The Nukem Menace
Duke Nukem Forever is a game that has a sense of humor. Yet it’s a bit like that comedian who tells a really good joke at the beginning of the show but just won’t let it go. After a while, the joke gets stale, and you’re left checking your watch and wondering when it’s going to end. Duke Nukem Forever takes one of the most beloved icons of the nineties and turns him into a walking stereotype stuck in a half-formed world with only a few one-liners to get him through the alien invasion.
The game’s setup is simple: Duke Nukem is still awesome after 13 years—a bona fide superstar. He’s got his own casino, superdome, and even a Broadway musical. Needless to say, it’s good to be the Duke. But when aliens come back to exact their revenge on him for crushing them over a decade prior, he has to once again take up his trusty shotgun and defeat the alien menace.
The game’s story never really evolves past the “Aliens are bad! Chicks are hot!” trope, which, by itself, wouldn’t be that bad if Forever wasn’t so repetitive. Even as the scenery changes, Duke’s lines and attitude remain the same. Again, some of this can be chalked up to the Duke Nukem formula, but even in a game that is so clearly based on satire, the game quickly becomes a parody of itself and most of the humor falls flat as a result. In fact, some of the humor comes across as downright disturbing, as the alien plot goes to some dark places that even the scariest torture-porn horror flick doesn’t dare go. I’m not sure if the developers thought putting these scenes in the game would make it more “edgy,” but the effect comes off as callous and tasteless. And not in a “Oh, that’s just Duke” kind of way; it’s more of an “I need to go take a shower in boiling water” kind of way.
But as much as the tired humor grates on the nerves, I would say the biggest problem with Duke Nukem forever is a lack of atmosphere. The game is strictly linear, and all of the environments—from the Lady Killer Casino to the Duke-dome—look very simplistic and suffer from a lack of detail. I would expect the world of Duke Nukem to be over-the-top and feature a ridiculous amount of girls, violence, and aliens. However, the game only has two girls for you to interact with on a regular basis (and they’re twins, to boot), three different kinds of non-boss aliens, and even the different areas feature the same generic destruction elements. As you move through the game, killing aliens and blowing them up with explosives, the Duke’s one-liners never change. This represents such a missed opportunity, because there is so much potential for comedy within each individual zone. But when you hear Duke say “Let God sort ’em out” for the 500th time after four hours of gameplay, it loses its impact.
At the end of the day though, Duke is still Duke. But even if you don’t think you’ll ever get tired of killing the same old aliens in the same old locations, I still have to further caution you against purchasing this game. Unfortunately, the game’s 13-year development cycle has not been kind to it, and the gameplay is very antiquated. Much of the game just feels like it’s just going through the motions, and levels are simply made up of checkpoints and boss battles. Though firefights have their exciting moments, if you are looking for something other than just shooting at the same old enemies, you’ll be disappointed.
The shooting is broken up by several puzzle sequences, but these also feel very old, and most can be solved by finding out-of-place items. For instance, an early puzzle has you searching for a power cell that you need to complete a central power core. In order to find it, you have to look for the out-of-place RC car you can use to drive it out of a locked room. Another puzzle area requires you to roll a luggage carrier next to some plants so you can reach a button. Because there are so few items in the environment anyway, puzzles are not very difficult. As long as you’ve got a pretty good eye, you won’t find any brain-bending challenges in Duke Nukem Forever.
The gameplay is not satisfying on a creative level, and unfortunately the same holds true on a technical level. The visuals look like they’ve gone through a decent amount of revision since 1999, but the game still comes off as looking like a relic from the PlayStation 2 era. Awkward animations, repetitive textures, and jagged lines—the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Wii’s early days—permeate the visual landscape. The game also suffers frequent texture glitches, which don’t break the game but are still agitating. The sound design is in a similar rut: the sound effects often drown out the dialog, which creates a pretty awful sound scheme. Not that you’ll really miss the same old dialog rehashed for the billionth time. But still, they could have at least made an effort here.
Unfortunately, the lack of effort carries over to its lackluster multiplayer offerings. There are three basic modes to play through: deathmatch, team deathmatch, and a Duke-esque capture-the-flag mode known as “capture the babe.” The multiplayer modes feel absolutely tacked-on at the last minute, and I doubt there will be a lot of people playing online for very long. When games like Uno have a shooter bested in multiplayer offerings, you know that there’s a problem.
Duke Nukem Forever should have been awesome. It’s uncanny how many fans the Duke has out there, and it’s no lie that the original Duke Nukem 3D was revolutionary in its own time. However, Duke Nukem Forever is a forgettable relic of a game that suffers from having no new ideas, repetitive gameplay, and ridiculously poor production. When Gearbox software took over development last year, I was hopeful that they would take the ideas that 3D Realms had and bring them in to a new era. However, what has happened here is that they took the product that they had, gave it a minimal amount of polish and shipped it right on out. Unfortunately, the game comes across as outdated, tired, and simply not as good as it could have been.
Will this spell the end of the Duke? It’s doubtful, since the Duke Nukem fan base is one of the most rabid around. But hopefully next time, the game will be up to par with our expectations, or at least measure up to the typical game standards. Duke Nukem Forever will probably be enjoyed by those who’ve been eagerly awaiting this game, but only because they’ve been waiting so long. If you look at the game for what it is, it’s just a mess. It pains me to say it, but it’s absolutely true.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.4 Graphics
Graphics are not polished at all and look like they came straight from the PlayStation 2 era. 3.4 Control
Controls are simple enough, but advanced platforming areas can be tough to navigate. 2.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Voiceovers are repetitive and the sound design is terrible. 2.6 Play Value
The game isn’t that long, and you’ll be glad when it’s over. Tacked-on multiplayer doesn’t add much to the experience. 2.6 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|