Review – Duke Nukem Forever
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Studios
Platform(s): PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: First Person Shooter
Rating: M – Mature 17+
ESRB Content Descriptors: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol
Players: One, 8 multiplayer
Official site: http://www.dukenukemforever.com/
The Scoop: Duke Nukem 3D helped to add on an extra few years to my virginity. It was released in 1996 during my teen years when I should have focused on doing something cool like learning the guitar or how to be nice to girls. Instead I was busy saving my pennies to get my hands on a PC sound card just to hear Duke Nukem. At the time, aiming up or down with a PC mouse and hearing the protagonist speak during gameplay, where still revolutionary elements in a FPS. I was glad I was sitting when I ran into my first “Pig Cop” that ducked to avoid a blast from my shotgun, then hear Duke affirm this was cool with a “Come get some”. My knees surly would have buckled if I had been standing.
Duke Nukem Forever is the sequel to DN3D and the story of its long development has become a joke in the gaming world. That was until last October when publisher 2K Games freed it from legal troubles. Veteran FPS developer Gearbox Studios (Brothers in Arms, Borderlands) were put in charge of bringing together scattered chunks of an unfinished game from the past 15 years together. As it turns out, not even they could save DNF from being an unfocused mess.
The Setup: DNF’s premise is simple. Since he last “blew up aliens good”, Duke has become a fulltime playboy living in the penthouse of his Las Vegas casino. When the aliens return to earth but initially does not attack there is some political debate on how to handle the situation. It is believed by some, including the President, that Duke was the cause of the last attack by striking first. Just as it looks like DNF’s story might be getting heavy, the aliens launch an assault, Duke punches of them in the nads, and we’re back to killing anything that isn’t human.
What’s hot: An hour into DNF I was having a rocking time as the first few levels are a fun, campy ride. Like Adam West’s Batman from the ‘60s, Duke is self aware of his legendary status and the writers run away with this. Duke’s face and name is used to endorse more products than Krusty the Clown and some can be interacted with to increase Duke’s “Ego” which acts as the game’s health bar. It is a great way of including these elements into the gameplay rather than simply having them exist. The more complicated interactions, like clearing the pool table or winning at air hockey, is a clunky experience, but I did have fun with most of them. I got a kick out of getting Duke’s “Ego” to increase from looking at himself in the mirror or flipping through a dirty magazine. Pinball machines, weight lifting, and even microwaving popcorn for a stripper can increase “Ego” and I liked having the freedom to skip these if I wanted too.
Unfortunately it appears that Gearbox focused a little too much on these distractions because little can be said for DNF’s core gameplay.
What’s not: DNF very much attempts to do what Goldeneye Wii did with its own counterpart, the N64’s classic Goldeneye 007. Goldeneye Wii was able to recreate that experience in a modern way by blending in elements from the original that were worth keeping and dropping the other dated material. Having the option to play Goldeneye 007 by using stealth or guns blazing was a big part of what made it a classic and this element was kept in the Wii version. The dumb enemy AI was dropped for a smarter one that use a cover system and so it made sense for James Bond to have regenerating health.
DNF borrows a lot from modern shooters, like regenerating health and only carrying two weapons at a time but doesn’t mesh it well with the old school elements leaves in. There is no tension in fighting aliens who stay out in the open on the other side of environment when I can heal by hiding behind a rock. And I never sweated over which weapon to bring because I knew the enemies were dropping them like f-bombs out of an angry Mel Gibson. The whole experience adds up to a bizarro game of “Whack a Mole”, where Duke is the only mole who sticks his head out for a second, takes a few shots, and then hides again.
DNF does break up its monotonous gameplay, but only with ancient ideas that bring nothing new to the genre. There is some FPS platforming that is frustrating to get through like most FPS platforming. Some levels have you drive around in Duke’s weapon-less 4X4 truck so you can platform in bigger environments with a third person view. But the best example of how DNF has a dated mentality is its use of the gun turrets. Gun turrets still pop up in modern FPS, but I have found that they have become an optional tool instead of a center piece for an action sequence. DNF still treats these relics to a large build up like it will be the first time you eat ice cream.
At the beginning of one level, Duke is thrown from a crashing helicopter, into the side of the Las Vegas Stratosphere tower. As I started down the tower, I came across the helicopter’s gun turret that was now stuck on one of the large alien tentacles wrapped around the tower. The game throws Duke behind it and after all of this build-up I was expecting something great to happen, like the reintroduction of a classic boss or something completely new. But, after shooting down some of the same enemies I have been seeing countless times already, it was over. Duke was forced off of the turret as it fell off of the side of the tower.
The graphics are surprisingly bland, too, considering the number of engine overhauls this game went through. The first few casino levels aside, the majority of the game looks like unfinished portions of Half Life 2 with a lack of any texture or detail. Take a look at the inside of a helicopter Duke is being escorted in:
It adds up to nothing more than a square box. There should be a look inside of the cockpit, or a bench or something. And what is holding up that Gatling gun? A pole?
DNF multi-player is the standard fare but I didn’t get much out of it. I am completely fine with games adopting Call of Duty 4’s upgrading system where you can earn points from playing; but you do need a sophisticated match making mechanic to go along with it. Watching the bullets from my entry level pistol bounce off of an opposing player while he uses an upgraded perk to turn me into wall paste is not my idea of fun. I understand COD games have a large pool of players to draw from, but at least give me a choice to enter a room full of experienced players instead of just throwing me in.
Final Verdict: This is not the solid reboot of the Duke Nukem franchise you were looking for. The first few levels do have some campy fun and I did enjoy a couple of the boss fights; but these are sparse moments that do not make up for the game’s overall arid gameplay. Duke is a classic character in video gaming history and does deserve much more than this. Hopefully the next effort (and you know there will be one) will be a focused reboot of what made the original games great and not a celebration of what wasn’t.