June 16, 2011 by Paul Curtin
With society constantly becoming more politically correct and video games getting too serious, we need Duke now, more than ever. Unfortunately, this week we saw the fall of two kings. First, the fall of King James in the NBA Finals, and now the fall of Duke Nukem in Duke Nukem Forever. Like LeBron, Duke isn’t bad, but he too hasn’t brought his best come game time. Forever is an average game, but with such a huge build up over the past 15 years, not even the man, the myth, the legend, Duke Nukem himself, could live up to the hype.
For those not familiar with Duke Nukem Forever‘s history: After the success of 1996’s Duke Nukem 3D on the PC, 3D Realms began working on an official sequel called Duke Nukem Forever. There was little news on DNF over the years, and anytime there was, it seemed like the game had been completely overhauled and changed from the last time we saw it. After 14 years of being in development hell and being one of the biggest jokes in the gaming industry, Gearbox Software took over under 2K Games in 2010. Finally, after 15 years, Gearbox and 2K Games were able to do what nobody else could by finally releasing Duke Nukem Forever in stores, and for once, it’s not an April Fools’ Day joke.
Duke Nukem Forever‘s story actually starts off brilliantly. The game starts with players once again assuming the role of Duke Nukem and fighting the main boss of Duke Nukem 3D on the field of a football stadium. After defeating the boss and kicking his eye through a field goal, the words “Duke Nukem Forever” appear onscreen over a waving American flag. Just as you’re wondering what’s going on and why you’re repeating the final scene of the last game, the camera pans out to reveal Duke playing his own video game and getting pleasured by two blonde twins dressed as schoolgirls that are referred to as the “Holsom Twins,” an obvious jab at Full House‘s now grown-up child stars. One of the girls asks Duke if the game is any good and he simply replies, “Yeah, but after twelve fucking years, it should be.”
As you make your way around Duke’s apartment you’ll notice pictures on the walls that tell the story of how Duke has become one of the most famous icons in the world after defeating the aliens twelve years ago and has since climbed Mt. Everest, become a champion MMA fighter, astronaut, and won numerous awards. After seeing all that Duke has accomplished over the years, you’ll learn that the aliens are back, but they aren’t here to make friends… they’re after Duke, and more importantly, once again after our chicks.
While the story starts off strongly, that’s about all you’ll get out of Duke Nukem Forever in terms of story. Seems like that’s all they could afford after years of burning money in the development cycle and there wasn’t any money or time left over for writing a more detailed story. The rest of the game will have you going from point A to point B, in a very linear fashion, sometimes solving puzzles, with the occasional Duke one-liner, and stupid responses from military units you come across. But Duke Nukem was never about the story; the series has always been about kicking ass and chewing bubble gum, and Duke will never run out of asses to kick.
The actual gameplay isn’t bad, but like the story, don’t expect anything revolutionary. I’ve often referred to Epic Games’ Bulletstorm as this generation’s Duke Nukem that combines crazy over-the-top gameplay with stupid but funny one-liners. Even with the actual Duke Nukem coming out this generation, everything about the game feels dated due to the linear and generic FPS action. If the action was faster paced and the controls were a little more accurate like in Bulletstorm, the game would be awesome and worthy of bringing the Duke out of retirement to take back his crown.
There’s one chapter in the game that you’ll spend the majority of the time driving a monster truck. When seeing the monster truck level teased in trailers, my first thought was: If they can’t even get the core gameplay right, how in the hell are they going to make driving work? I was surprised to find that the driving controls were actually spot on, and the level was pretty fun with the ability to run over tons of enemies and hit massive jumps over gaps in the road. Playing the monster truck level reminded me a lot of Bethesda Games’ highly anticipated upcoming game, RAGE (preview here), which combines FPS core gameplay with occasional driving gameplay in a post-apocalyptic setting. But when comparing the two, you’ll instantly see how much better RAGE is on every level and how dated DNF truly is.
