Duke Nukem Forever Review

Matt Joseph

Reviewed by:
On June 12, 2011
Last modified:December 24, 2013


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 Duke Nukem Forever.

Duke Nukem Forever Review

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?

Duke Nukem Forever Review
Utter Failure

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 Duke Nukem Forever.

Comments (4)

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  1. SarenArteriussays:

    Bugs? Bad level design? Poorly thought out puzzles etc? Been playing for the last 2 days and have not encountered anything even close to what you suggest. You fail to mention the games difficulty level, which is actually fairly steep if all you are used to is call of duty etc and in my experience people these days cant stand a game if it promotes even a hint of a challenge. Thus far my time with DNF has been pure old school shooter fun, and any one who actually plays games for fun and not for the top of the range graphics/features etc should give it ago. Its by no means perfect, but when considering its development woes and the fact it was initialized in a bygone gaming era, its a great throwback to when gaming meant having a laugh and just shooting the hell out of aliens all day long. Your review, while i respect your opinion, is something i wholeheartedly disagree with. I for one am enjoying the balls off this game and i know i am not the only person. DNF is the best example ive ever played of a game that should definitely be tried before you jump on the interwebs hate train and write it off for good.

    1. Squiggly475says:

      Old school fun?  How is this anything like the old games?
      Remember the parts where you were repeatedly jumping between cover because enemies kill you in three hits?Remember all those long, boring turret sections?
      Remember the two weapon limit and regenerating health?
      Remember all those tedious puzzles that destroy the pacing?
      Remember those linear corridors that removed all freedom?
      Remember the total lack of secrets beyond Easter eggs?
      Remember the bad jokes with little charm or wit?  
      Remember the general lack of polish?

      I don’t remember any of those in the 2d or 3d game(s).  I’m not saying it’s not enjoyable but this is not the same Duke from days of yonder.

    2. Thank you! One of the few people who realise what DNF is about. It’s an old school, 90’s shooter that happened to be released this year. If you don’t appreciate it, or if you don’t get what this game is all about, then of course you’re going to hate it. You’ll hate it because you hate having fun, you’re too used to super serious shooters that trade mild enjoyment for fun. I’ve not had this much fun kicking ass and chewing gum (regrettably, I find I am out of stock of chewing gum) since Bulletstorm, and guess what? Bullet storm wasn’t a super serious shooter!
      As much as I enjoy the occasional  super serious military type shooter, there’s nothing that tickles the funny bone as much as a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously (LOOKING AT YOU BLACK OPS)
      I think gamers should stop being so grown up sometimes. Have some fun, yeah?

  2. nicolassays:

    I know the X360 version is unplayable but it is not fair judging Duke Nukem based on that version as Duke Nukem Forever was never supposed to be a console game.It was always supposed to be a PC game and until the end of 2008 they were developing it for pc only.The game development was resumed in early 2010 and they simply had not enough time to make it properly on all versions.
        The think is on pc the game is decent and personally i loved almost every moment of it.The game runned as smooth as silk at around 100 frames per second give or take at full 1920×1200 resolutions with high definition textures (where in the x360 it runs at sub hd 1186×688 with medium quality textures and a hideous level of detail swapping).
      Also the games loading times were almost instantaneous and i could also enable AA and AF (But i had to make a profile in the Nvidia or Catalyst if you have a ATI card to enable full 16x or 32x levels of AA and AF)
       Also the controls were pixel perfect and honestly i did not experience any crashes or bugs.

    I loved the interactivity as it really goes on another level compared to every other game out there,i loved the cool body animations ala fear and mirror’s edge,i loved the humor and if you have problems with what duke nukem says and start all the political correct bullshit then you don’t deserve to be called a gamer as people like you almost costed triple-A games to be banned like wolfestein,grand theft auto,resident evil and yes even mass effect….

    Also the normal weapons feel fantastic like the pistols,shotgun,melee attacks ,pipebombs and even the assault rifle.

    On the problems ,the game is far from perfect and as funny as it may sound it needed another 6-12 months of development.It is a pity that Gearbox did not give(or did no afford to give to be honest) more time.There are some really dated segments that should have been  completely removed(like a stroll through the streets during day-something that should have been cool but as it was it was like a maze through a ton of low quality squarish.. cars and box like tracks…and you cannot even jump on a car….it felt like i was playing a 10 year old game..Then it is the problem with 2 weapons as some weapons are very rare (and really cool ) like the shrink ray and freeze gun but you cannot afford to keep them if you play at hard difficulty as you need every weapon be it a pistol or a shotgun or anything…They could make it so the pistols be used as last resort weapons but…still they could do it in a patch or something..Also raising the ammo carrying limit and making the infinite ammo crates finite would have been better and more suitable to the game…What else ?
       For some reason you cannot kick you opponents….And kicking is something really cool if done right if you have played games like Dark Messiah of might and magic or condemned criminal origins…

        And lastly…There were a ton of cool ideas and even half completed maps that were trashed and more subtle but lame ideas were used….For example the turret fight with the motherboard was lame,lame and again lame…But if you unlock all extras you are going to see the original fight how it was supposed to be and…you are going to cry….(as i said the new teams,they simply did not have enough time).Or the infamous
    jetpack….You are teased by it in a qt event but you never get to use it …..Ahhh maybe with Duke Nukem 5 ?

    Anyway Duke certainly does not deserve a 5/5 but there should have been a fair review that advised x360 players to stay away but gave it a 4/5 -In any case it is not too late to play it again on pc and give it a fair review.

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