Turns out practice does not make perfect
Duke Nukem Forever is quite possibly the best example of game design evolution ever conceived.
From the antiquated character design and minimal plot to the inconsistent pacing and repetitive gameplay, Duke feels old. I would like to say It's a product of its time, but I can't be sure when that time was.
The story of DNF takes place 12 years after the events of Duke 3D. Aliens are back to steal babes, President doesn't like you, Army General does. Go. Along the way you'll also run into Dylan, you know... Dylan. Right? Me neither. Well, Dylan is a member of the Earth Defence Force (EDF), an organization whose primary purpose is set dressing. Their dismembered bodies are strewn throughout the game to provide Duke with ammo where needed. You do fight alongside a couple of EDF troops in a few spots, but they exemplify Stormtrooper syndrome to such a degree that it's a moot point.
Expecting much story at all from any Duke game feels like a stretch, but the disconnect between the areas of the game and the plot is jarring. I never really got a strong sense of why Duke needed to be where he was at any given time. Driving along the desert roads after an air drop without any extra fuel seems absurdly contrived. Contrivances are to be expected from all games, but when it serves to provide driving sequences as poor as on offer here? Forget it.
Duke's dialogue is a gift to game reviewers. Every line manages to highlight a disappointing aspect of the game. Dated references to old movies and winks to other/better games and developers that DNF has borrowed from simply remind you of better times. There is a moment early on where one of the Holsom twins compliments the other on her hair in a video. From that moment forth, all I could see on any character was the terrible hair, it's really bad. While driving an extendable platform, Duke proudly boasts "This sucks!" He's right. Don't talk about the bad aspects of your game for comic effect, I paid good money here.
Graphically, Duke is inconsistent at best. For the effort that has gone into the canned animations, for example interacting with the environment, the general animations (or lack thereof) are poor. Duke 3D blew people away with mirrors. You could see yourself! They return in DNF to provide the opposite reaction. One of the first things many will do when they play DNF is look into and mirror, then jump. This is not a good idea. Dukes' upper body remains static, while his legs bend. It looks unnatural and stilted. If you stare at the ground and spin round, his legs are static as the environment spins round. This seems nit-picky, but I found this stuff before I fired a gun.
Fundamental gameplay should be familiar to anyone who has played a video game in the last two decades. Duke has his arsenal of pistols, shotguns, rocket launchers, machine guns and anything he can take from those pesky aliens. Some of these are implemented more successfully than others. I found the shotgun and Enforcer gun the most satisfying weapons, while the RPG and Devastator felt too timid, despite their actual effectiveness in game terms. Generally, you enter a room, shoot guys, then look for the glowing environment object to move on. Rather depressingly I defeated the first and last bosses of the game by circle strafing. Saying that, the shooting is competent, if not a little too simple.
Punctuating the shooting of pig cops are driving sequences, turret sequences and puzzle/platforming sequences. If those appeal to you then DNF might be for you, but I suspect most will run away to the safety of modern games. At some point in time, the mechanics in Duke Nukem Forever were at the forefront of first person shooting, that time is not 2011. Not by a long shot.
Judged as a game, Duke Nukem Forever is an outdated lacklustre experience. Judged as a historical document, it's somewhat fascinating.