The long-awaited Duke Nukem Forever is finally released.
At the tender age of 13, I got my hands on Duke Nukem 3D and enjoyed it immensely. Yes, I was under the age for the 18+ certificate the game carried but that’s what made the game all the more appealing. The prospect of turning aliens into little red giblets, constant swearing and the sight of some partial nudity was a gaming goldmine for a 13-year-old boy. Having completed the game on numerous occasions, I was doing cartwheels at the announcement that 3D Realms were working on another development of pixellated testosterone. Big happy smiles all round.
I just want to say that again so it sinks in properly. Fourteen long, ridiculous years of waiting. What the hell!?! Fortunately, for 2K games, I think this was a strategy to ensure the 13-year-olds of today, who could potentially get their hands on this game (which I do not condone), won’t remember any of the original Duke Nukem games and thus have nothing to compare to this big pile of gaming tripe.
I must admit nostalgia is probably the only thing which drove me to purchase this game, and possibly curiosity, to see what they could have possibly come up with after 14 years. Not a whole lot it, would seem.
If one can call it that, is pretty standard for a Duke Nukem game. To summarise in Lehman’s terms; here are some aliens, bludgeon them whatever way you can. The game is set 12 (optimistically) years after the events of DK3D. Duke is now an iconic symbol for everyone in the world and is living the life of fame and fortune in Las Vegas. The aliens return and in a very Independence Day move, the president and military commander seem content to welcome them at first and are then shocked when they start attacking. The aliens harness the power of the Hoover Dam to open a worm hole for more aliens to enter and now it’s up to Duke to rid the world once more of these meddling foes. It’s not Shakespeare, but I doubt anyone was expecting anything else.
Where to start? The development team for DNF has had 14 years to study for this FPS exam and could have sat beside anyone in class to copy off. In the time since Duke’s last adventure, a string of new FPS games have danced a merry jig to critical acclaim and commercial success. Unfortunately for DNF, when it came to copying them, they took all the wrong answers and failed miserably. Not even attempt marks in some sections.
From start to finish, the game is littered with terrible design, buggy errors and bad game play. The opening tutorial is a mini-enactment of Duke Nukem 3D which, for nostalgic reasons, drew me in a bit. The game even went that little bit further to enhance this nostalgic experience by making it impossible to complete the first boss fight without toning down the graphics to Windows 95 levels. I’m not kidding; the game actually has a glitch on the first level! After consulting a number of gaming forums, it turns out this is a common problem with the PC version and has lead to a lot of disgruntled gamers.
Getting past the initial glitch, the rest of the game does not stand up too well, either. The terrible game-play choices ruin the whole experience throughout. Firstly, and this applies to most modern-day FPSs, what is wrong with health meters? It seems to be standard these days in an FPS for the player to be hit a few times, the screen turns red and you go and sit in the corner sucking your thumb for a few seconds until your health regenerates (or in Duke’s case, his “Ego”). Secondly, Duke, despite being built like a tank, can only carry two weapons at a time. Extremely frustrating if one your weapons runs out of ammo and is utterly unnecessary. The game also includes pointless vehicle sections and, like most present FPSs, the vehicles control like an elephant on a unicycle.
Enemies are recycled from previous games with little or no originality to them and when they attacked they attack in never ending streams. So Duke will die, he’ll die a lot. The biggest problem with this is not the inconvenience of Duke dying, but the ridiculously long loading the game has to do to respawn Duke to the checkpoint. Given that respawning into a stream of enemies means a quick pass to another fatality for Duke, gameplay can last for about a minute and then a two to three minute loading screen ensues before gameplay beings again. It is a big problem if loading last longer than than actual gameplay.
Finally, and this is probably my biggest gripe, there are a number of platforming objectives that Duke must complete. I’m all for platforming in a 3D game if it is done well. In DNF, however, the camera would rather stare at a wall rather than at the ledge you are supposed to be going for, and Duke himself interprets button pressing as more of a suggestion rather than an order and the majority of the time faceplants into the floor. Incredibly frustrating and another hammer blow for this sub-par game.
Graphics and HUD (heads-up-display)
The aforementioned bug with the graphics on the first boss fight is just the tip of the iceberg for DNF. The game just does not live up to the current generation of games in terms of graphics. Everything is grainy and undefined. Enemy bullets whizz through the screen unnoticed until they’ve penetrated Duke’s skull and the red glow from being hit is almost welcome as it appears clearer than everything else on the screen.
I can’t pass this review without mentioning the HUD (heads-up-display) for the sheer ridiculousness of it. Duke doesn’t have a health bar; he has an “Ego” meter. When Duke runs out of ego, he dies. I can’t even begin to think how this made sense to anyone. Also included in the HUD is Duke’s ability to see in the dark. I introduce this as part of a number of “Batman” ripoffs that DNF possess. Replace anything from Batman with the word Duke in front of it and, hey presto, it’s now a Duke Nukem original. Instead of Batvision, Duke has Dukevision. A “Dukecave”, “Dukemobile” and someone even refers to Duke as “Dukeman” in the game!
I really don’t understand what the game’s developers were trying to do. Whatever it was, they failed in every way. The game oozes testosterone, which I suppose is what Duke is all about, but it is just really uncomfortable in places. Every male support character swears and fist pumps at Duke. Every female character just leers at him and flat out propositions him sexually, without fail, in every line of dialogue. I’ve never been one for political correctness or to take the moral high ground on anything, but it is just ridiculous. I can’t recommend this game to anyone or even think who the target audience is. If you’re interested because you played the original Duke Nukem games, there is nothing here for you. Like going to see the reformed Guns N’ Roses, all that’s left is a washed-up old rocker trying to live off past glories without the creative spark that once surrounded him. Just a terrible, terrible game and one which any competent studio could have produced in six months, let alone 14 freaking years!
3/10. And I’m being generous with that