Duke Nukem Forever
Developer: Gearbox
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1, 2-8 online
Words By:

It’s 15 years since Duke Nukem 3D (not his first game, but his first 3D game and the one that made him famous) was released - Doom and Rise of the Triad were just babies and Quake was on its way. So it’s been a very long wait with only Duke Nukem: Time To Kill, Zero Hour and Land of the Babes (all third-person games), Manhattan Project (an awful side-on shooter) and a trickle of teaser movies for the mythical Forever to keep myself and all the other Duke fans happy in the intervening years. This game has had so many false dawns that the title’s initials (DNF) became jokingly referred to as an acronym for “Did Not Finish” or “Do Not Forget.”

So, here’s the 64 thousand Dollar question: was it worth the wait? Well maybe, depending on how forgiving you are. The game kicks off with a similar battle to where 3D left off, with showdown in a rainswept football stadium against a huge, lumbering mechanoid (a ‘Cycloid’) opponent. ‘Cool’, you may think, and it is. But once that brief escapade is over you realise that it was all just a videogame that Duke was playing, and the game proper starts. And therein lies one of DNF’s biggest problems-the intro ‘game’ part of DNF is the most impressive visually in the entire adventure! I know not why, but DNF's graphics never quite re-attain the same quality after that and frequently look so low-res and blurry that they may have used textures from the N64 era. Oh dear—I’ll bet that’s not what you wanted to hear.

Anyway, regaining control of Duke in his luxury Las Vegas hotel suite with blonde bimbo twins apparently orally pleasuring you, the game should be off to a great start, but isn’t. “What about the game Duke, was it any good?” one of the twins asks. “Yeah, but after 12 f*cking years it should be” he replies. This may have been ill-advised as reviewing your own game is never a good idea, even in jest. Maybe I’m naïve, but in this single comment Duke implied to me that what is to come is rock solid, inventive and maybe even groundbreaking, something to rival Halo, Crysis, Killzone and all. Maybe Duke’s opinion was coloured by something, maybe he got too close, or maybe he got distracted by the twins, whatever the case it isn’t good, and after 12 f*cking years development it really should have been.

DNF has problems that are apparent from the start but get worse as the levels open out and more enemies and effects appear on-screen. It also has jerky aiming and weapons that are generally unsatisfying to use. The game freezes momentarily from time to time (often during weapon reload animations for some reason), displays horizontal tearing and has, considering the level of detail on show for large parts of the game and the fact that V-sync is obviously turned ‘off,’ a surprisingly inconsistent frame rate. I’m not sure of the origins of the game engine used, but some levels look remarkably similar to Gearbox’s much-liked FPSRPG Borderlands, and it shares many of its flaws, but comes with none of Borderlands charm, originality or addictive co-op play. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s talk some of DNF’s positive features first.

In the same way you could in Duke 3D all those years ago, DNF encourages you to explore and attempt to interact with EVERYTHING; it allows you to use taps, light switches, watercoolers, vending machines, microwave ovens, stick your finger in electric sockets ("why?" I hear you ask, because it's there, that's why), drink cans of beer and even use and flush toilets etc-but as faithful as this is to Duke 3D, is there any point in this sort of aimless interactivity in this day and age? Is Duke likely to die of a nasty infection if he doesn’t wash his hands after peeing or throwing poop? (and yes, the game lets you do that too.)

Duke doesn’t have a health gauge or medkits to pick up anymore, so you now do the CoD ‘rest & recuperate’ thing when you’ve taken damage — and take damage you will, as the enemies are ridiculously accurate, and barring a couple of dark sections seem to psychically know where you are the second you enter their area. Instead of a health gauge Duke now has a shiny new ‘Ego’ gauge, and this can be extended by discovering and performing various ‘ego boosts’; these could be anything from admiring Duke’s reflection in a mirror to taking a whizz, clearing the balls from a pool table, beating the high score on the pinball table or winning on a slot machine, there are literally dozens to find.

