Duke Nukem Forever Review

by Rob Williams on June 15, 2011 in Gaming

After more than a decade, the king is back. Duke Nukem has been living the dream of being a worldwide icon since finishing off the Cycloid Emperor long ago – but the aliens have returned. Duke once again has to save both himself and the world by any means necessary. Does this adventure manage to live up to the last?


Duke Nukem Forever may not become one of the best games of 2011, and for a lot of people, it’s a title that’ll be shunned. But at the same time, there’s little doubt that DNF will remembered as the most interesting game of 2011, for reasons that would take an entire article in itself to explain.

We could bring up the fact that the game took 14 years to see a release, but that’s been poked to death. More interesting would be the fact that the last “main” series game, Duke Nukem 3D, was DOS-based. That’s right… in the time between DN3D and DNF’s respective launches, we’ve seen the release of five Microsoft Windows releases. Talk about a step-up!

Duke’s original titles, Duke Nukem 1, 2 and 3D, were all well-received, with the latter having become a cult classic not long after its launch. Since 3D, we’ve seen off-shoot titles released both to the consoles and the PC, but most of those proved to be suited only for hardcore Duke fans rather than the general masses.

“Hail to the king, baby!”

So here we are. Duke Nukem Forever, since its original announcement, has gone through multiple game engine changes, multiple developers, and has the impossible task of living up to the kind of hype that can only be built up over the course of 12 years. Does it even come close?

As a bit of a warning, I’ve been a Duke fan since the original 1991 DOS game, and have cleared through all of the non-mobile games. In particular, I’ve finished Duke Nukem 3D at least seven times, and consider it to be one of the best games ever released. This being the case, I might see some things a little different than those who couldn’t care less about the series or character, so please bear that in mind.

Forever takes place 17 years after the events of Duke Nukem 3D, and aside from an alien invasion, Duke is living an almost indescribable high-life. He’s the “king” in the truest sense of the word, with women falling for him at every turn, and his name being attached to, well,everything. Hotels, strip joints, arcade games, burger joints and even canned goods, just to name a few.

The fact that the world is engulfed in this Dukeism might be one of the biggest factors that will turn people off of the game. It can even be a little overwhelming for an ardent Duke fan, but thinking back, Duke Nukem 3D wasn’t too different. Where DNF improves on things is that more objects in the world are made interactive, including throwbacks to DN3D. One example is the pinball machine seen in the Hollywood level of 3D; when accessed, Duke mentions, “Hmm, I don’t have time to play with myself.” In DNF, he does have time, and the pinball machine is fully playable.

While the most complex mechanic in Duke Nukem 3D was the jetpack, Forever makes sure you’re off your feet often, by putting you in either in a gunner seat or vehicle about once per hour of gameplay. For those craving the older Duke style of gameplay, this can be a little off-putting. Those who don’t mind the occasional changing up of things should welcome it.

A lot has changed in the FPS game since 1996, and for fans of Duke 3D, there have been some unfortunate removals. Gone are the days when a level would need to be completely explored to solve a puzzle or pick up a keycard. That has been replaced with a far more linear design, on par to some degree with Call of Duty and definitely with the most recent Medal of Honor game.

“Keycard? I don’t need no effing keycard.”

Also gone is the ability to retain every-single weapon at once. Instead, DNF has adopted the popular limit of two, with trip mines and pipe bombs not counting towards that. In some cases, the two weapons chosen might make the task at hand a bit easier, and if there’s one thing that becomes obvious quick, it’s that if you stumble on more than one RPG in a short amount of time, it’s probably best to equip it.

In addition to the trip mines and pipe bombs, Holoduke and steroids have also made their return. This time around, Holoduke does more than just stand around and look good – it’ll help fight. It won’t last long, but on the higher difficulty levels, it could prove imperative to success in certain situations. Steroids, in addition to making Duke run a lot faster, enables him to melee with his fists, and most enemies will die in one shot while pumped up.

The entirety of the game takes place in Las Vegas and other locales around Nevada, with Duke starting out in his penthouse at the Fellatio hotel (a mock of Bellagio). Through his travels, he spends a lot of time above ground, but spends a fair amount of time up in the air, and also underground. The aliens have not only invaded, but infested, and you’re constantly reminded of this through the game, with living matter clinging to the walls and floors of most areas.

When not on foot, Duke will be planted inside of a vehicle. It could be a truck, a forklift, an RC racer or something else, but most of them drive the same. Being that Gearbox took over the game’s development, I had hoped that controlling the vehicles would be similar to that of Borderlands, where the mouse controls the direction, but not so. Here, the WASD do both the steering and acceleration, and when available, the right mouse button applies a boost.

There are multiple occasions throughout the game where you’ll control Duke in a gunner seat or manning a machine gun. These battles tend to be some of the more difficult in the game, due to the guns being able to overheat. Some strategy is required in many cases, and what seems like pure luck in others.

While not perfect, the overall control and aiming of the mouse is good. You don’t need ultimate precision to succeed, especially when equipped with a forgiving weapon like the rail gun or ripper. Oddly, I found the RPG to be the most difficult weapon to use. Even when “locked on” to a target it seemed I’d never get the hit.

Overall, I don’t have major complaints with regards to the control, though veteran PC FPS gamers are not going to be calling it perfect. This is no Battlefield.

Rob Williams

Rob founded Techgage in 2005 to be an 'Advocate of the consumer', focusing on fair reviews and keeping people apprised of news in the tech world. Catering to both enthusiasts and businesses alike; from desktop gaming to professional workstations, and all the supporting software.

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