Review by DarkECOJak

Reviewed: 06/29/11

Hail to the Mediocrity, Baby!

Way back in 1996 when dinosaurs walked the Earth and Will Smith was still relevant, Duke Nukem 3D was one of the first fully three-dimensional PC shooters that helped pave the way for modern FPS games today. It featured the title’s wisecracking, shoot-first-ask-questions-later steroid on legs, Duke Nukem. Although this wasn't Duke’s first foray in the gaming world, Duke 3D was the first time he was given a persona: a muscle-bound, gun-toting, womanizing, one-liner-spouting cliche of the typical action heroes of that era.

With its creative level design, 3D graphics, tight controls, unique weapons and adult themes, Duke Nukem 3D quickly garnered a large fan base. In no time at all, developer 3D Realms had a hit on their hands. Although the game saw its share of controversy for its sexualized portrayal of women, this didn't stop Duke from starring in several more games across multiple platforms. Most were welcomed by minimal praise, however, as these later games had Duke trudging through levels in a yawn-inducing third-person perspective and lacked the punch of its predecessor. The negativity also spawned from earlier promises of a true successor to Duke 3D, entitled Duke Nukem Forever, that continuously failed to see the light of day.

From 1997 to 2011, Duke Nukem Forever has had one of the most notoriously insane development cycles in the history of gaming. Over the course of 14 years, the game has had multiple developers and publishers, gone through dozens of graphical changes, been canned repeatedly and even falsely reported as finished. There is even a timeline showing the game’s progression and how it came to be what it is today. Naturally, with so much hype surrounding it, DNF would have a lot to live up to if it were to ever be released. Luckily for fans, developers Gearbox, 2K, Triptych, and Piranha were determined to make this a reality. After years in development hell, Duke Nukem Forever is finally complete.

So the big question on everyone’s mind is universal: Was the game worth the 14 year wait? Well, after playing through the game I can honestly say that this is a question where the answer should be taken with a grain of salt… and a whole pound of sugar. Before the game was even released in the US, it was already receiving disastrously negative reviews from critics and players alike for several legitimate (and sometimes trivial) reasons. Even with all the anti-Duke talk revolving around this game, I hesitantly picked up a copy on day one and decided to judge for myself. Personally, I was never a fan of Duke Nukem. I acknowledged that it was a great game for its time, but I just never got into it on the same level as others. With that said, I have had more fun playing Duke Nukem Forever than with any other shooter of the last few years.

DNF takes place 12 years after the events of Duke 3D. The aliens that had previously attacked Earth and kidnapped our women have once again returned and it’s up to Duke to gear up, shoot them all in the face, and shout vulgar remarks at them. That’s the long and short of it. Let’s be honest, if you’re playing a Duke game for the story then you’re behind the barrel of the wrong gun. Duke Nukem games are about crude humor, blowing crap up and feeling like you’re the last remaining hope for the planet. I think Forever does this fairly well in the sense that every character in the game considers Duke an idol. You know the phrase, “women want him, men want to be like him?” In this world, Duke is that man. After saving the world last time, Duke has gained fame, fortune, women, even a restaurant chain called “Duke Burger”. You really get a good sense of who Duke is, rather than just being a guy behind a gun with the occasional voice clip thrown in.

Now with a game that’s been in development as many years as DNF, it would be safe to assume that the graphics go above and beyond anything we’ve played at this day and age. Unfortunately, assuming that would cause a disappointment so great that it would be passed down to your children’s children telepathically. Duke Nukem Forever is not a great looking game. Duke Nukem Forever is barely a good looking game. From far away objects look decent enough, and even Duke’s fingerless gloves and weapons don’t look bad at first glace. But upon close inspection the game is riddled with blurry textures and sub par character models. The only comparison I can muster up is that painted-on look you got from most N64 games when reading a poster up close or looking at a character’s face. As much as I like this game, it’s very hard to overlook a flaw like this because it shows the lack of effort that went into making the environment seem more active and alive. This is really a shame because there is a lot of detail put into each area and lots of objects just begging to be explored and played with.

The graphics may be dated but they’re not completely unredeemable. Enemies actually look very good and a decent amount of detail went into their design. Some of their textures still look a bit blurry when they‘re right up in your grill, but considering you’ll mostly be nailing them from a distance you’ll rarely take notice unless you’re big on NPC teabagging. One graphical area I found little to gripe about, however, was the level design itself. Even though the environments could have looked nicer, there is still plenty to look at. Pictures of Duke’s achievements line the walls of his penthouse, random Duke-related merchandising is strewn about the levels, and there’s always something interesting or funny that grabs your attention.

Graphics aside, what good is a game if its core gameplay isn’t any fun? Well this aspect is also a mixed bag and the fun you have is likely to be derived from your expectations and your definition of the word. DNF works very well as a shooter. Movement and aiming feels as good as any standard FPS and there are a good variety of weapons, both old and new, to make shooting Pigcops that much more satisfying. Even series powerups like steroids and Holodukes make a comeback. But one thing I should mention is that the game follows a very linear path in most areas. This seems to be another big source of ridicule among fans, but I actually preferred the linearity to an open-world experience. Even though the levels are straightforward, there was always enough going on between shooting, driving and puzzle segments that kept me from getting bored. The only thing I can say is that it lacks the polish of more recent endeavors of the genre. It never felt tacked on, but also never had that wow factor that’s commonly seen.

On the subject of “wow factors”, I was absolutely stunned at the load times for this game. Each level has a load time of no less than 40 seconds. That’s insulting by PS1 standards! Not to mention the fact that every time you die you’ll have to experience this over and over. It’s not so bad on normal difficulty, but the harder ones are just plain sadistic and you’ll be seeing the load screen more than the game itself. One boss in particular made my blood boil, and I was on one of the easier settings for my first run. In this sense, DNF is a challenge in both gameplay and frustration.

