Duke Nukem Forever: The Kotaku Review

Duke Nukem Forever begins in a casino bearing the Duke's name. While slowly making your way through this marble-clad tribute to a hero of decades past (I hesitate to use the word "fighting"), you'll pause to sign autographs. You'll get a blow job. You'll control a remote control car. Twice. You'll complete a "puzzle", you'll do some platforming, you'll talk to some people and you'll even shoot some pigs.

All in the space of an hour or two. All in the one area. And this game quickly moves beyond it to greener pastures, such as the streets of Las Vegas, enemy sex hives, deserted mining towns and the Hoover Dam.

When was the last time you ever played something so ambitious? So full of ideas, such a dedication to pack a first-person shooter with as much peripheral crap as could possibly fit inside a genre in which you normally only do one, maybe two of those things?

Never, that's when. And there's a very good reason why.

***

First announced in 1997, Duke Nukem Forever was mostly developed by 3D Realms, the franchise's creators, and was originally destined to be released in 1998. That never happened. For the next decade the game was stuck in development hell, its indecisive director George Broussard blamed for endlessly making alterations to the title, which included a number of engine changes and complete content overhauls.

Finally, in 2009, the plug was pulled, and the game seemed destined for the dustbin of history. Which is probably where it deserved to stay. It has, however, been rescued by Take-Two and Gearbox Software, who have polished up the "game", given it a marketing campaign and done the unthinkable, putting Duke Nukem Forever in the hands of paying customers.

Ah, there I go again. Using "game". Here's why: Duke Nukem Forever is little more than a collection of concepts, demonstrations, half-finished levels and half-formed ideas bolted together crudely at the seams and passed off as a coherent, completed project.

Playing through Forever is like being hung, drawn and quartered, its many fundamental failings in a constant struggle to get your attention as the single worst thing about it.

***

Should you somehow feel the need to play this game, and have never played a Duke Nukem game before, you should know something: this was originally supposed to come out in 1998. And then, maybe, somewhere around 2003. And then, maybe, somewhere around 2008. While some could argue that lends it a certain rustic charm, what it actually means is that you're playing a game out of time. Out of step with advancements in both its chosen genre and gaming and a whole.

Many things you take for granted in games today simply aren't present in Duke Nukem Forever. Like enemy AI. Or convincing environments that look like actual places. You'll also be constantly reminded of its age by the crude character models you encounter at dangerously intimate distances, boring multiplayer modes and the poor pathfinding you encounter when scripted events required to progress aren't very well scripted.

Games of course don't need all of those things. There's an argument that they're surplus to requirements here, that Duke Nukem Forever is not trying to be Modern Warfare, or Halo, or BioShock. "It's a throwback!", that argument will type angrily on an internet forum. "It's a reminder of when games used to be just about the fun, about shooting shit!".

What's saddest about the game, then, is that it fails even as such a nostalgia project. While much of Forever is full of parts you'll be able to identify as dating back to 2004, or even 1998, there are just as many where you can see where a designer has played a competing product over the past ten years and crudely bolted another's mechanic onto his own game in places and ways it was never meant to be bolted.

Duke Nukem Forever's singleplayer campaign is an old game. Its multiplayer modes are no different. With a handful of basic game types like capture the flag and king of the hill offering absolutely nothing new other than the chance to slap a woman around for a bit, it makes you wonder why the developers bothered with them at all when the singleplayer side of things still needed so much work.

One example is a series of puzzles you must complete towards the end of the game, rearranging steam valves to clear a path through a level. At one point, Duke grumbles "man, I hate valve puzzles". It's supposed to be a joke, and yet comes off as anything but. People love Valve puzzles in games like Half-Life 2 and Portal because they're intelligent and well-integrated within a level. Forever's puzzles are bland and interrupt what little momentum the game is capable of mustering with its broken pacing.

Worse still is the influence of Halo. Old-school shooters, and this is definitely trying to be one of those with its basic AI and lack of cover mechanics, always had two great things going for them: speed and a ridiculous arsenal of weapons. You'd be carrying 6-8 guns around with you at any one time, and when the need arose, you'd switch between them, all the while spinning madly around a level.

Forever eschews this in favour of a plodding pace and two guns. You can only carry two at any one time, just like Halo, so you have to pick and choose which you'll take and which you'll leave. Like the Valve puzzles, though, this is implemented terribly. In Halo, weapons are left according to need and what's coming next. In Forever, they are not.

***

Should you somehow feel the need to play this and have played a Duke Nukem game before, know this: Forever does not star the Duke you know, nor does it play like the Duke Nukem 3D you once loved.

