Duke Nukem Forever review
A long running joke becomes a different kind of joke
Developer: 3D Realms/Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games/Take Two Interactive
15 years is a long time to wait for any game, regardless of what it actually is... let alone the follow up to a fantastic first person shooter with a great deal of personality. In fact, 3D Realms knew that Duke Nukem 3D was so good that a half assed follow up would do it a great disservice. That, among some other issues I really don't feel like talking about and you could look up on the internet, would explain why it took forever for Duke Nukem Forever to get released. In fact, Duke Nukem Forever was on the verge of not being released after over a decade of 3D Realms *bleep*ing about, changing engines and whatnot every couple of years to make THE BEST EVER FIRST PERSON SHOOTER. Thankfully, Gearbox Software, developers of the smash hit Borderlands, happened to be available to finish up the game and finally release it to the public.
And it sucked. I think it's great that the game was even released in the first place, given that 3D Realms had so much trouble with developing it, but it doesn't (or shouldn't) save it from the fact that it's crap!
12 years after the events of Duke Nukem 3D, Duke has to appear on a talk show. Meanwhile, aliens are invading the Earth, but they appear peaceful and friendly. Nevertheless, they're getting more media attention than Duke, so he runs back to his hideout - the Duke Cave. He gets a call from the president saying that he shouldn't harm the aliens, and that he's taking a more diplomatic approach with the alien overlord. Just as Duke leaves, an alien attacks him, and from there, it turns into "Duke, are you a bad enough dude to save the world from aliens". I guess it'd be silly to play a Duke Nukem game for the story, because it's not like a Duke Nukem story ever really caught your attention or anything. It's about as generic as a shooter story can get, almost to the point of there being no reason to say anything more about it... save for Duke himself. Duke is the kind of guy that is perverted and a bit on the chauvinistic side of the fence, but above all else, he is the king of one liners. They almost always come out of nowhere, and whether it's the way he says it or what he says, one thing is for certain - they're funny. I mean, half of them are just references and the other half are just generic mysogenist jokes, but somehow, it's just funny. Perhaps because it can get really bad and we're laughing at it? Feels like it, but at this point, I'm overanalyzing.
Sadly, Duke's one liners serve as the highlight of the game, as it's an otherwise lame affair. Fundamentally speaking, if you've played one modern first person shooter, you've played a potentially more interesting version of Duke Nukem Forever, because that's exactly what it feels like. You run through an ultra linear hallway, watch for the next scripted event to let you proceed while you can let your health regenerate as long as you don't get shot again, all the while, carrying two weapons (I HAVE learned that there's a patch for the PC version which lets you carry four weapons... but the damage has been done), with the right weapons to use (in this case, RPGs) being conveniently placed right by the boss... god I love modern shooter designs... but at least the arsenal is what you'd expect for a Duke Nukem sequel – from your everyday pistols and machine guns to alien guns like shrink rays and freeze beams, but that's not enough to lampshade the fact that you can only carry a limited amount of weapons.
They do give you some old school elements to go with your new school elements. You'll often encounter many enemies, big bosses with health fourteen times the size of their brains and lots of ammo. Wow, it's like... they got it backwards. Everything that could've gone wrong with old school shooters and everything wrong with modern shooters all in one package – sure was worth the wait, right guys? No big, maze-like levels? No strategy? So many scripted events that practically nothing is real? It's like this could've simply been a compilation of shooters of various eras (erm, except the N64 with its one analogue stick and C-buttons – that, we can gladly do without), but instead, it's a collection of shooter tropes that people either kind of liked on their own and ones that people couldn't stand. I mean, I love wasting big groups of enemies and big dumb bosses, but I also love big levels that I could explore and health that when it lowers, it stays lowered until I find a health pack.