Too often DNF seems to end a level with an old-school, simplistic boss battle, the predictability of which soon grates, and a few of these are tough enough that they are quite likely to have you swearing like an American teenager, throwing your joypad or turning your console off, depending on your mentality. DNF also has too many darned fiddly platform jump sections; it’s like of all the games Gearbox played during the 12 years the legendary Half Life wasn’t one of them, or they didn’t hear the news: platform sections in first person shooters SUCK.

There is a pleasingly different Nevada Desert level where you zoom around in Duke’s personalised monster truck, and this 'change of air' is fun for a while, aided by the fact that the truck’s V8 engine sounds good and it handles well too. The area seems vast and desolate as it should, and there are several points where you can see wa-aaay back where you’ve come from-always a neat idea in games that use a large landscape. But towards the end of this level you have to bring down an alien dropship in what should have been a spectacular set piece (when it crashes the wings form a bridge to the next area) but I was flabbergasted to see it vanish with bargain basement 'fizzle & pop' rather than a meaty explosion, and drop to the ground in approximately ONE frame of animation. Oh dear.

Many of the levels seem to have been designed by different teams, and while this isn’t exactly unusual (and certainly wouldn’t be surprising in this particular game’s case) they usually have some sort of consistency. But in DNF some look quite good and have decent effects and textures (as long as you don’t look to close), but others literally look like they came, as I previously mentioned, from the N64 era-given the torturous and lengthy development and redesign processes that the game went through in its various forms maybe they in fact did.

When playing through the Forever campaign it certainly feels like Duke 3D in places, mostly thanks to using faithfully recreated 3D models of the old 2D sprite-based enemies. This does however throw up a couple of problems as there’s no explanation as to how or why this weird collection of hugely different aliens all ganged up on the human race, particularly why bipedal pig aliens would team up with lizards, tentacled super brains and various huge dino-mechanoids. Even Halo’s bizarre plot supplies some mythology for the disparate enemy races, collectively known as ‘the Covenant,’ and makes some sense in the end. But with DNF we seem to be expected to just open wide and swallow it all down and accept every inexplicably odd, unconnected creature the game throws at us, almost like Duke/Doom wannabe, Serious Sam. Maybe I was just expecting too much, maybe I’m just too old…

...And Then there’s the gameplay and level design. At times levels feel like Wolfenstein, then like you've crashed into Toy Story or Micro Machines, maybe even The Spiderwick Chronicles, and the ceaseless “adult content” means it also reminded me of some sort lighthearted bawdy comedy, like it should have been titled "Leisure Suit Larry Duke Gets His Big Gun Out." Then there’s a section with as disturbing and unsettling a depiction of alien capture and impregnation as anything seen in the Aliens movies, and maybe more so. Are we supposed to take it seriously, or laugh all the way through like morons or what? Is it intended as a rollercoaster ride with drama, comedy and pathos, or is the entire game one big joke and the real Duke Nukem Forever will be in the post soon?

Anyway, the game uses many of the old weapons too; the Shrink Ray, the Freeze gun, the Devastator, the Ripper (triple-barrelled machine gun), RPG (locks on to a target if trained on it for a few seconds), pump-action Shotgun (devastating up close), Railgun (sniper weapon), Enforcer missile launcher, AT laser and AT Captain laser, and of course a faithful (M1911) Pistol are just the ones I could remember. The Shrink Ray seems to fire slower than I remember it, and this makes it quite hard to hit some enemies, not helped by the jerky aiming and the enemies’ annoying and frequently unrealistically rapid movement. Once you’ve hit them you can then simply walk up to the action figure-sized enemy and Duke will automatically stomp on them. The problem here is that the shrunken enemies’ weapons still seem to do the same amount of damage as the full-size one, which seems a bit daft. On a few occasions Duke can get shrunk too, and these add a bit of variety although the emptiness of the hotel in the first occasion, where you’re mostly driving around in a young fan’s radio controlled car, are remarkably spartan and disappointing to play. These sections are punctuated with brief moments of sheer terror as you encounter ‘normal’ sized enemies that are now of course giants to you. Fortunately your tiny weapon does the same stupid amount of damage to the giants, as theirs do to you when they’re shrunk, so you kind of get your own back.