Somewhere, sometime, between 1997 and 2009, Duke Nukem went from being a walking man's man parody of action movie stars to a monotone sex predator who makes decade-old pop culture observations (and WMD jokes) as though they were still, by virtue of the game's development time, somehow relevant or witty. His gameplay has fared little better. Duke Nukem 3D, this title's predecessor, was a fast, well-designed shooter, its eccentricities and environmental interaction obscuring the fact most people at the time enjoyed it for being a great shooter.

Yet environmental sideshows, like being able to throw a turd and put a rat in the microwave, are thrust centre stage here, along with a greater emphasis on smut that existed only on the fringes of Duke 3D. Duke Nukem Forever revels in these misplaced priorities, confusing what made DN3D memorable with what made it enjoyable. And as a game, this suffers as a result.

***

By the time development on this game originally shut down in 2009, it was claimed at the time that Duke Nukem Forever had been almost completed, with only the loosest of ends needing to be tied up before it could be called a finished game. That call was very optimistic. While some individual levels segue neatly enough into another, the entire product feels horribly disjointed, as though - and this is likely the case - the game was nowhere actually being finished, polished or honed in any way, and what was playable in 2010 was simply strung together in the hopes the game's name and fanbase would sell a few million copies before anyone noticed. Or cared.

Across the game's three main locations (Las Vegas, the highway and Hoover Dam), you encounter vehicle sections, puzzles, combat arenas, boss fights and even tedious fetch quests (in a strip club, no less) in what feels like completely random order, no consideration given for how each ties into the other in terms of pacing or how everything ties together into a coherent whole.

The fact the game was a complete mess by the time Gearbox got its hands on it may be a reason for this, but it is not an excuse. Duke Nukem Forever can't even give players the dignity of a decent ending, a tedious boss fight being followed by a closing sequence so short and pointless it's the equivalent of somebody pissing on the grave of the 7-9 hours you sacrificed to complete the singleplayer campaign.

***

There's a point, around two-thirds of the way into the game, flying over a freeway in a transport, manning an explosive cannon while enemies deploy below, when you feel instantly at home. Similar sequences in Halo and Call of Duty have taught you that these are a way to let off steam, a chance to kill a ton of enemies at a distance with a gun far more powerful than that you're normally able to carry around.

Almost immediately, however, things here don't seem quite right. A frantic radio message lets you know that your intended landing zone is "too hot", overrun with bad guys, so you're going to have to go around and find somewhere else. Upon flying over this original area, you see... a handful of cars, and at most, three enemies on screen at once.

It's a contrast so stark it's a laugh-out-loud moment, the developer's intent so far from its delivery that you could drive Duke Nukem's ego through the gap, in his monster truck, and it wouldn't even scrape the sides. And it's one hell of an ego.

Once the laughs die down, though, you realise that as absurd as it seems, this is as good as Duke Nukem Forever gets. It's a game entirely undermined by its development time, its antiquity forcing it to repeatedly lunge from the grave at influences from more contemporary, successful games that it simply cannot hope to replicate.

It took me a while to work out how I was going to approach this game for review. Should I look at it as a time capsule, the resurrection of a kind of first-person shooter that developers just don't make anymore? No, because it forgoes that frantic action and massive arsenal for plodding puzzles and broken pacing. This would have been a poor game even if it had made a 2003 release date. Should I look at it as long-overdue fan service, giving Duke devotees something to chew on from a long-promised feast, even if it is incomplete and mostly past its use-by date? No, because this isn't the Duke Nukem we once knew and loved.

In the end, I had to take it for what it is: a video game released in 2011. And in that respect, it's an abysmal failure, a monument to everything that the first-person shooter genre has left behind - with good reason - over the past fourteen years. Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford may have said of this game in its defence "sometimes we want greasy hamburgers instead of caviar", but the last time I checked, McDonalds wasn't charging $60 for a hamburger.


Comments

    I know I've purchased 60 dollar games in the past few years that were less deserving of the price than Duke Nukem Forever is...

    The review does have a few points, but I will say that the multiplayer is actually pretty fun. Shrink Rays are unfortunately very uncommon in multiplayer FPS games. *goes to hose off the bottom of his boots*

    Good review. DNF was one of the few games in a long time I have deeply regrettted buying.

    I lol'ed at this.

    A series of puzzles? It's a 30 second segment with the valves.

    Tedious fetch quests? It's one task with three items in relatively close proximity that takes a minute to complete. Two minutes at worst.

    As for the weapons placement. I don't know what game this twit was playing but the weapons are placed accordingly. Lead ups to bosses always have rocket launchers and explosives everywhere. Places where you're likely to have to take out enemies from a distance have the railgun nearby, wave sections have the mounted machineguns at the ready etc etc.

