Review: Duke Nukem Forever

It has been fourteen years since Duke Nukem Forever was first announced for the PC. Fourteen strife filled years in which the game has become the punch line to a joke that stopped being funny back when Tony Blair was still in power. In that time we’ve seen the ascension of the PlayStation brand with three generations of hardware, the rise and fall (and then rise) of Nintendo, the death of SEGA as a console manufacturer, Microsoft’s revolution of the online console experience, and a whole host of motion related gubbins.

Whereas back in the day FPS players demanded no more than big guns and lots of ammo, this is no longer the case. I guess what I’m trying to say is that gaming has evolved a heck of a lot since 1997; should Duke have been put to rest a long time ago, or should we all once again prepare to hail to the King?

The story kicks off with an alien mothership hanging over Vegas. The President has ordered Duke not to get involved, as the US is trying to broker a peace deal (as well as trying to recover financially from Duke’s last battle with them). Unfortunately it all kicks off and Duke’s base is attacked, forcing him to defend it. Then the aliens cross the line and start stealing Earth’s women. Oh it’s on. It’s on like Donkey Kong.


First impressions of Duke Nukem Forever aren’t positive. The visuals are extremely basic, and in some instances objects seem to lack any sort of texturing. Screen tearing is also prevalent, slowdown is rife, pop-up happens far too often, and animations are wooden. Then there is the small matter of load times; they are long… ModNation Racers long. Sometimes just approaching a door triggers a load screen for 45 seconds plus. On the flip side, you do get taken to a wide variety of locations during the campaign.

[drop] The soundtrack is equally uninspired, with raucous guitar riffs blasting out every ten metres or so. Voice acting is ok, with Duke’s recognisable dulcet tones providing ample quips, although more often than not they aren’t funny.

Saying that, there are a few laugh out loud moments, such as your base’s computer telling you that “you need a keycard to enter this door” (in a sly dig at older games), to which Duke replies “I don’t need no f**king keycard” and rips the door apart with his bare hands. Sometimes, however, some of the periphery characters resort to mother****ing dialogue that would mother****ing shame a mother****ing pimp. Mother****ing! I have no issues with swearing in games, but at least give it some mother****ing context!

Despite being able to bench press 600lbs, Duke is limited to carrying two weapons at a time throughout the game. The choice of weapons is great though, and every single one provides as much carnage as one could hope for. Shotguns, RPGs, lasers, sniper rifles, hand-held grenade launchers; there isn’t a single duff weapon and ammo is always plentiful.

Unfortunately the alien ass-kicking is spoiled slightly by some unresponsive, laggy aiming and an absolutely tiny aiming reticule that gets lost amongst the background. There are also occasions where bullet impacts don’t seem to register on enemies, leaving you blasting away far longer than necessary. Duke Nukem Forever really needed snappy, focused gunplay; instead we have a system that is full of promise, but never fully delivers.

As well as weapons you can also use ‘Duke Vision’, which is essentially night vision, and a Holo-Duke which draws enemy fire away from you. Chugging a can of beer, or taking a handful of steroids temporarily increases your strength, allowing you to go melee crazy with your fists. Taking both at the same time sends you into ‘Roid Rage’ which gives you immense strength with the downside of having extremely blurred vision. Those of you who like to blow stuff up will be pleased to hear that you can also carry trip mines and pipe bombs.

Duke also forgoes anything as wimpish as a health bar, and instead he has his ‘Ego’. When the Ego bar reaches zero then it’s game over, but instead of the health packs of old it recharges automatically after a period of time without taking damage. My main problem with this is it is at odds with Duke Nukem’s ‘run and gun’ attitude. You’re expected to take cover to recharge, yet there is no cover system, and in a lot of cases no cover either.

[drop2] In terms of level design, once again the game is hit and miss. Some of the levels are utterly, utterly tedious, with simple ‘push the button’ puzzles, seemingly endless waves of the same enemies, and no incentive to push forward. One might argue that Duke Nukem games have always been about wanton destruction, all brawn and no brains if you will, but being spammed by enemies is just not fun.

