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Video Game Review: Duke Nukem Forever


Video Game Review: Duke Nukem Forever

No, wait I was right the first time: Shame on you, Duke Nukem development teams! You fooled us again! Where’s the real game? The one actually worth fifteen years of our time and yours? Alright, I won’t be too harsh on this point (others already have already beaten me to it), but Duke Nukem Forever simply isn’t worth the time it’s taken to make. I’m not sure what could be worth such a prolapsed cycle, but it sure isn’t this.

Duke Nukem Forever box art
Duke Nukem Forever

Release Date: June 14th, 2011
Platform: Xbox 360 (Version reviewed), Windows, Playstation 3
Developer: Uh, let’s just say Gearbox Software.
Publisher: 2K Studios
Genre: First-Person Immaturity Simulator
ESRB: M for Mature

CLR [rating:2]

Unfrozen Caveman Shooter

This just . . . shouldn’t be.

Just as fire shouldn’t sing or walruses shouldn’t drive Ferraris, Duke Nukem Forever isn’t supposed to exist. It was THE definition of vaporware. But I’ve played it. It’s past tense. In one sense, I’ve gone beyond Forever.

Surely the impossible happening in your lifetime is a sign of the end times right?

Duke Nukem Forever video game

Behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was . . . Duke?

I know some readers will probably think I’m being a bit extreme. We’ve “known” that the game in development for a decade and a half has been confirmed to “exist” for about a year now. But fool me once Duke Nukem development team(s), shame on you. Fool me fourteen years running, shame on me!

Pardon the incredulity, but the storied history of DNF’s development seemed made more of myth than anything concrete. But it’s a history I won’t delve into, lest this entire review not actually be about the actual game which I have right here! So let’s see what all the fuss was about, shall we?

beats game

No, wait I was right the first time: Shame on you, Duke Nukem development teams! You fooled us again! Where’s the real game? The one actually worth fifteen years of our time and yours?

Duke Nukem Forever video game

The irony of Duke’s book title isn’t lost on anybody, except Duke himself.

Alright, I won’t be too harsh on this point (others already have already beaten me to it), but Duke Nukem Forever simply isn’t worth the time it’s taken to make. I’m not sure what could be worth such a prolapsed cycle, but it sure isn’t this.

Fundamentally this is Duke Nukem, just as we left him in 1996. For better or worse, you shoot the same weapons at the same enemies, and the same overreliance on rip-off one-liners and gratuitous T&A are back. Only now it’s in Las Vegas instead of L.A., features a monster truck instead of a jetpack, and everything looks a lot slicker.

Duke Nukem Forever video game

“Damn, I look gooood.” No you don’t Duke. Sorry to burst your bubble.

Well, by 1996 standards. Heck, even by 2006 standards. But this is 2011, and it looks pretty dated. The character models are chunky, lip syncing is nonexistent, and the animations are about as fluid as a brick in a blender. Actually this is the first sign that DNF serves better as history lesson than actual game – visually it’s most reminiscent of the Xbox 360 launch line-up than anything else.

Oh and while we’re (tangentially) on the subject, if you’re considering this for consoles, just don’t. The load times (especially respawning), texture pop-in and texture detail are all atrocious on both Xbox and PS3. From what I hear, PC is really the only choice.

Duke Nukem Forever video game

Seriously, this type of zany action shouldn’t undermined by such an obvious fault.

Now, some are claiming that Duke Nukem Forever hates women, but as when Lloyd Christmas realized that he should be looking for a girl named Samsonite, they’re way off. No, if Duke Nukem Forever hates anything, it’s music.

When a tune does show up, it’s so bland and muted it might as well not have bothered. Weirdly, this is the game’s biggest flaw, since it’s not like Duke’s adventure through sin city isn’t fun at times; it is. But when you’re in the middle of a gunfight against pigcops shrunk to action figure size and the game is actively creating anti-atmosphere, it sucks the fun right out of the whole experience.

As for the claims of misogyny, that’s probably taking it too far. Duke Nukem’s world is one centered around one thing only: Duke Nukem. He’s not only the protagonist, his name is on every product, every billboard and the lips of every NPC, who are all his fans. Duke totally buys into the sycophantic, almost masturbatory adoration that’s thrown his way every four seconds of the far too long and boring intro because after all, he’s “ . . . the King baby.”

