I don’t know how they did it and I don’t know why they did it but the fact is, they did it. They managed to screw up what can quite possibly be the most anticipated game of all time. The fault lies in the hands of many but that doesn’t change the fact that the game is still an utter mess. Of course, I’m talking about Duke Nukem Forever. A game that has a development cycle as large as its main character’s ego. A game that was almost a myth at one point. A game, that not one gamer ever thought would see the light of day. The simple fact that you can actually go into a store and buy this is pretty damn miraculous.
But alas, it’s true. Duke Nukem Forever has finally made its way onto store shelves. The big question is, after all these years, how did it turn out? The answer, not good. Not good at all. And it’s a shame, I wanted to like Duke Nukem Forever, I really did. I wanted to see the game do well and I wanted it to be a hit. Fair chance was given and my patience was extended, but in the end, there was simply too much disappointment and it became nothing but a mundane and frustrating experience. The king might be back, but it’s a considerably less than triumphant return.
Duke Nukem Forever comes to us with a ton of nostalgia and the signature bad taste humour. While both of which will be much appreciated by long time fans, the lingering taste that the downright awful gameplay leaves, will send most gamers running in the other direction. No matter how big a Duke fan you are, I have a hard time seeing anyone enjoying this.
There’s not a whole lot of story here but what we do get basically amounts to this. Those pesky invading aliens have shown up again and Duke is told by the President and General to stand down and not engage. Of course, he doesn’t listen and when the aliens invade the Duke cave he has no choice but to fight. As Duke puts it, it’s “time to kick ass and chew bubble gum … and I’m all outta gum.” From that point on, it’s basically Duke kicking alien ass. Not much else in terms of plot.
Duke Nukem Forever is unpolished in just about every area. And the thing is, I can’t figure out if a lot of this was done on purpose as a throwback to the original, or if it’s just sloppy design. Visuals are crummy with frame rate issues, AI is worse than bad, certain events that are supposed to trigger are often bugged, forcing you to have to restart from the last checkpoint and loading times make The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion look good. Although, at least we’re treated to helpful hints during the loading screen as the game tells us things like “dodging gunfire is good” and that “enemies sometimes drop weapon.” Yes, it’s just as infuriating when you see it on screen.
The game seems like it never left the 90s. The engine powering it all is laughable with constant screen tearing, frequent pop-ins and voice synching that pretty much doesn’t exist. Furthermore, we get ugly textures, animation that’s robotic, clunky movement and less than precise aiming. It’s a pretty rough experience and truthfully, I’ve seen PS2 titles that were technically more impressive, no joke.
On a non-technical level, things aren’t much better. Level design is horrid and uninspired. One level in particular is one of the most poorly designed levels I’ve ever had the displeasure of playing through in a video game. Duke Nukem Forever is a linear game where you’re led down a path with one goal, clearing out enemies. Nothing new, nothing unique, just the same type of shooter that we’ve been playing forever. Thrown in are a few interesting set pieces but for the most part, this is a pretty dull affair. It all amounts to a fight and hide shooter.
You’ll run out from behind a building, emptying your clip into an enemy until your health is low, then run back behind the building and wait for the health to regenerate. It becomes incredibly tiresome and reptitive. Boss battles are no different, they put you in a closed area and give you a larger than life boss. You then have to wind down the boss’s health bar using mostly rockets and explosives. Making matters worse is the fact that the boss will move around and attack in such obvious patterns that these battles become mostly maddening.
A lack of map, a noticeable absence of objectives and an often tough to find path will have you stuck in rooms or closed in locations for far too long, desperately trying to figure out how to move on. Occasionally the solution will be a puzzle that will help you get out of your current location. The thing is, these puzzles are often so rudimentary and so incredibly simple that you would never even think of them. Basic things like see-saw puzzles show up, things like these are so dated that no one would ever think that it’s what you need to do to move on.
The game’s puzzle elements are so terrible that they serve as nothing but a hinderance. They’re poorly thought out and the execution of them is even worse. Throw in some QTE-style button mashing events that are used far too often and the gameplay amounts to frustrating and usually infuriating. This might have been fun 10 years ago but now, it just feel dated and pathetic.
Aside from the fact that you can only carry two weapons at once, the arsenal you’re given is fairly fun. The shotgun packs quite the punch and guns like the Ripper, Shrink Ray and Freeze Ray are all quite satisfying to use. That being said, the AI is so bad that it takes away from some of the combat. It makes it far less enjoyable than it would have otherwise been. Simply put, braindead would be a compliment for the enemies here.
If there are any positives to the game, it’s that the classic Duke humour and manor are here in full check. For long time fans, it makes for some nice nostalgia. Duke Nukem Forever is a very self-aware game with some solid tongue in cheek humour and great one liners. In this aspect, the game does deliver. The humor is crude, rude and classic Duke. Plot may be non-existent but we still get some great writing in terms of dialogue.
Multiplayer comes fitted with a very basic list of features and a wealth of lag. It’s utterly dreadful and doesn’t provide an ounce of fun. Unbalanced and often unplayable, it’s just as messy as the single player. Spawning in front of enemies isn’t a rare occurrence and deathmatch, capture the flag and king of the hill make up your exciting options. There is really no reason to play more than one match here.
Honestly, I’m willing to turn a blind eye towards some of the issues here due to the troubled production history but I’ll only go so far. I’m sorry, most of the stuff here is just completely unacceptable and gamers in this day and age shouldn’t have to be subjected to a title like Duke Nukem Forever.
Gearbox Software isn’t entirely to blame as this game has been troubled for a long time. But still, Duke’s long awaited return is severely underwhelming and likely not worth the purchase for many gamers. The magic of the original shimmers through on occasion but it’s just not often enough.
While once a respectable gaming legend, Duke is nothing more than an embarrassment now. The game is so behind the times that it’s shameful. It pokes fun at titles that it tries to be and titles that are far better than it. It’s so dull and straightforward that there is just little to no fun. For a game that’s so keen on humor, there’s definitely a big joke here, I just can’t tell whether it’s some kind of self parody, or if the joke is on us?