Wednesday, June 22, 2011

REVIEW - Duke Nukem Forever.

Duke Nukem Forever is not a complete mess - though folks could be forgiven for thinking it is, when compared to any game that's been released in the past five years.

Chances are, if you've been a gamer for the better part of a decade, you've already purchased or rented and played Forever. If you're new to the scene and would like to know if it's worth your time without the required nostalgia, the answer is no.

If you want a fun, well-designed game with potty humor, go play Bulletstorm. If you want a technically remarkable first-person experience, go play Killzone 3, and if you want a beautiful FPS with a compelling narrative and rich gameplay go play a BioShock title.

If you want to play a game replete with ancient or otherwise unfortunate design, a total lack of consistency, bad graphics, epic load times, thoughtless pacing, wisecracking, pop-culture-referencing jokes and big bare boobs designed around a completely male-targeting fantasy of blowing away alien scum while airhead babes throw themselves at you, you should definitely play Duke Nukem Forever.

Duke Nukem 3D was a truly seminal work, back in 1996. It featured huge, labyrinthian levels which truly rewarded exploration and experimentation and an unprecedented degree of interaction with the game world. It was, honestly, a thrill to be able to hit a light switch and have the room darken back then - stuff we take for granted, nowadays - but when you think of Duke, that's never the first thing you remember.

Duke Nukem Forever remembers the strippers and the gaming in-jokes - and for the first half of the game there's a great deal of little interactions with the environment - but it's clearly forgotten the rest. It seems age has taken from Duke his ability to recall big, gorgeous levels that demand you to seek out every nook and cranny. He's forgotten how to invent cool new weaponry (every weapon in DNF is from DN3D), and - criminally - he's forgotten how to be a satisfying, well-designed game.

The pacing is just awful. You move from one slapdash, poorly-realized set piece to the next. I was never precisely having a great deal of fun with Forever, but for its first half it at least did a good job of distracting me from the core issues of its gameplay with constant switch-ups. Now I'm shrunk. Now I'm driving while shrunk. Now I'm manning a turret. Now I'm driving again.

Once Forever stops running you through a bunch of locales designed to impress on us how important and cool Duke is - his Casino (The Lady Killer), his football stadium (The Duke Dome), his strip joint (Duke Nukem's Titty City) - the game clearly runs out of creative steam and you find yourself playing just another bland corridor shooter. The casino and stadium aren't particularly great, I suppose - but they're much, much better than what comes after.

I could probably be a lot kinder to Duke if I didn't feel the core gameplay was so flawed. Back in the day, you had enemies with simple seek-and-destroy AI and a health pool which could only be recovered by finding health items.

Somewhere during its decade-plus gestation, the developers decided to pull the regenerating health and two-weapon-only limitation from Halo - which would have been fine if they had made their artificial intelligence similarly up-to-date. They didn't. What we've got are a bunch of brainless but vicious enemies which (on normal difficulty) do massive damage. You'll spend a great deal of time in Forever cowering behind cover - an ironic pastime for a guy who passes on Master Chief's helmet because "power armor is for pussies."

Occasionally - during certain shootouts, with a certain loadout - I found myself directly reminded of the feel Duke Nukem 3D provided all those years ago. This is a very good thing, but it was also such a rare sensation that those slim moments of pure pleasure are completely overshadowed by the boredom of sitting behind a wall waiting for my health to tic up, the righteous fury of the many cheap deaths the game inflicts on you and switching the input on my TV to an old Cate Blanchett movie to subsequently sidestep the game's epic-length load times.

It's supernatural that a game which is so bad-looking takes such an eternity to load - even after installing almost five gigabytes.

"Take your tentacles back to Japan, you freak"? C'mon - that's pretty funny!

The best thing I can say about Duke Nukem Forever is that its writing often put a smile on my face. Others may list it among Duke's flaws, but I found his regular, self-important, pop-and-video-game-culture-referencing quips quite entertaining. Sure, it's a bit limp when he rips on other big names in the shooter genre like Halo or Gears - given that those games are actually pretty darn good - but more often than not I found myself laughing with Duke's jokes instead of at them.

I cannot, in good conscience, suggest you pay money for Duke Nukem Forever. It really sucks. I can't remember the last time I ran through a game for review purposes that so felt like work instead of play. Oh, yes I do - it was a movie tie-in game in 2009.

If nothing else, Forever reminds us how lucky we are to have all the fantastic games available nowadays. It points out that balanced, fun gameplay, good pacing, well-designed levels and a degree of technical proficiency doesn't just get yanked from a hat.

I'm not sure we should blame Gearbox Software for this. I get the impression they just dug the parts of the game out of 3D Realms' graveyard, sewed them all together - whether they worked or not - and passed an electric current through the game's monstrous corpse to subsequently cry "let there be life!"

We were all begging for it - so, fine. After fifteen years, Duke lives - and word is, this isn't the last we'll see from him.

Good, says I. There's absolutely room in the genre for a game that's totally unwilling to take itself seriously - in fact, it would be the refreshing polar opposite of almost every other major FPS release.

I'd love to play a wonderfully-playing, well-designed and technically proficient Duke Nukem game. There's a lot of fun still to have with this franchise, I'd wager - there's just not much to be had with this game.

-so sue me, but Duke is (mostly) funny and unapologetically so
-it's a fantasy of alien ass-kickery and machismo
-occasionally recalls the gameplay of classic Duke
-I loved the irony of the kiss of life Duke receives at the end of the game

-ugly as sin
-a technical train wreck
-epic load times
-it's quite regular for your deaths to feel very cheap
-most weapons feel pretty useless, and there aren't any new ones
-the two-weapon system really flies in the face of Duke's attitude
-the recharging health system really flies in the face of Duke's attitude
-it would be generous to suggest this game even had pacing
-you can beat the final boss by circle-strafing
-feels more like work than play



  1. I feel pretty much the same way, I don't feel gipped in anyway, since I did enjoy myself on some weird level.

    But overall, its a mess.

  2. I counter your review with my review. It is a mess; the worst kind: one that's not much fun to play.

  3. You've got a blog? How long has this been goin' on for?

    I'm just leavin' for work but... (scans it)... wow we really hit a lot of the same points. Fast track kudos all 'round.

  4. Yeah, less news, more me playing lots of terrible games and the occasional review.

  5. Annnd Followed. Looks good, man.

  6. My fondest memories of DN3D aren't of the strippers or potty humor. My favorite part was that, unlike every other FPS from back in the day, you weren't running down some bland corridor; you were out in a real city! The fact that one of those locations was a strip joint was just icing on the cake.

    In all honesty, I think Bulletstorm has stolen Duke's alien-shootin', wise-crackin' crown, but my dislike for FPS's is well know around these parts, so it's not like I've got a dog in this race.