But for all his royal claims Duke is also the embodiment of the meat-headed, ‘Merican, so his standards are as low bred as his humor. He prefers the company that such a base person (or a pubescent boy) would; namely strippers. Not the mythical Diablo Cody smart strippers either, but the dumber than a box of hair ilk who giggle because they think calling them vacuous sounds fancy and exotic.

So does Duke treat women as objects? Sort of, but it’s with women in the societal roles where that’s the job. It’s coming from a viewpoint that, like much of the game’s humor, is both dated and poorly handled but not malicious.

Duke Nukem Forever video game

At least the developers captured the cold dead eyes of a sex industry worker. Wait. What do you mean that wasn’t intentional?

The (only) neat thing the game does with the concept of Ego though, is use it to measure Duke’s health, which otherwise is handled via simple health regeneration ala Call of Duty. The problem is, having just written about this very topic, the concept doesn’t match with the mechanic. You can refill your Ego/HP through flashy executions, which makes sense, but also from running away? Huh? Hiding really doesn’t seem to fit vainglorious Duke Nukem or his precious ego.

Where the concept does work is in how it upgrades. Another carryover trait from Duke 3D are the ridiculous amount of interactive objects, from faucets to air hockey to girly mags. If you find ones that feed Duke’s ego, they give a permanent boost to your life bar, thus justifying the messing around. While a cute set of distractions, they also betray some of the poor priorities that must have led to such a long development.

Duke Nukem Forever video game

Shooting increasingly weird aliens with increasingly insane guns is the priority Duke, not pinball, fun as it is.

Along with regenerating HP, other disastrous concessions to “modernity” were made. Gone is the highly vertical expansive level design of the Doom generation, in favor of a faux Half-Life experience far more transparent in its linearity, and far too lenient in its action. Thus the game fails miserably by missing the main bit of excellence in Duke Nukem 3D.

The Half-Lite levels hurt the game, but no worse than the poor man’s Halo inventory. It just means that when a boss fight erupts the weapon you need (along with a deus ex machina ammo crate) is about four feet away. Such obvious handholding punctures the over the top Ego stroking the game leads with, and that’s terrible.

As I said before, when the game gets going, it’s classic Duke Nukem 3D fun. Especially in the multiplayer, which has a pretty neat “MTV Cribs” take on player progression to bolster solid and traditional competitive shooting. MP also brings the jetpack back! Yaaay!

Duke Nukem Forever video game

Oh look. It’s Duke undermining himself. How appropriate.

But the fundamental issues remain: this game is caught between two worlds. It tries to embrace the ludicrous action vibe of its roots with many modern conventions but proves a poor fit. Duke is an archaic character who should use archaic elements to maintain his integrity, all the “updates” are only half-baked, and it just reeks of the misguided intent of the boorish poseur.

It’s that old musty scent of steroid abuse and failure, of a gym teacher hitting on high school girls who think he’s a creep. Yet, if you really look at him and his sad, pathetic life, you can’t help but feel pity. He’s fought in wars most have forgotten and this is the best he can do after he got divorced and the kids stopped giving him money.

So he ignores the years of failure; blocks them out. And he slaps on his old uniform and does the only thing he ever knew how to do. It’s just a shame he’s not as good at it as he was – it will lead to his demise.

Wait, did I just describe Duke Nukem Forever, or The Wrestler?

I’m not even sure anymore. . .

Duke Nukem Forever Trailer

As one of the unfortunate few born with three first names, Adam endured years of taunting on the mean streets of Los Angeles in order to become the cynical malcontent he is today. A gamer since the age of four, he has attempted to remain diverse in his awareness of the arts, and remain active in current theater, film, literary and musical trends when not otherwise writing or acting himself. He now offers his knowledge in these areas up to the "California Literary Review," who still haven't decided what exactly they want to do with him yet. He prefers to be disagreed with in a traditional "Missile Command" high score contest, and can be challenged this way via his Xbox LIVE Gamertag of AtomGone, and if you want to "follow" him on twitter, look for Adam Robert Thomas @TheCromulentMan



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