For a game which took literally forever to emerge from the depths of vapourware, Duke Nukem Forever had gained its fair share of infamy long before it caught its very first glimpse of the outside world. But does the game live up to the mile high expectations built up over a 15-year development cycle – the longest in the history of video games, and its larger than life protagonist, The Duke Nukem himself?
DNF has the core mechanics of a challenging old-school shooter – cycle-strafing, huge-ass bosses, waves and waves of enemies, etc. Although the game emits a strong whiff of mediocrity throughout its rinse-repeat formula of Duke linearly progressing through one stage after another, solving Half-Life-esque puzzles, and killing dumb invading aliens along the way, it can actually be fun at times – when it tries really hard. However, those moments are short, few and spread thin across ten hours or so of an extremely forgettable single player campaign, which is tied together by tattered shreds of what must be a ten lines script concocted on a napkin in a bar somewhere after one drink too many.
In fact, one of the biggest problems (we’ll get to all of them eventually) with the game is Duke Nukem himself. Sure, he may be good at timing his mimicry of famous lines from 20 years of pop culture and may bench press 600 pounds, but he fails at just about everything else. It’s really hard to believe how someone with a fashion sense limited to wearing a red vest and dark goggles, and an ocean of irritating and idiotic quips that come out of his mouth every five minutes can be worshipped like a God in the entire gaming universe. Not only does he perform retarded actions like playing with stolen turd and pissing on the insides of dead enemies, he’s also pretty darn repulsive as a maniac who kills innocent enslaved women impregnated by aliens. And since most of these absurd antics are essential toward increasing his ego meter (health bar), they can’t be avoided, which doesn’t really work in his favour.
Another problem plaguing the game is that it feels way too much like the sequel to a game set in the ancient past, which it exactly is. DNF features the same brainless enemies, the same guns and almost the same gameplay as its predecessor Duke Nukem 3D. In fact, the missing jetpack, Duke’s inability to carry more than two guns at a time, and his tiny rechargeable health bar only make the gameplay worse. The only part where it manages to shine is the gun battles with hordes of enemies. Whatever else is there in between really drags. There are either indoor corridors that go on endlessly, or vast expanses of drab landscape for the Duke to drive his monster truck through. The gameplay set in the latter consists of driving a vehicle with clunky controls, running out of gasoline, searching for gas canisters while disposing off enemies, backtracking to the truck, and then driving to the end of the level.
The indoor levels sometime have puzzles for a little change of pace, but they just end up killing the momentum of the gunfights. Even the clever elements such as the shrinking mechanism are badly used – not to frequently stamp on an endless array of pigs (which would actually be fun), but to shrink the Duke himself down and turn locked rooms, vents and kitchens into menacing platforming terrain. The multiplayer is somewhat better since it consists of four tried-and-tested modes – deathmatch, team deatchmatch, capture the babe, and king of the hill. Capture the babe has the capturer constantly spanking the babe in order to keep her from distracting him with her antics. One point to note is that the shrink ray is a devastating weapon, which can perform pure carnage in the proper hands and turn the tides of any multiplayer game. Although fun, these basic modes do not offer anything refreshingly different to persuade the COD/Halo/Killzone players from switching over for long. In short, the only reason to buy DNF would be the ten-odd-hour single player story mode, which is definitely not much to write home about.
The deployment of the Unreal Engine must be quite shameful for Epic Games since the visuals look absolutely horrendous by today’s standards. Everything in the level feels blocky and low textured and the game suffers from frequent texture pop-in and consistently inconsistent frame rate. The audio is also pretty meh. The Duke’s voice-over, however, adds quality to the witty repartees whenever the script allows it without falling flat. Also, the title music is awesome.
Considering that Duke Nukem Forever had the longest development cycle in the history of video games and has probably the lengthiest credit roll ever, it is a monumental and colossal disappointment. Although the gunplay can be considered a saving grace, the fact that its 15-year-old predecessor was a much better game says just about everything you need to know.