Review by MattFrey

"Forever Begins Today"

It once looked as if Duke Nukem Forever, the ever-vaporware sequel to the 1996 blockbuster PC game Duke Nukem 3D, would live up to its name by keeping gamers waiting endlessly: By the time a full decade had passed and the game was still in development, DNF had become the gaming industry's biggest running joke of all time. But in May of 2009, right when the blonde bomber was poised to finally pound the plutonium pavement once more, the Duke of Nukem was blasted to an early grave when his parent company, 3D Realms, had a nuclear meltdown.

For months afterward, a toxic cloud hung over the heads of the Duke faithful, but as wise man once said, “Always bet on Duke.”

That man is a jerk; I lost thousands at the roulette table when I told them to “put it all on Duke” and the little ball instead landed on red 36. Yet it's all worth it, because Duke Nukem Forever has finally been unleashed upon rabid fans and curious newcomers today, a mere 14 years after it was first announced.

Duke Nukem has become a radioactive ray of light in a world gone mad with realism. Hangin' with the Dukester has always been about hittin' on hot chicks, blowin' stuff up, and layin' the smackdown on a bunch of evil ETs straight from the pages of some sleazy comic book, not this super serious Tom Clancy dreck that the current crop of Xbox fanboys soils themselves over.

Thankfully, DNF holds true to the old run ‘n' gun formula – for the most part. Forever's got significant problems and doesn't have the juice to surpass the legendary DN3D, but unless you've got lead shielding your heart, this Duke is gonna nuke his way right into your good gaming graces with a smile on his lips and a shotgun in his hands. The king is officially back, baby!

Damn, Duke is looking good in Forever with sweet textures and all the devious details you've come to expect from the franchise. The fang-toothed, snarling invaders from space are back too and looking as bloodthirsty as ever, but in all honesty, these graphics aren't breaking much new ground. Also, besides Duke himself, the other human characters look a little uninspired; I guess one of Mr. Nukem's stipulations for finally appearing was that no one could look better than him.

Speaking of self-indulgence: The classic numerical representation of Duke's health is a thing of the past, replaced with an “ego bar” that rises whenever Duke does something manly, such as beating the heck out of an enemy with his bare hands or downing a cold brewskie. If the player hangs out awhile after being shot at or blown up, the Ego bar refills and Mr. Nukem has another chance to take out those slimy alien dirtbags. Regenerating health might make Duke's latest adventure a little too easy for some, but it's not all that different from the endless supply of health players can tap into by abusing water fountains in the original Duke 3D.

You're going to need all the ego boosts you can find if you plan on swapping lead with the alien menace besieging our planet and stealing our chicks, but Duke's hardly the walking arsenal he was in previous titles. There's a great variety of weaponry, ranging from handguns and shotguns to explosives and futuristic gadgets galore, but annoyingly, Duke can only hold one type of weapon category at a time (one bullet weapon, one explosive weapon, etc.). To balance this out, there are plenty of guns hanging around in Duke's domain, so switching weapons on the fly is easy. I suppose this mechanic adds a bit of strategy to the mix, but I much prefer toting around my own armory like in the first person shooters of old.

There's a lot of interactivity with the manmade environments, from picking up and drawing with markers to using showers and toilets, but much of that interactivity disappears in more open levels like the desert, making them pretty stale in comparison. Furthermore, horrendous load times whenever the player starts or restarts a level are a real drag and the rude jokes Duke is known for sometimes cross the line from clever to just crass.

Occasionally Forever goes beyond self-awareness and reaches the point of unintentional self-parody, but I'm pleased to report that much of that old Duke magic has managed to survive three engine changes, 14 years and the efforts of countless programmers and artists. Even though it took forever, everybody's favorite foulmouthed alien butt kicker has once again delivered a dandy dose of old school, irreverent entertainment.

What are you waiting for, Christmas? Come get some!

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 06/14/11

Game Release: Duke Nukem Forever (US, 06/14/11)

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