The Freeze Ray is also a bit of a disappointment as it needs to be kept trained on an enemy for a few seconds (seems to vary on the size of enemy and difficulty setting) before they freeze into an ice statue. You can then shoot or melee it to shatter them into literally several cold, dead pieces. You can also use remotely triggered pipe bombs, or laser trip mines, both of which come in very handy at times, and usually reduce enemies to their constituent body parts. I should probably say that due to the rather duff weapon set, Duke’s melee punch is possibly the most satisfying attack in the game, and taking steroids that can be found here and there makes Duke a raging berserker (a lot like Borderlands) for a while, and you can then kill most human sized enemies in one punch.

Duke fans of old may be glad to hear that the “Hunnhhh” noise that Duke makes when he jumps sounds like the original from Duke 3D, which would be okay if it hadn’t sounded so crap in the first place - but there was an excuse back then, speech in games was a new thing. Do a series a short jumps and Duke sounds like he’s going to hurl—perhaps he’s seen the review scores. Even some of Duke’s animations are exactly like they were 15 years ago (you can check them out in a mirror), and while that might have been intended to be homage, would we be impressed and pleased and respectful if Lara Croft appeared in her next game with her original animation set? Or Link? Or Mario?

And talking of Mario, DNF has references to and ummm... takes inspiration from Doom, Halo, Dead Space, Gears of War, Aliens, Team America, Mario-you name it-they even nicked an puzzle idea from British TV show The Crystal Maze for goodness sake! You’ll also come across a few simple physics-based puzzles that Half Life 2’s designers would have rejected in 2003 for being too simple. But then, the physics worked better in Valve’s classic. Don’t believe me? Try spinning a chair, shooting a hoop or ‘playing’ pool.

Apart from the insipid looks and predictable, unsatisfying gameplay Gearbox even managed to alienate me from my former hero Duke. In the three earlier Duke games I played he was self-assured, didn’t speak a lot and made the odd chuckle-inducing wisecrack, but to be honest at times now he just comes across as a loudmouthed A-hole, surrounded by a sycophantic public who are forever in his gratitude as saviour of the human race. You get the feeling that if the aliens had kidnapped men instead of all the human babes he’d have stayed in his hotel suite and played on his awful pool table and shagged his fugly twins until the inevitable sequel came out instead. Duke doesn’t come across as a wise-cracking hero, more as a semi-competent, extremely rude twat who’s overcompensating for something with big talk and even bigger guns.

I’m sure that many will love Duke’s “sexy”and “adult” content, but without wanting to sound like an old fart or Daily Mail reader I found it sleazy and inane, misogynistic even, and I’m a huge fan of the GTA series and all that goes with it. The fact is that, without being prissy, on a couple of occasions Duke's treatment of various "Babes" was deeply uncool, and that's unforgiveable. DNF’s 18 certificate is earned mostly by comic book gore, chunks of body parts, schoolboy humour and sexual innuendo, like it was designed by a team of 13 year-olds. Pissing, throwing poo, steroid and beer abuse, microwaving rats, topless “babes,” porno mags with cum stains on? It’s not exactly worthy of its ‘adults only’ rating, let’s face it, a 12 or 15 would have done fine-it’s clearly the target market the game was (twitchily) aimed at.

