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.
Reviewed on the Xbox 360