The graphics are strange; some areas looks good, while others look god-awful. This is because Duke Nukem Forever uses a modified version of the Unreal Engine 2.5 (most games released today use the Unreal Engine 3), so expect to see the game skin itself and render in real time whenever you enter new areas and start new levels. While the environments and physics look and work well, the character animations are horrendous; it’s sad when you see what Duke looks like in reflections and you see his jump animation where his two legs just swing up behind him and the rest of his body remains completely stiff and motionless. Even with the average graphics, the load times are ridiculous with the game always taking at least 30 seconds to load in between levels. I’d strongly suggest not playing the game on the hardest difficulty because you’re going to die a lot, and when you die, you’re going to forced back to the loading screen that seems to take forever.
For all the hatred geared towards Duke Nukem Forever, you’ll be surprised with how many features the game actually does offer. There’s nothing new about the gameplay, but certain features you’ll come to expect in FPS games this generation like destructible environments and items you can pick up and throw or bash enemies with are all included in DNF. You’ll have an “Ego” bar that works like armor. When getting shot your Ego will deplete until you have none left and can be killed by a couple hits. Duke’s ego recharges when not being shot and the overall amount that he has can be extended by defeating bosses and finding hidden items throughout the game, which encourages exploration.
One of the features that made the original Duke Nukem 3D so enjoyable was how you could find extras throughout the game that didn’t have anything to do with shooting or the story. Activities like playing a game of pool, using computers, and best of all, going to strip clubs were nice little features that helped immerse you in the game. Of course, all those features and more are back in DNF, but the mini games seem like they’ve been ported right from the original, so you won’t want to waste much time playing them. There’s even an entire level in a strip club filled with mini games and half-naked women. Thankfully the girls in the game don’t look as dated as Duke and have better animations. It’s good to see that 2K Games and Gearbox didn’t shy away from the adult material that made the Duke Nukem series what it is today. There’s also tons of hidden little Easter eggs that you can find throughout the game like a dead marine with Isaac Clark’s helmet from Dead Space and a scene where Duke is asked if he wants some armor that looks like Master Chief’s from Halo, in which Duke responds, “Power armor is for pussies.”
I was going to rate Duke Nukem lower, but then I discovered multiplayer. If you’re a fan of twitch multiplayer shooters like Unreal Tournament and Quake, then I would highly recommend checking out DNF, if not just for the multiplayer. It’s not better than UT or Quake, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. The 4 vs. 4 “Capture the Babe” mode (Capture the Flag with girls as flags) is one of the most fun CTF modes I’ve played in any game. Besides CTB, there’s also 4 vs. 4 Team Dukematch (Team Deathmatch), 8-player Free For All, and Hail to the King (King of the Hill). The maps are the most impressive part of multiplayer with every map being enjoyable to play different modes on and even some classic maps from Duke Nukem 3D being playable. I was surprised how well-made each map was and how elements from the campaign like alien launch pads and being able to shrink yourself and run through secret passages were incorporated into the multiplayer maps.
Rewards can be unlocked as you level up online from completing skills challenges and can go towards changing your appearance online. There are even items that you’ll be able to view in Duke’s apartment, a feature that’s similar to PlayStation Home, that allows you to furnish Duke’s luxurious apartment with goodies such as statues, paintings, arcade games, alien heads on plaques, and of course… there’s also the option to unlock multiple girls for your apartment. All the extra features and diverse matchmaking options give the multiplayer plenty of replayability and almost make DNF worth its $60 price tag.
It’s a shame that Gearbox didn’t get their hands on DNF sooner because if it had been released years ago back when the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were new on the market, most gamers would have accepted and probably even praised the game. But releasing the game this late into the lifespan of the current generation of consoles was a bad decision and seems like Gearbox was more focused on just finally getting the game on store shelves rather than making Duke Nukem Forever the best game ever. Gearbox should have just waited and worked towards really updating the game and having it ready for release as soon as the next wave of consoles comes out, but then again, the whole idea of trying to constantly make the game better is what got Duke Nukem Forever stuck in development hell and why it took 15 years to finally get our hands on the sequel in the first place. DNF‘s single-player campaign is average, but the multiplayer is a huge added bonus and its saving grace if you’re a fan of games like Unreal Tournament and Quake. Duke Nukem Forever gets 2.5 out of 5 stars (Okay).