Game: Duke Nukem Forever
Developer: 3D Realms, Triptych Games, Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Duke Nukem Forever: it’s hard to believe that the game is actually here. Many of us suspected that we would never see this game. Perhaps that would have been for the best. It’s hard to imagine how it could possibly be good enough to make up for a 15 year development time, but however disappointing I thought it would be, I never expected it to be a catastrophic failure on quite this level. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Duke Nukem 3D was a revolutionary game. Compared to the earlier FPS games, the levels were open and interactive, the settings more varied and the satirical style of the game made a welcome change from the Doom and gloom of other games in the genre. It was a huge success and so it was only natural that a sequel should go into production almost immediately. This was in 1996. Since then gaming has come a long way. The Half-Life series has revolutionised the FPS genre, twice. Every single Bioware game has been released in the time it’s taken to make Duke Nukem Forever. That’s everything from Baldur’s Gate to Mass Effect 3 via Knights of the Old Republic and Dragon Age. Every one of the 274 Tomb Raider games plus their spin-offs have been released, a new one for every time technological advancements allowed for higher polygon counts to provide more rounded breast graphics. The Grand Theft Auto series has gone from top down driving to full 3D free roaming cities and Bethesda have made several of the biggest games ever. And it’s taken that long for this shoddy FPS to be thrown together. Remarkable.
The main core of the gameplay is that of a standard FPS, and it does this competently but unspectacularly. The basic controls work pretty much how they should do, but the sense of real motion you often get from modern first person games is missing. Firing the weapons works exactly as it should but lacks any feeling of power, the game too often reminiscent of a shooting gallery. There’s a decent array of weapons, but in a rare moment of deviation from the old style FPS, it imposes a modern style limit on the number of weapons you can carry at once. While this might work in Call of Duty, it doesn’t work in a game with weapons such as a shrink ray. Any wish to experiment with the more fun weapons is tempered by the need to carry the basic weapons that are going to get you through the bulk of the combat. Thankfully, there’s an expanded inventory option in the menu that can be turned on to allow four weapons at a time to be carried instead of two, which goes some way towards making up for the limitation, but it doesn’t really fit in with the classic style of the rest of the game. Of all the modern features to implement, there were many more important ones to choose from.
The long development time shows in all the worst possible ways, but not in terms of quality. The least important but most obvious sign of the delay is the fact that despite the game getting scrapped and restarted several times, the graphics are several years out of date. This would be excusable if the rest of the game made up for it, but as you will probably have worked out, it doesn’t. Aside from this, the biggest clue to the lengthy creation process is the schizophrenic nature of the level design. You can even work out the sort of era where each idea was added to the game. The opening level has a huge amount of activity in a nod towards the modern trend for more freedom in games, but it promptly vanishes for most of the rest of the game. Then, after a few levels of traditional FPS gaming, Duke emerges into an area full of shipping containers, which turns out to be a blatant attempt to copy Half-Life 2’s physics based puzzle solving. Of course, it fails due to the game having no advanced physics showing before this point and giving no clues that there is any now either, leaving you running around randomly until you discover the new physics engine that’s randomly turned up. An entire section involving driving around in a car and occasionally getting out for brief on foot sections to clear obstacles was also clearly added due to the success of the far superior segments from the Half-Life series.
This random mishmash of elements continues right through the game, though it does get progressively more boring as it goes along. Early in the game Duke suddenly gets shrunk and goes driving around in a remote control car, for no explained reason. Another time you get shrunk again for one of the most irritating FPS platforming sequences since the Xen homeworld. It’s like every idea that anyone had during development was thrown in with no regard to whether it made any sense at all. Most galling of all is a random level right in the middle of the game that has no relation to anything else in any way. The game excuses it by having Duke lose consciousness at the end of the previous level and regaining it at the start of the following one. The level is called Duke Nukem’s Titty City and involves wandering around a strip club full of topless women trying to find a dildo to give to one of the strippers so that she’ll give a private lap dance. You may need to read that line again for it to sink in just how ridiculous that is. You can gain bonus achievements in the club by going around playing air hockey and pinball and performing various other activities, none of which are relevant to the game in any way. Extra features are nice, but not when they’re forced into the game in such a stupid way.
That level also illustrates one of the more unpleasant aspects of the game, namely its appalling level of sexism. Now admittedly Duke Nukem 3D was never especially politically correct, but it was a parody of a certain type of misogynistic action hero. It wasn’t subtle, but it was clearly satirical in nature for the most part, though at times possibly going a bit too far. In Duke Nukem Forever, there’s no hint of any satire whatsoever. It doesn’t resemble any form of traditional action hero, it’s simply full of tasteless, crude and unfunny attempts at jokes. It goes beyond the level of strip clubs and women throwing themselves at Duke too. When the game gets to the alien levels, it becomes genuinely repulsive. These areas contain giant breasts and a loading screen says “You can slap our wall boobs since most girls don’t like it when you slap theirs.” Duke walks around locations surrounded by the screams of tortured women and makes jokes about them. At one point here he meets up with two twins of his acquaintance and finds they have been raped and forcibly impregnated by aliens, and all they care about is promising to lose the weight again so they can look good for Duke. Seconds before they die a horrible death. And that's not even considering the multiplayer, where instead of a capture the flag mode they have Capture the Babe, where you kidnap a woman from the enemy teams base and carry her off, spanking her if she puts her hands in front of your eyes. I don't even think that's worthy of any more review space. DNFs repugnant attitude towards women makes Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude seem almost respectful.
Hmm…the entire Thief series, the entire Metal Gear Solid series, the entire Splinter Cell series, in fact the whole modern stealth genre was created while this game was in development.
There’s an immaturity running throughout Duke Nukem Forever that surpasses anything Duke Nukem 3D contained and which is far less excusable for the time it has been released. There’s no intelligence behind any of the “jokes” the game bores us with. The game occasionally attempts to join the present state of gaming, such as in the interactive opening area, but it’s thwarted by the fact that the interaction involves things such as pissing into a urinal or picking excrement out of the toilet and throwing it at walls. It’s hardly high art. Duke Nukem Forever is a below average shooter, and would barely have made average even if it had been released ten years earlier. But from that low starting point, it’s dragged down even further by its garbled design, its poor implementation of all the elements it has ripped off from other games and its puerile sense of humour. Speaking of which, given the games obsession with toilet humour, I feel justified in saying in an uncharacteristically blunt manner: Duke Nukem Forever is shit.
Everything this game should have been was achieved much better by the Serious Sam games years earlier. That series was created during the time DNF was in development you know? And so was the entire Fallout series. And so was the Medal of Honor series. And so was the Call of Duty series. And so was the Silent Hill series. And the Starcraft games. And…
Save System Review: Checkpoints, mostly not too badly spaced but occasionally had to repeat chunks of game that were a little too long. Not too bad, but not ideal.
Graphics: Passable but very dated by the time the game was out. The textures aren’t very detailed and the character models are quite low quality.
Sound: Sound effects are about average. Voices aren’t too bad, it’s what they’re saying that’s the problem.
Bugs: Nothing much specific that I encountered, just a general aura of shoddy workmanship.
Gameplay: Generic FPS gameplay with occasional inexplicable detours. Playable but unspectacular.
Storyline: Story isn’t an important part to a Duke game, with a basic alien invasion plot covering it. The awful sexist connotations and toilet humour pervade the game though.
Arbitrary Final Score:
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