The worst example I came across was several of the larger enemies all armed with unlimited pipe bombs. They continuously bombarded the door I was trying to get through with pipe bombs and there was nothing I could do to get through. Eventually, after several deaths, I managed to squeeze through purely by chance only to get cut down by a barrage of bullets. There also seems to be an almost perverse obsession with making you string together pixal perfect jumps to progress. Some of these are ridiculously annoying.

After all that, when you’re on the verge of giving up, you’ll come across a set piece which has you grinning like a loon, or a level idea that is really clever. Throughout the game you will encounter pods that shrink you down to a tiny size, meaning the small room you were just walking across becomes a level in itself. These provide a lot of fun, and leaves you wishing that the rest of the game had that much attention to detail lavished upon it.

There is also a fair amount of interaction with items in the game world, be it signing autographs, taking a whizz in the toilet or even playing a game of pinball. You can tell the game has been stuck in development hell, because this constant flitting between good and bad feels exceptionally disjointed.

Once the campaign mode has been bested (about ten hours on normal difficulty) there is multiplayer to sink your teeth into. It’s basic, but functional, and although I have heard people complain of lag issues I have yet to come across this. At the moment it seems most online players are sticking firmly with deathmatch, or team deathmatch, and even then the servers aren’t exactly rammed (on the Xbox 360 version, anyway). Earning XP during online bouts will see you unlock items such as sunglasses to customise your Duke with.


  • Fantastic weapons.
  • A good variety of locations.
  • A couple of clever ideas.
  • Some nice set pieces.


  • Looks terrible.
  • Doesn’t sound that great either.
  • Imprecise aiming.
  • ‘Jokes’ are mostly not funny.
  • Some awful pacing issues.
  • Spamming enemies.
  • The overall feeling of tedium.

Amazingly, despite being in development for fourteen years, Duke Nukem Forever feels unfinished. For every enjoyable section there are several that feel tacked-on and just plain lazy. Despite a few bright moments (it picks up towards the end) the game struggles to ever push its way above average. Hail to the King? Sorry but no, the King is dead.

Score: 5/10

Reviewed on the Xbox 360



  1. Thanks for the review. I have been on the fence regarding this one. Think I’ll give it a miss or at least wait until the price drops a fair bit.

  2. That’s what you get for being 14 years OLD, I was not surprised the jokes were not funny because the jokes they had for them were probably original at the time or at least funny. Now there’s just too much going on in the world of gaming for this to be have been a success. I heard a developer talking recently on how it can be tempting to keep tweaking things but it is best to just stick to a plan and finish. Something the people who made this game should have done, so they can learn from what they had way back when and improve on it so that on the day of release for this game (called something else) it would be a more fulfilling experience – if not as record breaking as a 14 year development.

    • “That’s what you get for being 14 years old”

      • Then again, Prey was in development for 11 years…

  3. Hmm,I disagree with quite a lot of this actually, except the load times. I played through on ‘Come Get Some’ (hard difficulty) and some bosses killed me in less time than it took to load!

    That said, I think they have made a game purely for fans of Duke 3D. The weapons, the humour and set pieces are pure Duke and having the same voice actor shows their dedication to it.
    A lot of the jokes made me chuckle childishly. The soldier that offers you Halo armour to which Duke replies “armour is for pussys” or the puzzle where you have to move pipes around and he says “I hate Valve puzzles” and even when the colonel tells you America depends on you and Duke sings “America, f**k yeah” from Team America. They aren’t clever jokes, but they are funny.

    As I say though, I don’t think there is much here for a newcomer to the king, but as fan service goes, this is a riot.

    • Yes, those times I did laugh too, although I didnt mention them all because now they are spoiled ;oD

      • Oh yeah. My bad

      • The game is FUN. It’s pure fps action. Graphics look bad, sometimes really bad. But what did you expect? Whatever engine this was made on is OLD. And sometimes it’s funny when you look at a texture and think “oh, they haven’t changed that in 15 years” :D

        It’s still Duke though.

