By Marty Mulrooney
Duke Nukem Forever is a first-person shooter originally developed by 3D Realms and Triptych Games, before being completed by Gearbox Software and Piranha Games. Development began in 1996 after the release of Duke Nukem 3D – over the intervening years Duke Nukem Forever has been shown in various different forms – but the game didn’t see its final release until June 2011. Fifteen turbulent years in the making, was it even possible that Duke Nukem Forever could live up to all the hype?
The answer to that question is, of course, a resounding no. It would be nigh on impossible for any game to rise from the ashes of vaporwaredom and still magically tick all of the necessary boxes to become a milestone product. Duke Nukem Forever had the additional hurdle of trying to remain old-school whilst making itself relevant again to gamers, coupled with a development cycle that just wouldn’t stop spinning… for fifteen years. Let that amount of time sink in for a moment. Then remember all of the genre-defining first-person shooters that have been released during those years, including Half Life 2 and Bioshock…
Set roughly twelve years after the previous game, Duke Nukem Forever begins with Duke Nukem now a worldwide icon. The player immediately takes control of Duke urinating midstream, before being set free in the bathroom. You can pick up a turd from the toilet and fling it against the wall if you so wish. Was this kind of humour ever funny? After heading outside and defeating a Cycloid Battlemaster with a combo of strafing, shooting and QTEs, it transpires that this opening is actually a videogame that the real Duke Nukem is playing… whilst getting oral pleasure from twins in schoolgirl outfits. My inner 12-year-old was no doubt highly titillated… but 20-something me felt slightly underwhelmed and somewhat surprisingly, indifferent.
Once the game begins properly, it transpires that aliens have invaded earth again and – despite the president’s orders for Duke to leave them well enough alone – our hero sets out to kick alien ass (and pat some female ass too if it becomes available). The plot is paper-thin but it does offer a great excuse for constant streams of enemies to attack Duke, mostly in the form of Pig Cops, throughout the game’s 23 levels. The one sentence plot and traditional boss battles – along with the total lack of a cover system or iron sights – certainly makes this game feel like a blast from the past.
However, the concessions made to the gameplay in a vain attempt to bring Duke Nukem bang up-to-date instead only serve to bog down the entire experience. Only two weapons can be carried at any one time (although this can be changed to four weapons via the options menu) and this drastically impacts the fun of the game. This system may work quite well for Halo, but Duke Nukem games should be all about the shooting. Furthermore, aiming simply zooms the screen slightly and makes everything look Vaseline-smeared, whilst the enemies are absolute bullet-sponges. At least the pipe bombs and laser-trip mines are still a blast to play with – literally.
Duke’s health regenerates and is shown in the form of an ‘Ego’ bar. Completing certain actions within the world – from killing a boss to throwing a Frisbee – increases this bar. When Duke is shot or injured his ‘Ego’ depletes and once it is empty, he starts taking damage. The regenerating health isn’t a bad idea per se, however the way it is implemented means that Duke often has to retreat or hide behind a pillar, which doesn’t feel very badass at all. Complicating matters further, drinking beer makes Duke stronger for a limited time but also blurs the entire screen. It seems that our hero can’t hold his liquor either! This is a tough game – usually for the wrong reasons – and the spaced-out checkpoints and long load times don’t help matters.
Duke Nukem Forever packs multiple ideas throughout its lengthy single player campaign. The driving sections are fun overall though they can drag on after a while, with the hunt for gas soon becoming a chore. The levels involving Duke shrinking down in size are far more interesting – even if the visual representation of this shrinkage simply feels like the view has dropped to Duke’s ankles. It’s a true shame that for every shred of innovation and fun there is twice as much tedium and repetition.
The humour is much the same as the gameplay – cobbled together with everything including the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure. Duke is once again voiced by Jon St. John and I must confess that I often laughed at his terrible one-liners, stupid though they were. However, most of the humour is terribly misjudged, with aliens that impregnate women before making them explode a perfect example of going that one step too far. Don’t even ask about the achievement gained by slapping the ‘wall boobs’… Mutiplayer offers some basic fun, providing the usual Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and King of the Hill modes, but it isn’t anything to write home about.
Overall, Duke Nukem Forever is a decidedly average game. It isn’t the unmitigated disaster that some critics claimed upon release and it is certainly more enjoyable now that the dust has settled. However, the crude humour, outdated gameplay mechanics, poor graphics and low production values damage what is at heart a fairly decent shooter. There is fun to be had, but it isn’t exactly abundant and the overall experience is one of disappointment. Worth experiencing at a discount then, but only as a gaming oddity that almost never got made in the first place. I just can’t bring myself to hail to the king when he is in such bad shape…
6 OUT OF 10