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Review: Duke Nukem Forever

I have played and completed Duke Nukem Forever. Right now the me of ten years ago is gushing with questions, in particular “how good is it?” The simple answer is “not as good as Duke Nukem 3D was”. For more than that, read on.  So, am I going to take 13 plus years of development into account? Nope, absolutely not. I’m going to judge DNF as a game that I’m reviewing, just like any other. So consequently I can say without any irony at all that it could’ve done with more development time

It feels like a game rushed into existence, and while there is love here for the world of Duke there are plenty of technical issues that just shouldn’t exist. The most notable of these on Xbox 360 is loading times. More than 30 seconds per level transition is bad enough, but the same amount of time every time you die is utterly unacceptable. Combined with the occasionally really poor checkpointing, DNF creates a lot of frustration where there really shouldn’t be any.
Furthermore it’s missing a good strong polish, with plenty of glitches, jagged lines or texture drops. Duke Nukem Forever also awkwardly straddles two divides: old and new, PC and console. This wouldn’t necessarily be such a big problem if (what developer do I say? 3D Realms? Gearbox? Triptych?) the guys who made it could’ve made up their minds on what to go for.
The consequences of this indecision (which of course is the reason the game took so long in the first place) affect the entire game. Duke can only carry two weapons now as per console convention, but the weapon set was never designed for that and this means you’ll have to give up some of the more entertaining guns for something more common. The great Freeze Ray only turns up at the end of the game, and as soon as you find out it doesn’t work on the flying Octabrains you’ll have to ditch it for a shotgun or something. I don’t want to throw away the Freeze Ray!
On PC there’s chunky buttons and the two weapons thing, but on console there’s the aforementioned atrocious loading times, poor aim assist and the stupid whiteboards. The schizophrenic design extends to the levels, which often feel thrown together haphazardly and lack the flow of better FPSs of this type like Half-Life 2 and Metro 2033. The underwater level near the end of the game can be a real exercise in frustration for example.
There’s nothing wrong with being an old-school FPS, but the joy of Duke Nukem 3D was in exploration and that’s significantly lessened by making it linear. The closest gaming comparison is Half-Life, which means no cutscenes and it being all live in first-person (barring the vehicle sections). This is great, but if you’re not a fan of having puzzles in FPSs you should stay away. There are several levels without any combat at all. I love this, but the COD converts will hate it.
The worst thing about this meshing of old and new is that in some ways it fails to go anywhere that Duke Nukem 3D didn’t already cover, and not as well in places. The aliens are all the same, the “story” is the same, Duke doesn’t actually save any women, and the opening boss fight against the Cycloid Emperor is much more fun than the final battle. A football stadium showdown wins any day.

This is beginning to sound like I disliked the game. I didn’t, although undoubtedly many will. The sheer variety in levels and set-pieces alone is superior to 90% of the FPSs out there, and there are some real surprises along the way (I personally love it whenever Duke gets shrunk and does his trademark quips in a squeaky voice). One minute you’re blowing up aliens on top of a skyscraper, next you’re the size of a mouse traversing a Duke Burger kitchen, then you’re speeding down a highway dodging exploding barrels thrown by pigs on the back of trucks, then you’re microwaving a rat just to see if you can (and you can).

The weapon set may seem a bit limited but much like the first Halo they all have character. The Shrink Ray and Freezer are lots of fun, but shooting a pigcop’s leg with the trusty shotgun and watching it fly off is equally great. The same goes for the enemies. DNF takes a Doom 3 approach here, almost entirely using the original iconic monsters, slowly introducing them throughout the game, with the biggest ones saved for boss encounters.
I hate talking about aesthetics in reviews unless they’re really good or bad, but certainly don’t expect Duke Forever to look like a 2011 game. An early Xbox 360 game for sure, and on consoles at least there’s a number of graphical problems, such as higher-res textures not loading. The alien mothership you can see in the screenshots doesn’t look anywhere as nice on 360, so a scene that’s meant to be exciting just earns a ‘meh’.
Getting to sound, Jon St John’s as good as ever as Duke, and while the women are obviously over-sexualised bimbos all the men are idiots, so there’s clearly balance here. Much like DeathSpank the game’s amusing even if it doesn’t always raise laughter, but there are some genuinely funny moments along the way too. There aren’t enough light-hearted ridiculous FPSs these days, and to see Duke, Bulletstorm and Serious Sam 3 all in the same year warms my heart. Getting back to sound though, the music is utterly forgettable – unless it’s been taken from Duke 3D or a snippet of ‘Ride of the Valkyries’.
I talked about multiplayer a few weeks ago so I won’t mention it too much, however I will reiterate that it’s a lot of fun even if doesn’t have the longevity of Call of Duty or Halo. Simple modes like Capture The Flag/Babe are kept fresh with unique weapons, mutators and excellent power-ups like Holoduke and Jetpacks. I can’t stand competitive multiplayer usually, but couldn’t help enjoying myself here.
I can live with a lot of problems, but the biggest stain comes with disappointment (which is hell to shift). Duke 3D was most acclaimed for having recognisable environments, like cinemas, restaurants, supermarkets, and even a Disneyland parody. I was looking forward to something similar, but Duke Forever has a casino, a skyscraper, and the Hoover Dam. The only relatable places are Duke Burger and, er, a strip club. Consequently the game’s not as memorable as 3D and not as good. Also, despite being in the latest trailer, there’s no jetpack in single-player. Eh?
Duke Nukem Forever will not be winning any awards come year’s end, unless they’re ironic. I expect to see many reviewers really slam the game, due to the dated graphics, unnecessary frustration, occasionally schizophrenic design and having waited over a decade for just another fun FPS. There are lots of things Duke does right however, like ridiculous levels of interactivity, variety in level design and for entertaining me personally all the way through.
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1 comment:

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