Well, it certainly has been forever. Duke Nukem Forever was originally supposed to ship in 1998, but due to mismanagement, lawsuits, and quite a few game engine changes, the game became a running joke. Most gamers considered it dead, until last year at PAX Prime where Gearbox Software announced that they had purchased the rights to the DNF name, and would be polishing it up for release. The hype train quickly gained steam as more and more fans realised that soon they could once again step into the shoes of Duke Nukem himself. Could DNF possibly live up to the hype, or is it doomed to fail?
Developer: 3D Realms / Triptych Games / Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed), Windows PC
Release Date: June 14th, 2011
Duke Nukem Forever's story picks up 12 years after Duke Nukem 3D. Duke is now the biggest celebrity on Earth with his own casino, "The Lady Killer" in Los Vegas, and all the babes he could ever want. However, the alien invaders have returned to Earth with seemingly good intensions. The start of the game gives you the chance to get a feel for what it's like to be Duke Nukem as you walk around his luxury penthouse and talk to the Holson twins. Eventually, we learn that the aliens aren't here for peace; they want revenge, and they're taking it out on our women. It's up to Duke to stop them.
From here, the game takes you into battle against the alien hordes. The story is pretty basic, with only a few small twists mostly involving the President. There isn't much in the way of character building, and Duke Nukem is as flat as ever. However, that's how we want it, for the most part. It would have been nice to see Duke grow a little, and show some emotion, especially when he discovers why the aliens are taking all the women.
It turns out that the aliens are impregnating the women inside the Duke Dome in a very Alien-esque way. Without any emotion from Duke, this portion of the game turns into one unfunny rape joke with no punch line. It would have been nice to see the developers give Duke a human side to balance this portion out, because without it there is nothing but screaming, crying naked women stuck to floors, walls, and ceilings, with Duke not even pretending like he wants to try and save them.
The story pushes on from here, almost as if the rape section never happened. There really isn't much to the story, except "Stop the Aliens from doing this by killing them"; it's that simple. They try to add depth to the story with the addition of a few side characters, but this does little as they are even more one dimensional than Duke himself.
However, the worst offense with Duke Nukem Forever's story is that it just isn't funny. Don't get me wrong, there are times when you will laugh while playing DNF, but this is because of the cheesy one-liners that we love Duke Nukem for, not because the story is funny. This all just makes Duke Nukem Forever's narrative fall flat. We weren't expecting much for the story, but we at least wanted it to be funny.
When it comes to gameplay, Duke Nukem Forever is a mess. The mechanics are old and outdated; even if the game came out in 1998 like it was originally supposed to, it would still feel somewhat broken. Guns have terrible hit detection and feel powerless, enemy AI is just dumb, and boss battles are beyond broken in most cases. The weapons in DNF just feel broken and weak. The pistol is incredibly hard to aim with, and when you finally do land a shot, it does little damage. The machine gun known as "The Ripper" has three barrels, but feels like you are only using one. By the look and the name you'd imagine the ripper to be awesome for ripping enemies apart, but it doesn't. The worst gun, however is the shotgun. It's almost like the developers have never actually seen a shotgun in action. It's powerful, but it's spray is so narrow that you'll be lucky if you actually hit anything.
Some of the other weapons are a little better. The RPG and Devastator are the most powerful and really the most enjoyable, because when you do use them, its one of the few times you feel like a badass. However, there is one enemy type you want to avoid using these on, and they are the most annoying ones; the Octobrains. This is because along with their projectiles and ability to throw random objects, they can also throw your RPGs and Devastator rounds back at you. This means you're forced to use much weaker weapons on them. The best way to take these guys out is with the pipe bombs (which they can also throw back), because you can detonate them at will.
The AI in Duke Nukem Forever can be pretty stupid at times. In one scenario I had shot a Pig Cop before he finished his pre-scripted animation (in which he was planting a bomb), which caused all sort of havoc. Basically he just stood there and would not die.
Luckily, this was not an instance where I had to clear the room of enemies, or that would have completely broke the game. Another prime example of bad AI was in a simple encounter with a room full of Pig Cops with some more enemies on a balcony. The ones on the ground kept trying to shotgun me from across the room, even when I left. Then the Pig Cops on the balcony would throw pipe bombs at me but they would hit the railing and bounce back, but not kill them. Once again this didn't break the game, it just took away from it.
The biggest drawbacks to Duke Nukem Forever's gameplay is clearest during the Boss battles; Two battles in particular (Alien Queen and Giant Octobrain, respectively) are frustratingly broken. This is mostly due to the fact that for these two you have a 30 by 10 foot box to fight in with little or no cover, ammo creates that you have to stare directly at, unlimited amounts of Octobrains, and terrible weapons. Add it all up and you have yourself a recipe for a bunch of angry gamers, myself included. The first of these was a battle with a giant three-boobed crab-like creature (the Queen), who could curl up to protect herself from damage. The only way to fight her when she was like this was to bounce a pipe bomb off a launch pad to get it to the side of her. Unfortunately, she periodically opens up to smack you with her arm or shoot a projectile at you, and once she begins this animation she becomes temporarily invincible. Seeing as it takes the pipe bomb about five seconds to even travel to her, it becomes really random and aggravating because you just have to be lucky. The other boss that will have you pulling you hair out is the giant Octobrain. The thing with this battle is that it could have been fixed with one thing; good cover. The "cover" that they provide you barely blocks anything, especially the regular Octobrains that spawn during the battle. But what's even worse is that halfway through the battle, the cover is destroyed and you have no protection whatsoever. The design mantra of these types of boss battles is outdated in a bad way. It shouldn't be about making the player feel lucky that they finally won, but making the player feel accomplished in that they used the skills the game taught them to win.
