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Duke Nukem Forever Review

Date: June 15, 2011
Author(s): Rob Williams

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.

Continued; Final Thoughts

The number of references made to 3D in DNF are countless. You’ll meet a kid wearing a Duke Nukem 3D t-shirt for starters, and even explore through some of the same areas as the previous game, like Duke Burger. For me, some of the desert areas even felt familiar.

Topping it all off, a multiplayer level is included that mirrors the Hollywood level in the same game, though rather than us seeing a high-def version of the original, we instead see the result of the level suffering fifteen or so years of neglect (screenshot is on the next page).

“Oh yeah! I’m bringing sexy back.”

DNF shares a lot of the same flavor as DN3D. Duke is still full of himself, and chicks remain a major focus. You’ll hear quips out of Duke often throughout the game, much moreso than the original. This for the most part is a downside, because you’ll hear him often repeat the same line, even when it doesn’t fit with the situation. One example would be when I took down a mini Octabrain with a shotgun, to which Duke said, “Right in the Jewels.” – a line meant for another specific event in the game.

Duke 3D, at the time, set the bar for sex in video games. Porn posters could be found all over, and even the odd TV would show some frames of some faux movie. A strip club was even a level, replete with the ability to hand a stripper some cash and get a quick glimpse of low-res nipple.

I’m not opposed to such things in video games, but Forever takes things to a level that shouldn’t exist for a game like this. The game kicks off with Duke getting his mini Duke taken care of by two girls, the “Holsom Twins” (get it?), and little did I know that was just the beginning. Any and every woman you’ll walk by will profess what she’d love to do to you, and you’ll never go long without seeing a breast.

To be fair, this is what Duke is all about, and DN3D was not much different. Things just seem to be taken to a much higher level here, which could be more noticeable due to the much-improved graphics. However, there are still some areas where sexual references or graphic images are forced in. There’s a boss, for example, that has three breasts, and throughout underground alien hives, you’ll see growths extruding from the wall that happen to be, you guessed it, three breasts. It just seems random, and too immature. Yes, I said that about a Duke Nukem game.

DN3D wasn’t void of risque subject matter or language, but again, DNF comes off as being a game that tries too hard to be cool. You’ll hear the “F” word at least one hundred times throughout the game – likely more – and quotes from Duke himself and others are sometimes cringe-worthy, and come off too forced. DN3D didn’t push the bar quite this far. I guess you could consider all of this an advantage if you’re looking to desensitize yourself to vulgarity. By the end of the game the swearing and sex references weren’t even apparent anymore.

“My job is to kick ass, not make small talk.”

Also controversial with Forever are the dialogue cutscenes and non-important gameplay elements. A few chapters in, Duke will find himself at a strip-joint, and the entire goal is to get required items to get a lapdance. Yes, it’s quite that ridiculous. I’ll be honest in saying that this kind of thing doesn’t bother me, as I sometimes appreciate the ‘break’ from hectic gameplay. I can wholly understand why people despise nonsense like this, but there’s a huge difference between a Call of Duty and a Duke Nukem game. This kind of thing isn’t exactly unexpected. Needless parts like these should have been made skippable, however.

Another element that I enjoyed that others may not is being shrunk down to the size of a rat and made to complete some missions. There’s just something about seeing regular objects the size of houses that I like, but I’ll be the first to admit that most of the parts in the game that have you shrunk down don’t need you to be shrunken down. At the same time, being able to explore and traverse a Duke Burger kitchen where the burger is larger than you are… helps keep things interesting.

The audio in the game is decent, with nothing standing out too much. Duke’s quips and the music are the best aspects of the game, with both suiting the mood most of the time quite well. If the lameness was toned down in most of the character lines, they could be a lot more enjoyable to listen to.

To me, the biggest downside in Forever is the level of graphical detail. No, graphics don’t equal gameplay, and nothing changes here. However, for a $50 game released in 2011, almost all of the objects, characters and terrain in the game leave a lot to be desired. The worst though, is a wierd focus that the camera has, where most of what you see around the center of your screen is a little fuzzy, until you look straight at something. You can see what I mean with this screenshot. This technique serves next-to-no purpose as far as I’m concerned, and is far more detrimental to the entire experience than beneficial.

The single-player campaign took me about 8 hours to clear through, so despite taking more than a decade to get here, DNF is not a long game. For those that do enjoy the game, there is a lot of replayability, especially given some of the achievements that are available, and mini-games to be found. There are also “Ego Boosts” to be discovered as well, for a total of 100 across all levels, that will give a boost to Duke’s overall health bar. The game might be linear in design, but I still only managed to find about half before the game’s ending.

“I guess pigs DO fly!”

As both a big Duke fan and someone who doesn’t demand the highest quality production value out of a game, I enjoyed Duke Nukem Forever a lot, and I do mean that. In fact, once I completed the first run-through, I immediately felt like going back to explore certain areas again and start the game over on a harder difficulty. The game is far from perfect, and it’s not even a quarter of the game that Duke Nukem 3D was, but it did enough to appease this Duke fan.

That might sound rather positive compared to all of the other reviews out there, but let’s be real. It seems to me that others are being overly harsh for the fun of it, and perhaps the fact that the game took so long to get here doesn’t help. But 30% scores? That’s about as unrealistic as Duke himself. Are people knocking off 40% in one fell swoop just because of Duke’s poor humor (or rather, the developer’s poor humor)?

If I had to award the game a score, I’d give it about a 6.5 or 7/10, which to me is “decent”. Though I enjoyed the game, there’s still a lot wrong with it, such as the overly crude humor, super-linear levels and other things mentioned throughout this review. But for me, the gameplay mostly made up for the game’s downsides, and I do believe that those who jump into the game with an open mind and a bit of patience can indeed enjoy it.

Still not sure? Download the demo. Or if that isn’t an ideal solution, check out the DNF forums at Steam to read what actual players have to say, not reviewers who weren’t suited for the game to begin with.

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