Once you've tired of the story campaign (and I don't imagine that will take long) you may want to try the multiplayer game out. The usual modes feature, but sadly it's a jerky ‘twitch & shoot’ experience over 7 maps based on locations from the solo game. The game only supports a maximum of 8 players and the highpoints are probably playing on the “Duke Burger” map, as running around as teeny Duke in an oversized kitchen is the thing that entertaining nightmares are made of. There's an amusing twist on Capture the Flag with Capture the Babe (you sling her over your shoulder and leg it to your capture pad) was also a brief diversion. But even “a flag with boobs” can’t save it from feeling old and clunky and there don’t seem to be any voice comms in-game so if you want to co-operate successfully with a teammate you’ll have to invite them to a party or voice chat, which is a bit crap. You can customise your game to add several different “mutators” (infinite ammo, punching only, heavy weapons only etc.), there are online challenges and your stats are tracked (if you’re in to that sort of thing.) Everyone running around playing as Duke seems daft, I mean couldn’t we have picked to play as Pig Cops or lizard captains or something? The fact is that if there’s anyone playing DNF multiplayer in six months time I’d be amazed, and I wouldn’t want to meet them either—they're probably weirdos that play the game sat in a darkened room surrounded by their collection of Duke action figures and have Duke tattoos.

Okay, so here’s some good news; while DNF’s campaign didn’t last me forever, it does go on a lot longer than most FPS of late (or at least it seems that way.) Most seem to think it’s 8-12 hours depending on how much you look around, and the game has plenty of pickups and collectibles, and it has to be said, plenty of loading time too. I suppose I had some fun along the way, but that was inbetween the glitches, the gripes, the gasps of horror and the general malaise that the tired gameplay, hackneyed level design and too-frequent platform sections left me in. Oh yes, and the waits for it to reload the last checkpoint, which will be something like 35-40 seconds every time you die, and on the normal "Lets Rock" setting I reckon I died more than in Crysis 2, Homefront, Op. Flashpoint Red River and Sniper: Ghost Warrior put together. DNF is one of those games that seems to take great pleasure in summarily killing you here and there just so you have to replay a section again and learn the almost unfailingly repeated attack pattern of the enemy in order to progress.

So you've probably gathered by now that the AI and the gameplay feels old, but here’s an odd thing; included in the game’s “extras” are Forever trailers from 2001 onwards. Was this a good idea? NO. Frankly some of the earlier versions and level designs looked more interesting than what we ended up with (particularly the 2001 E3 trailer that caused such a stir at the time.) And here’s another thing: if you’re gonna make ‘Babes’ such a big part of the game, how about supplying some attractive, well-animated ones that actually look sexy and move like real women? Some of the babes in DNF walk like old men with hip problems, not nubile girlies worthy of my, or more importantly Duke’s, lust. Distressing fact: the girl from the 2001 trailer looked more lifelike than the two uggo ‘Paris Hilton’ twins that we’re supposed to be attracted to at the start of DNF (see screenshot below, centre).

So is it worth playing? Well yes, if only for reasons of morbid curiosity about one of the most drawn-out disappointments in gaming history (unless of course you live for old-school, jerky, tacky, derivative shooters, or your name is Luke Nukem or something, in which case you’ll be in hog heaven.) The fact is that various developers (3D Realms, Triptych Games, Piranha Games, Tom, Dick & Harry Interactive etc.) and the protracted development time, lawsuits and God knows what else probably rendered Gearbox and 2K Games with an impossible task, and whilst trying to be overly respectful to all involved they lost the plot, and forgot to "hail to the king" himself, and supply Duke with a great game.

What about the game Duke, was it any good?”
Yeah, but after 12 f*cking years it should be
But Duke mate, it wasn’t so don’t kid yourself. Ah well... here’s looking forward to 2026.

Best Bits

- Well, Duke is back.
- Decent length campaign.
Worst Bits

- 12 years in development, and sadly maybe Duke should have stayed there...
...instead of earning a place on the naughty step with Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness and Gran Turismo 5.
- Twitchy aiming.
- Clichéd gameplay and level design.
- Having non-sexy babes is a crime.

by: Diddly

Copyright © Gamecell 2011