Even though Duke is famous for his cracks against modern gaming, his latest adventure borrows quite a few tricks from those it takes shots at. Rather than carrying every gun at once like the previous game, you are now limited to two guns as well as trip mines and pipe bombs assigned to the left and right bumpers respectively. This makes for a greater challenge as you’re always on the lookout for more ammo or weapons better suited for a specific enemy. You also no longer have the ability to sprint indefinitely and there is a bigger emphasis on using cover to your advantage rather than running into a firefight like you’re the Terminator. But one of the bigger changes to the franchise is the introduction of regenerating health, also known as Duke’s “Ego”. This may be a staple in today’s shooters, but DNF allows you to increase your overall Ego by doing various Duke-like actions. These include, but are not limited to, admiring yourself in the mirror, lifting weights, taking a piss at the urinal or beating bosses. When you’re low on Ego, punchasizing an enemy you brought to his knees will give you an automatic refill.

The sound isn’t going to win any… sound awards. You get the usual sounds of gunfire and wailing rock tunes that will exit your brain the second you turn the game off. Grunts and explosions abound. But it does what it needs to do and sets the mood for all the ass-kicking you’re delivering with a side of spicy hot wings. As for the voices, Duke sounds just as chauvinistic and conceited as ever. Considering the original game had very tame language by today’s standards, it’s a little surreal and almost out of character to hear Duke’s gratuitous use of the f-bomb. Most other characters are forgettable and have poor voice acting. However, I feel like this was intentional to an extent. Women are meant to come off dumb and constantly in peril, while men are mostly meant to seem wimpy in comparison to Duke. It’s more about the subject matter than just bad voice acting. If this were a serious game like Halo or Crysis, it would be an obvious flaw. It’s campy and stupid, but it’s supposed to be.

One thing fans will be expecting is a ton of raunchy jokes and vulgarity. Surprisingly, the developers didn't cop out and instead pushed the envelope as far as they could without getting an “Adults Only” rating. Duke Nukem Forever is full of swearing, sexual innuendos, nudity and boundary-pushing no-nos that are likely to have parents and women’s rights groups up in arms. This game is absolutely, in no way, shape or form, acceptable for kids. The game even starts with Duke taking a leak with the pull of the right trigger, then immediately allows you to fetch a piece of feces out of a nearby toilet and toss it around the room (which unlocks an achievement). Within the course of the game I drew an inappropriate body part on a whiteboard, punched an alien in the balls, went on a fetch quest for a stripper and witnessed a depraved act from inside a ventilation shaft… That sounded a lot worse written out.

Aside from the campaign, an online multiplayer element was also included that helps to break up the mindless fun of shooting NPCs with the mindless fun of shooting other players. Realistically, the multiplayer is enjoyable but very lacking in many areas. Each player gets his or her own Duke and the choice of four different game variants: Duke Match, Team Duke Match, Capture the Babe and Hail to the King. These are your standard death matches, flag capturing and king of the hill, just with a Duke Twist.

The Duke Matches pit you (or you and your team) against other Duke’s to see who can rack up the most kills in a match. You get all the weapons from the single player, but there are also powerups like extra damage and invulnerability thrown around the levels to shake things up. It’s mostly a race for the power weapons but variations like unlimited ammo or only one available weapon can be set to even things up. Capture the Babe has your team working together to steal the other team’s sass-talking lass while protecting your own. It also gives you the controversial ability to give the Babe you’re carrying a quick slap on the ass if she decides to wave her hand in your field of vision… Heavy stuff. As for Hail to the King, it’s your basic king of the hill match but works just fine for what it is.

One big issue I have with the multiplayer is that although it’s fun, it can be ridiculously hard to hit anybody without a good amount of practice. Everyone moves like Speedy Gonzales even when they’re not running, so if you’re lacking in the aiming skills you can expect some frustration. I literally spent three minutes doing the tango with another player simply because we were both too fast for each other to hit. Another problem is that melee hits can be made as instant kills and I couldn't figure out for the life of me the correct distance to get them to work since I’d already been punched into pieces by someone’s kung-fu fist. I rarely experienced lag, but when I did it was enough to end the match. These problems aside, I still had a good amount of fun.

The main draw of multiplayer for us completionists is the ability to level up and unlock items and babes for your virtual mansion. Much like BioShock 2, you get a sort of hub for you to walk around freely. You can customize items you unlock (and there are plenty of them) as well as dress up your Duke in a slew of manly costumes like a Dr. Suess hat or Elton John shades. Part of the fun is walking around and interacting with the things you unlock and hearing the Duke’s perverse comments toward the ladies. There’s something very satisfying about collecting virtual crap.

So there you have it. No matter which way you slice it, Duke Nukem Forever is a game that is certainly not for everyone. It’s a funny, dirty, sometimes disturbing experience that does things its own way. Its not perfect, nor does it make any attempt to be. However, it’s good, mindless, stupid fun when you’re not looking for something overly deep or engaging. Unfortunately, we now live in a world where shooters are beautifully crafted pieces of art in both gameplay and graphics, and this is where Duke falls short. Along with some frustrating load times, the game has some obvious flaws that stem from a lack of polish and effort in general.

Before you make a decision, let me leave you with this one final thought. If you are on the fence about the game because of bad word of mouth, do yourself a favor and try it before you jump on the “We Hate DNF” bandwagon. I was all ready to bash the game and avoid it before even getting my hands on it, but I went against all the bad press and ended up having a great time because of it. Keep your expectations low and you just may find yourself having a lot more fun than you thought you would.

The Duke gets 7/10!

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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

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