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Duke Nukem Forever

Score: 50%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Action/ First Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Well, it actually happened. Duke Nukem Forever has been released. This title's development history is the stuff of legends, and by "the stuff of legends," I mean "a punch line." It's been about fifteen years since development started, and here is the end result, an unattractive, by-the-numbers, and surprisingly unfunny first-person shooter that would have felt like a relic had it released a decade ago. What a shame.

Duke Nukem Forever's extras include a visualization of the game's beyond-infamous development history, as well as trailers that go back as far as 1998. These trailers do a fine job of showing just how far games have come visually; in fact, they do a better job of that than Duke Nukem Forever does. It would have been more impressive had it been released during the last console generation, but it still would have been ugly to look at. Most of the aliens look okay, but with the exception of Duke himself, human character models look lifeless and creepy. Multiply that by ten when you factor in the franchise's penchant for gratuitous smut, and you've got one hell of a problem. It's not all bad (though it mostly is); sometimes enemies blow up real nice. The rest is amazingly unpolished; textures pop in after several seconds, and even then, they aren't appealing. Duke Nukem Forever also finds itself burdened with some of the longest load times of this console generation. For a game that looks so sub-par, that is unacceptable.

Duke Nukem Forever's sound design is bound to be as polarizing as the franchise's earlier installments, primarily because it leans so heavily on the performance of Jon St. John, who has provided the Duke with a voice since Duke Nukem 3D. Personally, I don't think his performance in this game comes anywhere near his debut, but it manages to elicit a chuckle from time to time. There are a lot of pop culture references at work, and some of them will surprise the hell out of you -- some in a good way, others not so much. The rest of the sound design is lackluster, from the bland metal shredding to the woefully dated sound effects. For example, the shotgun's report leads me to believe that the developers ripped a clip from the PlayStation era.


Gameplay:

I'd like to think that Duke Nukem Forever's story was intended as a means to an ends, but I know better. This is a franchise that found its success by rolling up every alpha male action hero stereotype and compressing them all into a dense mass of pure kitsch. I believe this approach still works when applied correctly. Duke Nukem Forever features a failed attempt at that; it's just not a very funny game. It all starts with the tired and obvious setup. The aliens have arrived to kidnap Earth's hottest women. Not a very appealing scenario, right? Enter Duke Nukem: the man most men want to be, and the man most women want to be with.

Ever since the Duke Nukem franchise made the shift to 3D, almost nothing has changed about it (save for the third-person installments). It remains a linear first-person run-and-gun shooter with light platforming and puzzle elements. This brings to light one of Duke Nukem Forever's biggest flaws: it's hopelessly stuck in the past. Games can't get away with being stuck in the past unless the fundamentals are beyond strong, and they aren't in Duke Nukem Forever. The level design is usually bland and sometimes boring, but occasionally, it's entertaining.

Occasionally entertaining level design aside, Duke Nukem Forever features some of the worst pacing in a first-person shooter. The campaign shuttles you around at breakneck speed with almost no sense of direction. This gives the sense that the game is unsure of itself -- something that Duke definitely is not. One minute, you'll be blowing up pigcops and peppering giant telepathic squids with machine gun fire, the next you'll be running for the next level and doing absolutely nothing else. And then there are the monster truck sections. I guess it's supposed to be funny that Duke's truck, the Mighty Foot, gets such poor gas mileage that it gets approximately one mile per tank. But the joke's on you, who must trek around in search of a conspicuously-placed spare gas can -- and you'll do it no less than three times. This kind of stuff really brings the game down, and there's a lot of it.

Duke Nukem Forever's multiplayer itself does very little to entertain, especially when the offerings are standard and nothing but. However, the progression system is definitely interesting enough to act as a drawing force. Each player is given a "digs" complete with foreign maids. By ranking up and completing challenges, you can unlock new customizables for both your in-game Duke and your apartment. It admittedly pushes aesthetics over meaningful gameplay additions, but it's a neat little system that absolutely fits with the franchise.


Difficulty:

Duke Nukem Forever is a challenging game by nature, as well as because of gameplay flaws. On the default level, enemies hit hard and usually do their very best to overwhelm you. Those with the twitchiest of trigger fingers will find success more often than not. However, there are some special tools to help with those wall-of-fire situations.

As far as I'm concerned, the greatest difficulty in playing Duke Nukem Forever has to do with being able to sit still long enough to make progress. The filler to killer ratio is so one-sided that I'm not sure I would have had the patience to finish the game if I wasn't reviewing it.


Game Mechanics:

Duke Nukem Forever is a boilerplate first-person shooter featuring Duke Nukem. That's almost all you need to know about this game. You run, you jump, you shoot, you spout one-liners. The shooting itself isn't very satisfying, and it's barely functional. Duke doesn't aim down the sights per se, but the camera zooms in really close. That's not helpful. Enemies don't react to your shots until they either collapse or transform into a chunky red paste. The combat is occasionally entertaining, but it becomes more interesting when you use Duke's gadgets and objects in the environment. None of the weapons feel fresh, but Pipe Bombs and Holodukes are always fun to use. Furthermore, throwing explosive barrels and other random debris adds an element of chaos to the otherwise muddled proceedings.

There's a bit more to it than that, but the additional elements don't amount to much more than fluff. There are some environmental puzzles and platforming sections, but they don't work as well as they should. The environmental puzzles take most of their inspiration from Half-Life 2's superb physics-based puzzles. The platforming ranges from passable to dreadful. However, some sequences are inventive enough to be notable. Most of those involve Duke shrinking to the size of an action figure. And then, of course, there are the aforementioned driving missions. Those work exactly the way you'd expect and feature no surprises or excitement whatsoever.

Duke Nukem Forever manages to overdose on downtime, and it doesn't give you much to do in these sequences. You can interact with the environment for Maximum Ego boosts, or you can play a few poorly thrown-together mini-games. The most egregious of these downtime sequences takes place in Duke's strip club, where a dancer forces you to complete a remarkably unexciting fetch quest. For what? A lap dance that has the screen fading to black within seconds of its beginning. The situation is befitting of Duke's character, but it feels like a total waste of time.

So in the end, Duke Nukem Forever is a squandered opportunity and a pretty lousy game. However, I'm not giving up hope, and neither should you; Gearbox Software (who now owns the franchise rights) is a wonderfully talented team of developers and I wholeheartedly believe they can do justice to Duke Nukem. However, they're going to have to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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