    The sex stuff in DNF wouldn't have been allowed in DN3D, so unless Luke can confirm for sure that 3D Realms never wanted to go that far in terms of sleaze we can scrap that point.

    His recalling of the transport scene is flatout lie! There are always more than 3 enemies on the screen in fact the enemies pour out once you start killing them (you just have to kill them quickly), you can clear up the area with 30-50 kills in two flybys if you're actually a good player.

    In the end, Luke didn't take it for what it is. He just spent the time either exaggerating or making shit up.

    Great work KotakuUS, once again proving why you're one of, if not the, worst games news websites.

      Jason Oliver posted this in another Duke thread.

      http://seven2nd.blogspot.com/2011/06/hail-to-king-is-king-old-hat.html

      Just quick little look at DNF and how it's actually accomplished a simple thing so much better than most AAA shooters.

    I don't understand the hate or the bad reviews the game is getting, i played the demo and was mega upset at how crap it was..

    But after getting the full game and playing it through, i was surprised to see that i really enjoyed it.

    i was busting myself laughing through most the jokes, i was loving the senseless killing of pigs, and even the look of the game wasn't as bad as people are making out.

    Sure the only 2 weapons at a time thing is the biggest downfall, cant count the times i ran out of bullets during a massive fight.

    But other than that the game was extremely fun.
    Did you play this on PC or console?

    I played on a PC and completely enjoyed it, was a welcome change from all the "Call of battle: modern field combat warfare" games that have been dominating the market as of late.

    $50 i payed for it i got a good 7 hours of fun from the game, i cant even go to the movies for that price these days.

    I found it a fun game and scored it online for $40.

    I also can't figure out all the hate against Duke, maybe it cause now people have to find another vapor-ware to compare things to, and its making everyone bitter or something.

    Duke Rocks! Last word! So there!

      He DOES rock!........too bad we still haven't seen him in 14 years. Hes made appearances in games since then......but it wasn't really him....

    Duke is a game that somehow emerged from over a decade of development hell and being canned.

    Reviewers seem to approah it like it should be a work of art, a pure shot of nostalgia or the next big thing when it's a game that was almost never released.

    The fact that it is complete, includes pop culture references and actually has some FRESH IDEAS should be recognised.

    Yes, some ideas are less fresh than recycled from the "it's been done" bin, but it makes them fun.

    Next time stick with the What I liked/What I hated format.

    I enjoyed this game a lot, and played it all the way through on PC. I read many reviews for it and have to conclude that most of the reviewers that gave it a low score are full of shit. They seem to have decided to hate the game before even playing it. I truly do not understand the vitriol that DNF seems to have attracted. It deserves a score of at least 75/100.

    There are no noticable bugs, the graphics are on a par with current gen games, the level design is varied and engaging, the guns feel powerful and weighty, and the interactive environment is fun. This is not a game that can stand up to the likes of classics like Bioshock or Dead Space, but compared to a lot of current games such as the abysmal Hunted: The Demon's Forge, Duke Nukem Forever is a very good game and should be recognized as such. It's fair enough if you don't like the game, but at least be truthful and unbiased.

    I think there is a noticable trend of snobbery among the game review community, they seem to think that if a game doesn't have a rich 40 hour storyline filled with deep meaning, it isn't worth playing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure it's crass and filled with shlock and toilet humor, but DNF is a gem in a market filled with bland, formulaic FPS's, and it is criminal that game reviewers are not acknowledging this.

    Regarding the tasteless humor, I think people need to stop whining about it and put it into some perspective. You can see more offensive material in pretty much any episode of South Park or Family Guy. Stop worrying about the "message" that this game is sending to non-gamers and look at it for what it is, a competent first person shooter that's pretty to look at and never boring.

    This guy has a mega nostalgia boner for DN3D and he can't come to grips with the fact that the Duke in DNF, is a perverse SATIRE of the one from the game he loves.

    He's said it himself across the multiple slaggings he's written about DNF (as have others on the internet); Duke Nukem does not belong in this age.

    But it's this reason why the Duke in DNF, HAD TO BE a satirical version of his former self. BECAUSE he doesn't belong!

    Just look at the world he lives in. He's idolised for his ridiculousness, has a giant citadel with a golden throne, a museum of his weapons and enemies, he's the heavyweight MMA champion of the world (pictured), gone to the moon (also pictured), has a chain of buger joints, etc...

    None of it makes sense!

    Why? Because the whole thing is a satire.

    I am shocked at how many poeple aren't getting it.

