Duke Nukem Forever quickly became one of the most ironic names in video game history. Over the last twelve years the game had been premiered, cancelled, premiered again and shelved more times than many of us can remember. So it was a big surprise when Gearbox announced they had purchased the rights to Duke Nukem from 3D Realms and premiered the game’s long-awaited first playable demo at PAX. Most gamers initially squealed with excitement, (some literally I’m sure), but soon a creeping question began to form in their minds, “Will the game be any good after all this time?” It was a fair question and a fair concern. Much like movies, video games that undergo constant re-writes and shuffle between various studios for years tend to be fraught with, for lack of better phrasing, overwhelming horribleness, and they rarely live up to fan expectations. Simply put, Gearbox put themselves in a damned if they do, damned if they don’t situation, and plenty of reviews for the game so far reflect just that.
Now, I first experienced Duke Nukem while in middle school when, for some reason beyond my comprehension, my mom let me rent the game for my Nintendo 64. What I experienced then was a fun, politically incorrect, somewhat clunky shooter with less than impressive graphics, and sometimes-awkward level design all set in a highly interactive environment. I had played games were you could pick up items before, but taking a piss? That was exciting new ground. I enjoyed my time with Duke. His cheesy one-liners and over-the-top sexual innuendos certainly appealed to my age bracket. That said, it certainly never made the impression on me that it did for many gamers who were a few years older. I was in an odd gap. I was old enough to remember it, yet young enough to have forgotten most of it. Maybe that’s why I’m able to just sit back and enjoy Forever for what it is.
Duke Nukem Forever is a fun, politically incorrect, somewhat clunky shooter with less than impressive graphics, and sometimes-awkward level design all set in a highly interactive environment (see what I did there?). The key word in the description of both games though is “fun,” as in, entertaining to play. Once again, twelve years later, I certainly enjoyed my time with the Duke. Although flawed in many ways, Forever was almost exactly what I expected it would be. So why all the hate for the game? I imagine nostalgia mostly.
At its core, there were two things that Duke Nukem really offered that was unique: raunchy, sophomoric humor and an extremely interactive environment. Duke Nukem Forever has both of those to spare. Duke is still spewing off one-liners, most of them lifted from popular action movies (“I’m from Las Vegas and I say, Kill ‘em All!”), the rest often referring to his, or someone else’s, genitals. One boss simply can’t be beaten till you punch his crotch. The game starts by having you take a piss. You boost your ego (health) by slapping alien wall boobs. Admire yourself in the mirror to boost your ego some more. Face it, as far as the humor goes, this is the Duke Nukem we all know and love. Duke hasn’t changed, but maybe you have. Taking a piss in a video game isn’t funny anymore because it’s been done (but if they had left it out fans would of screamed bloody murder). Slapping alien wall boobs on the other hand is really just weird no matter what decade the game is from. Ultimately though, this is the exact same type of humor that made Duke Nukem… well, Duke Nukem.
There is some more relevant humor as well. Duke pokes fun at several major video game franchises, from mocking Master Chief for wearing armor to a very funny reference to the original Donkey Kong. All of these moments managed a genuine laugh out of me. While many of the game’s jokes only provoked a slight chuckle, overall the game is funny in its’ overwhelming campiness. I recommend just going with the humor, you’ll enjoy the ride much more that way and are only going to let yourself down if you expect more. It’s just Duke being Duke. The whole premise is basically built around the idea that the biggest bro in the world ends up being its hero after all.
As I said before, the game certainly has flaws. The level design is largely uninspired, and in some cases feels horribly dated. In particular, the underwater levels (when was the last time you had one of those?) felt like taking a step back in time to play the worst part of early 90’s FPS games, not to mention Duke swims about as fast as a handicapped grandmother still stuck in her wheelchair. One level also has you sporadically and frustratingly switching between driving and walking and is a total mess. What feels like every 25 feet Duke has to get out of the truck and hunt for a gas container so that he can get back in the truck to drive another 25 feet. This could have been a subtle statement on our dependence on fossil fuels even as we face imminent threats and dangers the like of which we can’t imagine… but all I could think was, “God damnit! I have to get back in that damn truck again?” Forever’s strongest level design typically comes when Duke has been shrunken down to action figure size. The platforming elements when trying to navigate a flooded, electrified kitchen, for example, were fun and seemed to have much more thought behind them in terms of design. Driving an RC car through a wrecked Vegas casino was also another highlight of solid level design. There are some moments of greatness in the mess of it all.
Forever’s enemies are also lacking. Calling it, “Enemy A.I.” is using the word “intelligence” very loosely. Most of them just try to bum rush you because they don’t seem to have any other strategy. The character animations fail to impress as well, with many of them appearing choppy and unnatural. Combined with how often they seemed to move through the map in awkward ways, they were all-around disappointing. Despite what the game says about different weapons working better against different enemies, you’re usually better off just sticking with the shotgun if you can get close enough. The bosses, on the other hand, varied greatly. Most were fairly easy, although one or two were ridiculously hard (not much middle ground), and again there were some animation issues (boss and his gun are facing the other direction yet fire towards me somehow?). It was mildly annoying that all bosses required the use of explosives or turrets, as well. Through most of the game, the developers try to make up for the lack of quality enemies by just putting more in the room, including during boss battles, but this causes other problems.
The game has serious framerate issues. Pretty much anytime there is any action at all, the game lags. Fire a rocket, expect some lag. Six pigs rushing at you as your fire your shotgun? Expect some lag. You get the idea. The other issue with the swarms of enemies is that sometimes it works and you die. Dying isn’t so bad though; it’s waiting to come back that’s really painful. Forever has to have some of the worst load screen times in a game made in the last two years, many of which totally kill the pace of the level. More than once I decided to go check my e-mail or make a phone call while waiting for a level to load. It seriously takes that long. As you can imagine, it was even more frustrating at any difficult part in the game.
Combat is fairly consistent though, and while a little clunky, there wasn’t really much to complain about. Point the gun at the thing you want to die and press RT a whole lot, sooner or later you get what you’re after. There is a slight auto aim, which helps to make it smoother, and truly hardcore gamers can turn this off if they wish. Using the shotgun on a quick enemy was often troublesome, especially when they got in close and it became rather hard to aim at them properly, but this is really a minor note. Really the only issue with combat was the dropped framerates making it hard to aim properly at times.
Okay, so that’s a lot of bad compared to good; and that’s a pretty fair assessment for the game on a technical level. The thing is, it’s fun. While certainly not a contender for game of the year, and not likely to win any awards this year that aren’t sarcastic in nature, Gearbox has done three things worth noting: delivered a game that most of us thought would never happen, revived the Duke Nukem franchise, and made a fun, although flawed, game. Would I recommend picking Forever up for $60 new? Not at all. But is it certainly worth a rental just for the experience? Definitely. Worth owning whenever it goes under $20? Absolutely. Duke Nukem Forever isn’t perfect, but then again, Duke Nukem never was. It is what it is. Ultimately, the best way I can think to describe Duke Nukem Forever is to lift a line myself, “M-E-H, Meh.”
Final Rating: 6/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360
Approximate Time to Completion: ~9 Hours
Gamer Score Earned: 660/1000
Price Bought at: N/A – Rental
Current Price: $57.99 (Amazon)
Recommend Purchase Price: I would recommend rent for now, purchase under $20.