Duke Returns in a Flawed but Fun Piece of History
While I was much more of an occasional gamer in 1996 I did play Duke Nukem 3D and remember it fondly. Not long ago I played through the game using eDuke, a free engine source port that makes the game control and play at high resolutions and using modern control methods. It's a great game with varied level design and a fun atmosphere, though it definitely suffers from some issues. Jumping forward to Duke Nukem Forever I can say much the same thing... fun but flawed.
Duke Nukem Forever does not play like the 1996 original with it's open levels, key hunting and over-the-top weapon combat. It also does not play like a 2011 game, more scripted and almost painfully linear. Duke Nukem Forever plays like it came from roughly 2004, the era of Halo and Half-Life 2. Like Halo you have an "ego shield" that recharges, you can only use two weapons and the combat is more about moving and knowing which weapon to use. Like Half-Life you have to solve small little physics puzzles, explore the environment for ammo and bonus items and explore non-combat areas for story content and interactivity. If you like the idea of those two games melded together you're off to a good start with Forever, but unfortunately there are deeper hurdles to overcome.
Duke Nukem Forever had a long and almost insane development history as you probably know. The project was started in 1997 and went through multiple complete reboots. Trailers from the 90's and early 2000's show a completely different game than this one is. That fractured stop-start development shows all over the finished project. Levels do not feel naturally linked a lot of the time, design varies from interesting to terrible, the graphics go from pretty good to dreadful and back again. Think of Duke Nukem Forever as a patchwork quilt of ideas and development, never quite cohesively melding into something amazing but often being fun in spite of itself. If you like the Duke character, a parody of 80's action heroes and machismo, and you have a good time with average shooters, you might find yourself having a lot of fun in spite of the flaws, like I did.
That Duke humor is the target of most mainstream reviews. Personally I think a lot of them don't get... I see them complain about his old jokes and his sexism, but that's pretty much the point of the character. Duke is not someone you want to be or even hang out with, Duke is just a big doof who is fun to play ass when kicking alien butt. Your appreciation may vary.
The PC version of Duke Nukem Forever is pretty good compared to the console versions. Framerates are smooth and remain high, mouse control is excellent, keys are fully re-mappable, there are several quality graphics options and native blur anti-aliasing that actually works really well (choose FXAA if you can). One thing you will likely want to do is turn off processing effects which completely blur the image into oblivion. With those off the game looks crisp and detailed, often better looking than you might expect it to be. With most mainstream reviews based on the Xbox version complaining about horrible framerates, long load times, bad aiming and horrible graphics it should make you feel good to be a PC gamer that we got by far the best version of Duke. Steamworks DRM will mar the experience for some gamers, though I pay it no attention since the PC is an open platform with a huge community ready to make sure these games work in the future.
All in all I had a good time playing Duke Nukem Forever, which is the most important thing. The combat could often be really fun, the environments could often be fun to explore and the jokes often made me laugh. Yes the game suffers from feeling slapped together over 14 years and from being conceived at a time when certain limitations were in effect. Yes some of the jokes go too far and others fall flat. Yes it's clearly designed for multiple platforms and not a classic PC style FPS from the 90's. All this is true, but what is also true is that I had a TON of fun playing Duke Nukem Forever. If you're a fan of this style of humor and early 2000's shooter gameplay I think you will too.