Review: Duke Nukem Forever
Love him or hate him, Duke Nukem had something to do with most of our childhood gaming experiences. Duke Nukem 3D was a defining moment, a fun and raunchy experience my 10-year old self had never seen the likes of. And now, 12 years after it first was announced, Duke Nukem Forever has landed… but is it worth your time and money?
Sadly, I can’t just give you a yes or no answer. DNF has so many ups and downs that trying to attach a basic buy or no buy label to it is very difficult. This game is so mired in controversy and hype that it is very tough to be objective… especially since I’ve been a fan of Duke since I was a kid. So let’s get the basics out of the way:
Obviously, this game is very lowbrow and scatological in its humor. The game opens with Duke taking a piss, then walking into a locker room to discuss Operation Cockblock with some Earth Defense Force soldiers. Now this is one thing I love about DNF: it does not stray from the downright stupid humor of its predecessor. It pulls no punches when it comes to how over the top and absurd it is. For example, every boss has a death scene after you shoot their health bar to zero, and one in particular falls to his knees when you do so. Then, Duke walks up and proceeds to use the boss’s testicles as punching bags. Stupid? Yes. Did it make me laugh? Unfortunately, yes. I love that 3D Realms and Gearbox hit the lowest common denominator with the humor, it’s the way Duke should be. There are a few scenes that have made some people angry and offended, but this is Duke Nukem. It’s supposed to be offensive. If people hate the game because of its humor, then this is not a game for them.
Unfortunately, the humor is pretty much all Duke can stand on, at least when compared to modern games. I’m sure you’ve heard some say that Duke Nukem Forever plays like a 12 year old FPS. Well, they’re right. The guns have no recoil, and the enemies either stand and shoot or rush straight at you. The few times the AI does more than stand there is in heavily scripted events, like when Duke is stuck in a portable trailer and some pigcops jump on it and begin to shake it. The game feature several driving sequences, and though the ones in Duke’s monster truck are somewhat bland and have shoddy controls, I did enjoy the level where Duke is shrunk down and has to drive an RC car around a destroyed casino, dodging enemies and falling rocks.
Another major pet peeve I had with the game was that Duke can only carry two weapons at a time. I know it’s a small thing to be unhappy about, but that really bugs me that the world’s most badass dude can only carry 2 guns instead of all of them. It felt really odd against the backdrop of a world that worships Nukem.
As far as how the game looks, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gearbox took the old 3D Realms code, cleaned up the models, and made it compatible with the latest hardware. The graphics are nothing special, and the static prerender backgrounds are very noticeable in 2011… once again going back to the “game stuck in the 90s” complaint many have had. Everything just feels rough around the edges.
This roughness brings me to an observation I made over and over while playing this game. Gearbox Software has put out games with more polish and quality than Duke Nukem Forever. Games like Borderlands and the Brothers In Arms series were of a much higher caliber… so what happened here? It seems to me that Gearbox spent their time updating and cleaning DNF‘s code instead of making it a better game. The reason that Duke Nukem Forever feels like a 12 year old game is because it is a 12 year old game with a fresh coat of paint. After all, Steve Gibson, the VP of Marketing for Gearbox, was quoted by Ars Technica as saying “This is an execution of 3D Realms’ design. We didn’t redesign the game at all. We took their concept, their design, and their ideas, and we finished them. We polished them and executed on them.” One of the glaring examples is the puzzles in the game. The action is broken up with basic physics puzzles that serve to frustrate more than entertain. 12 years ago, moving barrels to the other side of a bridge to raise it would have been cool, now it’s just tedious.
So once again we come to the important question of this review: Is Duke Nukem Forever worth your time and hard earned money? Who cares, because you’ve already made up your mind. If you like the stupid humor of the Duke Nukem series and don’t mind playing a game straight out of 1999, then you’ll probably enjoy DNF. If you want to see why no game should be released after 12 years and 3 developers, then Duke Nukem Forever is a lesson. However, don’t get me wrong: I do not regret the 100 bucks I dropped on my Balls of Steel edition. That resin bust of Duke was worth it.
I enjoyed my time with DNF, but that may be the MST3ker in me; my love of bad entertainment has been known to cloud my judgement before. I feel like I need to say it again and emphasize:Duke Nukem Forever is not a good game. It’s not even mediocre; It’s straight up bad. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it, I know I sure did.
If you want to play a game that has the spirit of Duke but has great gameplay, then in all honesty you should skip DNF and check out the under-appreciated Bulletstorm. It has all the raunchiness of Duke Nukem and fantastic gameplay to match.
As an aside, I’d love to see is a Duke Nukem game built from the ground up by Gearbox. I think they nailed the over the top spirit of the series, and a Duke Nukem game that plays as hardcore as its attitude would be a welcome sight.