      A satire of Duke? Oh wow, that's so meta...and bullshit. The fact is the devolopers missed the point about what made DN3D a good game. They focussed on the over the top aspect of Duke, instead of the frantic action. Instead of being a nonchalant, wisecracking badarse killing everything in a 2 block radius, he's a perverse sex offender who occasionally kills a couple of aliens.

        What made DN3D a good game that was specifically Duke Nukem related?

          The reason I ask is because I'm confused.

          "wisecracking badarse killing everything in a 2 block radius" is exactly how it was when I played it.

          Did you pick easy by any chance?

            Unfortunately walking through that 2 block radius will include sitting through 45 collective minutes of Loading Screens.

              Not on PC, loads in like 20 secs. Also people will mod it and make a good game better.
              Just sayin'.

    i liked the game. It was fun. More fun than most games ive played this year, and I got alot more fun out of it than the last couple of call of duty's.
    I do not get the hate.

    I honestly think some reviewers are being way too harsh on the game. Yeah it has its flaws, but its still an enjoyable game. I mean I've seen reviews that have rated DNF lower then Vampire Rain, which I think is just a joke

    sometimes I feel that reviews of this game are reviewing what they WANT the game to be.

    The first thing I noticed was how the levels seemed disjointed, but that still doesn't make it a bad game.

    I don't understand how so many people are sticking up for this game.

    It it one of the largest disappointments ever. And while I laughed at times and enjoy myself occasionally it is still absurd for this game to sell at full retail price.

    Honestly, in many respects, DNF is possibly one of the best games of this year, and possibly for the rest of the decade.

    Hear me out first; yes the game is mostly a patchwork of flawed and inconsistent ideas, but the ideas they get right (Ghost Town shootout, alien hive, the opening sequence fighting the Cycloid), are simply sublime. I had an instant surge of nostalgia and realised 'yes, this is the perfect homage to DN3D, I have been waiting fat too long to play this again.'

    Few FPS games I have played game me this much excitement and simple pure fun in years. Many FPS games these days take their ideas far too seriously (CoD, Halo etc) in their approach. Im not saying that these games arent fun in their own right, but occasionally its nice to see a game not take itself seriously for a change. It is truly refreshing.

    There are many points of the game which simply don't work (and I did agree that the valve puzzle bit was simply unnecessary and got in the way of the games flow), and yes the visuals are the same from Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas...I think though the reviewer here is taking on the approach that a game's worth is the whole sum of its parts, and that certainly translates here as an unfitting tribute to the Duke.

    But It is important to recognise that the game is like a greasy hamburger (felt to me more like watching Jackass in its simplicity) and tries only to rekindle that era of gaming in the 90s, when all we wanted to do was shoot aliens, and not worry about engrossing storylines, and complex dialogue.

    Of course, this game exists in 2011 and not 1998, where it should have stayed.

      I concur 100%

    Firstly when talking about DNF's existence as a game, don't refer to it as a "game" you pretentious tool - as if there's doubt over whether it's actually a game or not. Of course it's a game, a game that a lot of reviewers don't seem to appreciate, but a game non-the-less in that it is a digital adventure that you control. I would quicker consider stuff like MGS or LA Noire as "games" (ie. in the same derogetory sense as this reviewer meant it) in that they have more talking and cut-scenes than anything that could be considered controllable gameplay, but I still think of them as games - I wonder what this reviewer takes into account when deciding what a game is? Sorry, had to get that off my chest as the most annoying thing about this review.

    I too am of the opinion that reviewers are being far too harsh on DNF. It's not perfect (not even close), but it's certainly not the offensive assault on modern gaing sensibilities that they are making it out to be.

    There's lots in there to enjoy, much more so than there are things that break the game (I don't understand the complaints of disjointed level design, weapon placement etc etc). The biggest down side of it are the load times (Xbox360 version) which make a re-play of it on "Damn I'm Good" mode an intensely frustrating experience - but only a little more frustrating than I find most games are when played on their hardest mode.

    I just find it confounding that there are so many reviewers out there that don't see any of the good that I easily found in it. I'd give it 7 or 8 out of 10 - not amazing, not horrible and above average. Pretty impressive seeing as it's a relic.

    All I know is I paid less for this than I did for Hunted: Demon's Forge, and DNF provided a better-looking, better-playing game with more enjoyment from chuckles.

    That said, this might have something to do with the fact that for Oz release, DNF's publisher didn't decide to add FORTY DOLLARS to the US price, like Hunted's did. (Bethesda, you bastards.) Instead they went with a $30 mark-up.

    (Seriously, WTF publishers?)

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