playthrough took me roughly 9.5, and that included what I thought was thorough exploration (I still managed to miss quite a few things). Upon finishing the game you'll unlock the game's highest difficulty level, a variety of cheat options, as well as a deluge of extras that show off DNF at various stages of its development. You can also dive into the game's multiplayer component, which plays much like a throwback to Quake 3 and the original Unreal Tournament. It features an RPG-like levelling up system, but instead of rewarding players with increasingly overpowered weapons, it merely unlocks clothes, as well as decorative items for the player's mansion (which is accessed like a bonus singleplayer level). The multiplayer is simple fun, and would be a great addition to DNF were it not for the horrific lag and difficulty of finding matches.
So, *IS* it fun? Damn right it is, and certainly worth picking up right away. Hail to the king, baby.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/20/11
Game Release: Duke Nukem Forever (US, 06/13/11)
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