Review by Mastadi
"The king is back, but is he still the king?"
Before I start this review, I'd like you to forget about the development time. No 14 years of scrapping and redoing the game, no promises of the game being best ever, nothing like that. Just think about it as if the game had standard development time. Done? Now, with that mindset, you're ready to ask the question: Is Duke Nukem Forever a good game?
The gameplay is pretty much what you would expect from a Duke Nukem game - arcade, quite fast paced shooting. While at first the shooting felt a bit clunky, a quick visit to the options menu and messing about with the settings has allowed me to find the best possible set up, which made the shooting feel rather smooth and fun. You can zoom in, which doesn't bring up iron sights or anything like that, just simply zooms in the screen. While it looks kinda weird at first, you soon get used to it. Sadly, there's not much improvement in terms of the weapons you're given by the game compared to the original Duke Nukem 3D - the only new guns in your arsenal are two kinds of lasers - both of which are pretty standard weapons, and while quite useful, they're nothing to write home about - and an alien homing rocket launcher, which although feels good to use and is fairly powerful, you won't really be carrying it around with you too much simply because there's not enough ammo for it and other weapons are more practical.
This brings me to the next problem with the game, the 2 weapon system. While it has worked well in other games, Duke simply wants to carry around the whole arsenal at once. That's the whole point of creating an arsenal of cool but often impractical weapons, so you can use them whenever you want, and whenever you are actually able to use them in a practical manner. A prime example of this is the shrink ray, which is almost a trademark weapon for Duke. While the gun is very powerful, and squishing aliens under your boot is simply fun, the gun won't see much use simply because of the fact that it has very limited ammo, and using it on the common pigcops feels like a waste. You could just use one all-around weapon in one slot and the shrink ray in the other, but then you're basically handicapping yourself. With such a wide arsenal of fun weaponry, it is a shame that we have to limit ourselves due to practical reasons.
Regenerating health was another mechanic which has been receiving a lot of criticism even before the game was released, and while most of it was valid, when you actually play the game, it doesn't feel too bad. There were concerns that it would significantly detract from the run-and-gun gameplay by forcing the player into hiding behind a cover every few seconds, this simply doesn't happen, and simply charging onto enemies is still a viable tactic at least on normal difficulty mode, which aside from a couple of boss fights, is actually quite easy. Difficulty is another problem with the gameplay, as the game is rather easy on most difficulty settings, and even the gameplay on hardest one feels very varied - on one hand, for the majority of the game, you won't have many issues getting through the levels, but the game sometimes decides to turn the difficulty up to 11, making it almost impossible to pass through. The worst example of this are some of the turret sections, in which you will have to shoot down incoming enemy ships almost as soon as they appear on the screen, otherwise, they will get you, and one hit from a gunship means death.
The game features a variety of gameplay, such as your standard shooting levels, turret sections, driving and platforming elements as well as some simple puzzles. While variety usually is good, I felt that some of the levels simply detracted from the game as a shooter - the driving parts were rather boring, providing little challenge aside from the clunky driving controls. The turret sections were also a weak part of the game, as they were all very similar and simply slowed the pace of the game down. The platforming and puzzle sections were decent enough to be enjoyable, although I felt that they were often too long. Sometimes, you could go through the game for about 15 minutes without encountering any enemies, which I felt was unacceptable. It felt like the level designers sometimes forgot that the game is meant to be a shooter first and foremost.
Level design is another thing which is sub-par. The game is simply very linear, there's very little exploration to do, and there are no secrets. While in classical Duke, you could spend a lot of time just looking for weapon stashes or even little easter eggs, not to mention, had to wander about the level in order to complete it, here you just follow the path set to you by developer. The easter eggs and references to movies and other video games are thrown in your face. The interactivity in the levels is more than your standard shooter nowadays, although it doesn't actually improve that much from Duke 3D - while you can play some pinball or air hockey, grab a drink, it's nothing revolutionary, and after playing around a bit with these features, you will simply ignore them later on.
The game at first seems varied in terms of environments. You start out in a casino, after which you battle through ruined Las Vegas, visit an alien 'hive', there's even a level where you're shrunk for most part and play inside a fast food restaurant, jumping on burgers to avoid hot surfaces and shooting up mustard and ketchup jars. Sadly, this variety seems to be gone in the latter half of the game, as the rather creative environments get replaced by boring metal corridors and desert environments, which seem to go on and on and on.
The storyline is simple, but I don't think you'd expect much more from a Duke Nukem game, as it's there only to give you a reason for killing all those aliens. However, I felt that the presentation of it was pretty poor - the first half an hour or so, you don't actually shoot anything, you just go through the couple introductory levels and scripted cut-scene moments, in which you have full or almost full control of your character, but can't go further unless the scripted event, like conversation, ends. This is really annoying as you just want to shoot stuff. Even after the game starts more properly, it takes a while for you to get a gun and finish the tutorial levels. Fortunately, the game gets better on as you progress, and in later parts, the cut-scenes are much more scarce and there is much more action.
The humour in the game is simple and juvenile, although if you know Duke, it's probably what you were expecting. Nevertheless, sense of humour is a very subjective matter, and if you enjoy jokes based off sexual innuendos, or references to other games or films, you'll find the game funny. In addition to the scripted lines which happen in certain places, duke occasionally throws a one liner, which adds to his one man army macho personality, which, once again, is a subjective matter if you like it or not.
The graphics I felt were ok. While the overall presentation of the game looks decent enough, sometimes there were graphical glitches such as textures not loading soon enough, or objects popping onto the screen suddenly. This has worsened the overall presentation of the game, although it wasn't bad enough to detract from the whole experience. The sound effects are decent, although some of the weapons sound a bit weak. Sadly, the music is almost non-existent and easily forgettable, and aside from a few more notable tunes, you won't really care for it too much.
The singleplayer story is about an average length for a shooter nowadays, with 7-8 hours being an average play through time. The game doesn't really have much to offer in terms of replayability, as once you've played it, you've seen pretty much everything there is. While it might be worthy to try out a couple different weapons, aside from those couple of best levels such as the boss battles, playing through the game again is mostly pointless. Luckily, the developers included level select option, allowing you to play through the most fun levels once again, without having to go through the whole campaign again.
The multiplayer is fairly standard, with four game modes (Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, CTF and King of the Hill) and a level up and challenge system. While the levels and challenges don't affect the gameplay much, they allow you to customise your character with new hats, glasses and shirts, as well as unlock new items for 'my digs' section, which is a sort of a trophy room located inside Duke's room on the 69th floor of Lady Killer casino. I felt that it was a nice touch, and unlocking the different rewards (such as statues, pictures and, uhm, babes) was fun and kind of motivating. However, the multiplayer is often very laggy, and finding a decent server might be an issue.
Overall, Duke Nukem is back, and that's the good thing. Shooting aliens is still fun, although it's brought down massively by the lazy level design and bad incorporation of some more modern game mechanics. The game would've been a lot better if the game was indeed designed as an old school shooter. Sadly, this hybrid between modern and old simply doesn't work as well as one might have expected. The game is, nevertheless, entertaining, and the character of Duke as macho as he always was (aside from a couple scenes in which he wusses out) and is a worthy buy for any fan of arcade shooters. However, I'd recommend you wait until the price goes down and the modding scene picks up, which will hopefully resolve the games two biggest issues of regenerating health and 2 weapon system.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 06/15/11
Game Release: Duke Nukem Forever (EU, 06/10/11)
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