Speaking of big dumb bosses, a lot of the bosses in this game are simply that – big and dumb... well, maybe not dumb, but they're certainly big. They have a lot of health and defense, meaning that they can take a good amount of abuse. The funny thing is that the weapon(s) needed to take them down are right by them, so there goes the need to figure out what to use against them, and there's usually some ammo laying about. But that hole in logic is a pitiful complaint compared to the fact that they're just... blah. Most of them lumber about and attack when you're near them, not really having a pattern or anything to develop a strategy from, besides spray and pray. Hey, at least old games had an excuse! Oh, but let's not forget that a fair amount of bosses require you to be in a turret. Is it meant to be a pisstake on scripted events? No, this is a legitimate boss fight? Oh god...
While I don't particularly care for a few modern shooter tropes, modern shooters did get rid of some things that made some older shooters potentially annoying – platforming and underwater segments. Sadly, Duke Nukem Forever not only keeps them, but parades them around! At times, you'll be shrunk down and be forced to jump from platform to platform. If this sounds bad, it's because it is, because... seriously, platforming in a first person view? Well, not being able to see what's immediately below you without looking down is rather inconvenient, but looking down means no looking forward... yeah, I'm glad this was done away with. Oh, and underwater segments? Well, they're cool, if you like awkwardly stiff controls and bullshit enemy encounters that kill you quickly, on top of being on a strict time limit (Duke may be badass, but even he can't breathe underwater). Yeah, another thing I'm glad modern shooters don't have.
It's clear that their focus was primarily on the various minigames that you can play in order to increase your health. From air hockey to lifting weights, it's obvious that a lot of their work went into basic interactivity. That's... actually really sad, as this was something that was only cool back in the mid 90s, back when levels involved exploration and only let you aim on the x-axis.
The multiplayer is decent enough, so perhaps saying that basic interactivity wasn't where all their work went into. You have some basic modes like deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag, only instead of a flag, it's a babe, and it's called capture the babe. That, my friends, is a good way to at least give your game an identity in a cesspool of Call Of Duty clones. Oh, and it's actually fun, too. The maps are decent enough for manueverability and strategy, but come on, all you want to do is shoot each other in the head and carry some babe around. It's not perfect, but adequate enough nonetheless.
Discussing the graphics in a civil manner is tricky. There are a lot of things to consider, like constant engine changes and the fact that it came out at all... oh, screw it, the graphics aren't good. They're about on par with Xbox 1 graphics, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but if you can't stand dated looking games, you may hate this. One thing I've noticed – aside from some jerky movements and poor mirror movements – is that everything looks greasier than a KFC meal. I suppose it's to make the Xbox 1-quality textures look more modern, but all it really does is just make it look muddy and even more dated. Not terrible, but not good either. It doesn't excuse the looooooong loading times, either. Dying means you wait about 20 seconds for the level to reload, so there's obviously a huge lack of polish... a result of rushing this piece of vaporware out.
As for sound design, I give props to John St John for still being around to provide audio for Duke's dialogue, and he's still got it! Everybody else ranges from passable to crap, but thankfully, you won't be hearing their voices much. The soundtrack, consisting of part cinematic orchestras and part metal, works out pretty well, often verging on badassery with the metal tracks, and they do their best to make a bland game feel awesome. It fails, but that's due to the game being too boring rather than the soundtrack.
Duke Nukem Forever is a friendly reminder that we should be more demanding despite anything that may have happened behind closed doors, because the nicest thing that can be said about this game is that it adequately does something right. Well, adequate is fine... if it's the worst that it can do, but if it's the best it can do, then the game is not worth picking up - regardless of history. Too many moments that either remind you of why modern shooters are inferior to old school shooters or moments that we gladly did away with from old school shooters. That's all it really is in the end. Sadly, this game has a fanbase that will be willing to defend it to the death with absurd reasoning, which usually involves lowering your expectations and letting mediocrity slide. No thanks. I'd rather play a good game with no history than a mediocre game with a rich history, and so would any sane human being.
Wait, did I just imply that this was a mediocre game? I was meant to say that it's a bad game! Bland, boring, oftentimes tedious and many other things that would quickly send a game straight to the bargain bin. Sure, the multiplayer is adequate and a lot of fun under the right circumstances while the sound design is mostly good, but that's about it.
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