The biggest techinical issue with Duke Nukem Forever, and in fact the reason why all the little things add up, is the load times. DNF has some unbearable loading times that really make the game feel straight out of 1998. Now I'm not talking about the load time between levels; while those are also lengthy, they at least don't make you want to pull your teeth out. It's the load times you experience during every one of your numerous cheap deaths. Everytime you die, you have to wait 30 to 60 seconds (even with it installed to my Xbox 360's HHD) before you can try again. This is ample time to think about just how broken the game is. Load times are probably what singlehandedly kills the fun in Duke Nukem Forever. In some games, the developer wants to make Death a punishment to the player; this keeps the player in the right mind set that this game is serious. Duke Nukem Forever should not be one of these games. Players should be able to run up to bosses and try to melee them to death without consequence of a long load time, they should be able to jump off a ledge and kill themselves for the hell of it, all in the name of fun. Duke Nukem Forever should be fun; unfortunately, it isn't.
However, not everything with Duke Nukem Forever is a broken mess. There are numerous platforming, driving, and puzzle sections that are actually enjoyable. It almost seems as if the developers wanted to make sure that these features where fun, but it came at the expense of the rest of the game. The driving segments are fun because if you go to hit a jump and miss or fall down a cliff, you don't have to deal with a loading screen; the game just jumps you back. Why couldn't they have extended this to the rest of the game? What it comes down to is that puzzles, driving, and platforming are a welcome break from shooting, which, for a shooter, is not a good thing.
Possibly the biggest problem with Duke Nukem Forever is that you simply don't feel like a badass. It's as if those years in retirement have taken their toll on the once world-renowned kicker of ass and chewer of bubble gum. Duke takes damage way too easily, and spends way too much time behind cover waiting for his health (called Ego) to slowly refill (Not to mention, he gets drunk off one beer, and I can hold my breath 2 and a half times longer than him during underwater missions). I'm not complaining that the game is too difficult or should be easier, but it's just that when you are playing as Duke Nukem, you need to feel like the ultimate badass.
The visuals in Duke Nukem Forever are in the middle of the road; not really bad by any means, but nothing to gawk at either. Even though it's running on Unreal Engine 2.5, it graphically doesn't feel that dated. Aesthetically, DNF looks good, and the environments all look fleshed out and lived in. The levels are well-laid out (with the exception of boss fights of course), especially the areas where the alien invaders have claimed and transformed it into a bio-organic mess of tentacles. Even when you are shrunken down the textures still manage to hold up, though character models look extremely muddy. The mechanic of being shrunken down is really interesting from a mechanical viewpoint; a normal kitchen can become a giant death trap, perfect for some platforming. It's just a shame that they seem to forget about this halfway through the game. The animations for human NPC's are way too stiff, especially with women as it really looks as if they have to go to the bathroom. DNF's attempt at a depth of field feature while aiming looks nice, but falls flat on its face. Essentially, what this does is focus the camera on what ever is in your crosshairs, blurring out the rest. In theory this should make it easier to hit your target while looking cool. However, most of the time you just end up shooting at blurry enemies because the game failed to realize that you are aiming at them. Duke apparently has tunnel-vision. Duke Nukem Forever has a few "interesting" and good visual elements, but for the most part it's just run of the mill.
In this day and age, it's hard to have a successful shooter without having a great multiplayer experience. Many gamers buy games solely for the multiplayer. Despite the promise of some unique and controversial spins on classic multiplayer modes, Duke Nukem Forever just simply doesn't deliver. The problems with the weapons increase ten-fold in the multiplayer, as you now have to deal with people who can actually shoot back. The hit detection is all over the place, and with no noticeable auto-aim you'll mostly just miss your target. There are only four modes; Duke Match (Deathmatch), Team Duke Match (Team Deathmatch, Capture the Babe (Capture the Flag) and Hail to the King (King of the Hill), with ten maps. The only multiplayer mode that really feels unique is Capture the Babe, where instead of having a flag, you must go after the enemy babe. When you are trying to carry the babe to your base, she will throw her hand in your face to try and distract you; to stop her, you slap her ass. That's about as unique as it gets. Match hosting is extremely dated, with no matchmaking and instead uses rooms to find matches. While this does allow the host to customize the game more, there is no way for the player to know that until you've joined the match. Not to mention, the lag can sometimes be unbearable since there are no dedicated servers or host migration.
The multiplayer does have level progression, which allows you do some basic customization such as Duke a hat or different sunglasses. You also use the level progression to upgrade your "digs', which is Duke's Penthouse. Unfortunately, most things require a level 20 or above to unlock, and Duke Nukem Forever's multiplayer really isn't worth the time or effort.
Duke Nukem Forever isn't an awful game; it's just not a good one. There were plenty of times where I was actually enjoying myself, but it just wasn't enough to overcome the many times where I wanted to rip the disc out. From the singleplayer to the multiplayer, the game just feels dated. However it does have it moments, and long-time fans of Duke Nukem will still find it enjoyable. Just make sure you are patient. If you do want to get the maximum level of enjoyment out of DNF, I would advise putting the game on easy just so it seems less broken. What it all comes down to is that if you loved Duke Nukem 3D, you may still want to play Duke Nukem Forever to, at the very least, get closure. If you were on the fence about DNF then you might just want to skip it all together.
Overall Score: 60 out of 100