  4. I think we all knew this wouldn’t fare well after 14 years. I’ve seen a few people mention that it’s fun though. Must depend on the persons humour lol.
    I guess if you’re going to play this, set your expectations low and you might not be disappointed. I know I won’t be :D

    • I think that’s exactly right. I see this as the Just Cause 2 of FPSs. It’s not pushing any boundaries or breaking any moulds but it’s good honest fun if you approach it with the right expectations.

      • oops! I liked JC2 for some strange reason…. sorry :(

        As for Duke Nukem, I’m feeling a little bit sorry for those that paid out for the £60 Balls of Steel version.

  5. having a lot of fun with this game there are flaws but its a lot of FUN.

  6. I bought the game day 1 and have had two sessions playing through the single player. I find it absolutely unbearable and cannot bring myself to boot the game again. The loading times between scenes/very short levels, or if you get killed is pretty close to mental torture, it also ruins any fluency in the storyline. You seem to spend more time looking at the loading screen than actually playing the game, I just find it unbearable.
    It’s a real shame because I can always forgive poor graphics or not very well thought out level design as gameplay is always priority, but those loading screens really kill any enjoyment for me.
    I don’t think that it’ll be fixed with a patch either because there’s a huge twonk of game data installed to HDD at the start of the game, which should have helped in these areas, but unfortunately not.
    I think that I’ll probably sell the game with the First access beta code (unused), and maybe if the problems can be fixed then buy it again in the future at a price that’s more inkeeping with it’s actual value.

    • To be honest, it was the 4.5GB of required install data that put me off & made me go for infamous 2 instead (which is a choice i stand by, as i am loving infamous all over again now), but to hear that there are still loading issues after such a large install is disheartening.

      Was looking forward to it, but it’s strictly bargain bin for me now i’m afraid (or at least when i have cleared some of the backlog & created enough space on the HDD for the install!).

    • I’d like to add that I was a huge fan of Duke games on the PC years ago which is why I said “sod the reviews” I’m buying it anyway, but never expected to have to bear those very frequent and long loading screens, which make Modnation racer loadings seem like turbo!

    • The loading times are definitely the biggest flaw but I didn’t find them to be unbearable and I was playing on hard so that Octaking boss killed me A LOT.
      I guess we have come to expect far shorter loading times so for some people, it’s a deal breaker.

      • I think that it could have been improved by creating longer level entrance/exits. I think that one of the worst parts was when you had to go through a door so soon after entering a room and you knew that it meant another loading session.
        It’s just me being impatient I guess, but I found it to be very hard work.

      • I agree with that, the caves in the monster truck section were very forced.
        The other thing is why does it take so long to load a level I just died in? Surely it doesn’t have to load that much, just reset things?

  7. Simply rushed then? great *waits for Borderlands 2

    • I wished they hadn’t picked up this but worked on borderlands2 instead…

  8. this game is awesomely fun, it’s may be rough round the edges but i’m shocked at the mauling it’s getting everywhere. add me for mp and it’s my balls your face!

  9. Well when have Duke games made much sense the main point with them has always been that they are fun and i think that fans of these games are going to get most out of this game

    • I think it has been assumed I’m not a Duke fan. I really am, I grew up playing the games so I totally get that it’s meant to be about fun. I just didn’t have much.

      • That just seems odd to me. As a Duke fan, I could overcome the flaws because of the big grin I had on my face when I punched a BattleLord in the nuts.
        That said, I didn’t find the pacing, graphics or jokes to be bad at all while it seems you did.

      • It’s not really my job to overcome the flaws, otherwise that would make my review biased.

      • I wasn’t criticising, you are right to point out the problems, I just found it odd that you also didn’t have much fun.

      • I didn’t mean that you wouldn’t be a Duke fan everybody likes different thing like to me the graphics or the load times wouldn’t be such a big deal since i still play older PS1 and PS2 games from time to time but since you are a reviewer you had to mention those things it’s understandable and for some people those are huge problems these days

      • Sorry, I sounded harsher than I meant to!

  10. Well at least it finally got a release, so it no longer hangs around as though it could have been the second coming, or something.

Comments are now closed for this post.