The more things change...the more they stay painfully the same.
Duke Nukem Forever is a special case. I feel that it would be prudent for us to dictate our terms before we get too far into things. You see, if you long for the old relics of gaming and you'd instantly pass up tighter controls and pretty graphics for a dose of nostalgia, then I'm not sure you even need a review for Duke Nukem Forever. You know exactly what you're getting, and if you've been waiting for 13 years since it was first announced, does it matter if it's good or not? Is that the point?
But for the rest of you: We aren't just trying to give you our personal feelings on games, we're trying to give you impressions and information that will help you when it comes time to spend your cash. A $60 game comes with certain expectations, some that perhaps you'd make a concession for if it were a $10 or $15 game. You see, we don't believe you can judge quality on cost, but we know it's a factor when going out to buy a game. What isn't a factor is development time, because most of you don't care. We don't review games based on their crazy history from start to finish, no matter how intriguing the story. We look at the quality of a game, then compare and contrast with our knowledge of games both past and present.
Decide what your investment in Duke Nukem Forever is and judge accordingly...
First-Person Piecemeal Shooter
If for some reason you don't know who or what Duke Nukem Forever is, or you've been in a coma since 1995, allow me to explain. Duke Nukem is a bombastic action hero, first made popular in the early 90's, who went on to spawn the ultra popular Duke Nukem 3D. Following that massively successful title 3D Realms set out to develop Duke Nukem Forever. They've been trying ever since (or some variation of the term. It wasn't until a former 3D Realms employee, Randy Pitchford, and his team at Gearbox Software, stepped in that Duke Nukem Forever became real. But the result from all that time and effort, and the seemingly misguided refusal to cut some of it, is a game with little or no direction, pitifully sad humor and lifeless gameplay.
Duke's problems are many and immediately evident. You're funneled through long corridors of block-edged architecture with repetitive textures that are drab and poorly blended. More than anything, Forever is a game that actually suffers from being linear, a trait often thrown at games as a negative but one that is appropriately damning here. Duke Nukem became known for the freedom it gave players to explore the environment. Here, there's nothing to find. Puzzles feel derivative, unexciting and pointless. Duke mocks them, but since you still have to do them the jokes are more annoying than funny. Each time Duke isn't shooting something it's a balance between debauched filler and mind-numbing boredom.
Duke Nukem Forever trades short spurts of action with long dull sections of nothing. The trade off is, supposedly, is that the world is interactive, so players should find themselves captivated with extracurricular activities, like strippers and microwavable popcorn. But the reality is that once you move beyond the opening section of the game that interactivity isn't worth the drop in action. It can mildly entertaining to know that you can play pinball and shoot snooker, but too often these distractions just aren't fun. The catch is that they're all tied to your Ego, Duke's shield bar. But while playing air hockey to earn a bigger shield bar is easy enough, picking up a piece of shit, or slapping a set of alien breasts sets a tone the game never escapes from. Dragging you through multiple sexist, derogatory and childish moments so that you can access mechanics that help to progress through the game reeks of laziness and poor taste. And because Duke Nukem Forever falls so far out of the realm of parody, there's no excuse for any of this.
I'm All Outta Bubblegum
Maybe it's funny then that Duke isn't a total loss. Shooting can be arthritic at times, particularly on the console versions where Duke moves in slow, straight lines, but for the most part control over the action is competent. The mouse & keyboard are definitely the best choice if you have the option, as per usual. Regardless of how you play, there is no denying that the core game feels plucked right out of the old school. Some will love that the campaign is challenging in the way we remember games from 'back then'. Though, any older players looking to emulate their past should know that you have to make it through with regenerative health, a staple of franchises that Duke goes out of its way to make fun of. But for every explosive battle, of which there are a few, you have to wade through a half hour of doing nothing.
Whatever fun you can derive from the action is usually contained and short lived. With the exception of the shotgun, an all powerful whoop-ass for every situation, the guns are seemed rather meek and notably dated. This is most obvious during Forever's multiplayer, a classic throwback that feels exactly like you'd expect a game of this ear to feel. Combat is fast, frags come quick, and the start of matches always sees players make quick dashes to weapon points. This, more than any other area in the game, feels closest to Duke Nukem 3D in look and gameplay. If the PC community can muster even a fraction of the support for Forever that it gave 3D, then maps and mods could substantially prolong the viability of the multiplayer. Right now you get standard and team deathmatch modes as well as capture the babe and king of the hill. There's also a progressive leveling system tied to the online, but you won't be choosing perks. As you level up you're awarded the ability to unlock content in Duke's penthouse, a customizable virtual space filled with all things Duke.
At Least He's Still Buff
This is stating the obvious here, but Duke Nukem Forever looks rough. Really rough. I prescribe to the notion that audio and visual aspects in games generally only help to elevate an experience, not take away from one (glitches aside). While it's easy to understand the poor graphics, it's not easy to forgive the horrible load times that dog the console versions of the game. Between chapters and any time you die you're treated to a load screen that reaches well between a half minute and a full minute each time. For a game that doesn't even tickle the hardware, let alone push it, this is unacceptable. Making matters worse, the slapped together levels need their own loading, so you'll start a level and play through for only a few minutes before coming to another load screen just for the second part of the level - or the third and the fourth. It's one thing to accept sub-standard graphics, but to have to wait around for boring, ugly levels to load every few minutes is another thing entirely.
Duke Nukem Forever fails on almost every level imaginable; with the lone exception being made for anyone that wants multiplayer straight from 1995 (this does that). This isn't coming from a place of heightened expectations after over a decade of development. If anything, I was expecting something tediously average. What we get is a world that's unsurprising and unexciting, with not a single interesting component worth spending time on, which is far more disappointing than the last-gen graphics. The campaign is filled with mindless platform-puzzle sections, simplistic boss fights, and far too much downtime where you can't do anything BUT pointless, horrendously polished tasks.
This game wouldn't have held up ten years ago, and it isn't any more acceptable now just because it 'finally got released". Duke Nukem Forever is stuck between design philosophies, too scared to move on from its origin and unwilling to redefine what this franchise is about. But time doesn't stop for anything or anyone, and the plain simple truth is that gaming, and gamers, have moved well beyond the scope of the Duke Nukem Franchise. Even if you want to believe that this is an achievement in the face of such a troubled history, you're still left defending something that's childish, vulgar and border-line sickening, relying on rape jokes and plagiarism to build a facade of a video game. Any coroner will tell you that you can continue to poke and prod as long as you want, but all you'll glean from anything this foul smelling, this discolored, and this totally stiff - is the time of death.
Final Score: 45%
40-45% - "Sub Par" Someone lost the plot on this one. Likely a rush job, or simply a comedy of errors while in production, such little care is shown to the end product that even hardcore gamers can't justify buying it.