Some things should just stay Vaporware
This is the moment that I thought would never come. I must admit, I was quite skeptical that this game would ever show up - even as I put the disc in my 360, I couldn't believe that this was actually the Duke Nukem Forever that I was promised nearly 15 years ago. Regardless of your interest in DNF, or even regardless what you think of the game, the fact that it's actually been completed is an amazing achievement, and everyone at Gearbox should be proud of what they've achieved. Yet despite this, I don't envy anyone at Gearbox as they site back and wait for the feedback - as you know, it's not all been good. Gearbox were always going to be in a tough situation - there's no way that a game like this can live up to 15 years worth of hype. Video games have changed so much in the last 15 years, so how do make a game that keeps up with the current style of Shooters, without straying too much from what made Duke Nukem awesome to start with? More importantly, as someone who's in charge of reviewing this game, how do I review it accurately with all this in mind? For everything that I like about DNF is also something I don't like.
It's fair to say that Duke Nukem Forever truly is one for the fans. If you're young enough to have never played a Duke Nukem game before, then all this talk must be slightly confusing. It's not surprising - this game truly does take "fan service" to absolute extremes. DNF is, if nothing else, an amazing time capsule of the quintessential story of "the little video game that could". This works exceptionally well, and it's a shame that more games don't do this. It really does humanise the entire development cycle.
So, what about the game itself?
The game's storyline is ... well, to be honest, do you really care? You play Duke Nukem, blah blah blah big aliens blah blah blah awesome one-liners blah blah blah big explosions. It has all the trappings of a cliche 90s action flick. At one stage, you're actually on a call to the President of the United States who's telling you that they're going to use diplomacy to get out of this problem, and you're not to do anything to mess it up with your guns and explosions and cool one-liners. But do you listen? Fuck no! You're Duke fuckin Nukem!
One of the first thing that becomes apparently with DNF is this - you need to play it on PC. There's 2 main problems that I've seen with the console version VS the PC version. I'm not normally one to care about stuff like that - it's an argument I am absolutely loathed to enter in to, I enjoy playing most FPS games on consoles just as much as I enjoy playing them on a PC, however there's something about the controls for the 360 version that are just awful. Aiming is atrocious and some of the mini-games throughout the game border on unplayable, so make sure you get the PC version if you can. The other near-unforgivable gripe are the loading times. It's not that there's a lot of loading screens, it's just that it takes SO long. No matter what is loading, be prepared to wait at least 40 seconds. The frustrating thing is that it loads any time, no matter what's just happened. At one stage, I waited 47 second for the level to load, and in less than 3 seconds i fell off a ledge and died. Cue another 47 second wait.
For those that have fond memories of Duke Nukem 3D, one of the main disappointments is it's lack of open-worldness with the levels. Nearly every section of DNF is exceptionally linear. There's still that element of exploration, and you can interact with objects that you would come to expect (switching lights on and off, for example) but given that many games over the last 15 years let you do this, it doesn't quite have that same thrill as it once did. However, it's not without it's upsides...
Interacting with various object in the Duke-verse doesn't have just cosmetic results, but is also used to increase Duke's health meter, or should that be, "Ego meter". Things like lifting weights in the gym, flicking through nudie magazines and even admiring yourself in the mirror all increases your Ego. During the levels themselves, Ego works in the regenerating health way of measuring health, much like in Halo.
I mention Halo in particular because there seems to be a running theme of pop-culture references all throughout the game - much like the Duke games of old. At one point, Duke meets up with some soldiers who ask if he wants to put on some armour to fight the alien hordes. The camera then turns to the armour which is designed to look exactly like Master Chief's armour and Duke proudly claims "power armour is for pussies" before moving on. At one stage, Duke also spots a dead body on the ground who looks a hell of a lot like Isaac from Dead Space, and he says "ooh, that's one Dead Space marine". There's a lot of these references, but they're so forced that it doesn't have nearly the same comedic effect that it once did. At one point Duke even sings the line "America, fuck yeah!" from the Team America movie. They're not clever in the slightest, and it just does nothing but to serve to make the player feel slightly awkward at what they just witnessed.
Look, we're all friends here, so let's just cut to the chase; I've kind of just been dancing around this for a while and it feels like I'm going to make the same point over and over with all the other aspects of the game that I would normally discuss in a review, so here goes: Duke Nukem is <i>really</i> dated. Like, really really dated, even when you take into the fact that development started 14 years ago. Everything about this game feels old and done before. For starters, the whole game looks like it's a port from an original Xbox or PS2 - all the levels are ugly, the character design is sloppy and the animations are purely terrible. The sound effects are terrible, the controls are woeful, the plot is awful, the script reads like it was written by a 14 year old and many of the elements used in the game have already been seen in previous Duke games. Frankly put, this is really a cobbled mess of a game. Duke Nukem is essentially that guy who rocks up to your 10 year High School anniversary who's still living at home, working part-time at Coles and is still asking people where the beef is.
I've always considered the worst thing you can say about a game is that "it's boring", and Duke Nukem Forever truly is a boring game to play. I felt like I learnt nothing from this game, if anything, I feel stupider for the experience. Yet, there's something about this game that made me still play through this game. Is it nostalgia, or something stronger and deeper than that, something deep inside that brings out a certain inner-egotist that I try daily to push down?
No, it's nostalgia. Duke Nukem Forever is rubbish shoddily put-together mess of a game. I was bored out of my brain as I plugged through the single-player campaign, then shuddered in embarrassment as I played through some of the multiplayer modes (when I wasn't being disconnected, or rage-quitting after waiting to long to wait to join a game). I play these games for you, dear reader, so that you don't have to. You have no idea how much of a bullet I've taken for you.
Look, I'm glad I played Duke Nukem Forever. As someone who's played Duke from the days of it being a 2D side-scroller, I'm glad I played Duke Nukem Forever, and I think encourage anyone who considers themselves a gamer to play this game. It's an amazing piece of gaming history, and with all the extras that are thrown in, there's a fairly comprehensive collection of memories here to mark it's journey. Despite it's somewhat ambiguous ending, it does close the chapter on one of gaming's longest running jokes to prove us all wrong - even if it did take nearly 15 years.
But despite all this, is it a good game that can be based on current-gen games and have fair comparisons made? There appears to be a spate of DNF apologists who would say that it shouldn't be. They'll give you the standard "if you're offended by this game, then you're not the target market" or actually ANYTHING you say that's negative that "the game isn't for you"
Those people are wrong. The answer is yes. It can and it should be judged alongside current shooters, and with that in mind, Duke Nukem Forever is a terrible game.
[originally written for australiangamer.com]