It's Fun Because Shut Up
Duke Nukem is an episode taken right out of a children's television show, where a character becomes famous and eventually ruins their fame by taking what made them famous and running it into the ground through force and artificial means. Duke Nukem Forever is the result of self-recognition of what made the games popular, and forcing it into a meat grinder after around thirteen years of riding success by merely releasing Duke Nukem 3D on a new platform every once in a while.
But before I go into the game itself, there is an important factor about the Duke series that must be taken care of first: The Duke has always been about being a shameless ripoff of other games, actors, and characters. The Duke Nukem name itself is a villain in the old Captain Planet show, and his catchphrases are almost 100% verbatim from B-rated action flicks. In many ways, Duke parodies the kind of person teenage boys see themselves being. The men want to be him, and the women want to be with him. He's a cigar smoking, ass kicking, lady-wooing, rich egotist who saves the world and still has enough time to scale Mount Everest.
But in the many years since Duke's last escapades, a lot of mechanics have come forward for the game to "borrow," and subsequently make fun of. Regenerating health, limited ability to carry weapons, driving sequences, and almost obnoxiously inane boss sequences. Boss fights are a matter of shooting with rockets (because bosses can only be killed by explosives) and finishing off the fight by humiliating your opponent, either through a succession of punches to the groin or by ripping off its horn and shoving it into their head. Your health, or ego as the game calls it, can be increased through interactions with the environment. A nice addition, but perhaps time would have been better spent on the rest of the game's mechanics rather than making sure that you had a fully functioning air hockey table.
Duke Nukem Forever is a first person shooter riddled with gimmicks. The shooting itself is functional and so generic that there isn't much to discuss. Almost all of the weapons from previous titles make their return, with a few tweaks here and there and a couple new weapons thrown into the mix. But again, Duke has always been a generic first person shooter with dick jokes. In this iteration, Duke revs up his 1 mile per gallon monster truck to bring us into, what else? Driving sequences. Driving sequences act as filler, and generally run the same story: Drive, jump over the game's many chasms, run out of fuel, have to find fuel, refuel car, drive to next node and repeat until at destination. Throw in some stationary turret sequences and the age-old shrink ray sequences and you have a recipe for Duke but with a few obnoxious additions.
The world of Duke Nukem can be best described as written by a thirteen year old boy. Evident from the time you'll spend throwing around a turd (I'm not making this up) through the women you encounter who all want to have sex with you, the soldiers who can't help but turn into jocks when you are around, through the dirty jokes that populate the world more so than the actual bad guys. A good number of the jokes will give you a chuckle, but Duke is the guy who still tells time-sensitive jokes dating back to the 90's. This should be evident at the start of the game as Duke is being pleasured by the "Holsom Twins," while playing his own game. An Olsen twins reference in 2011? Someone call my doctor, I think I've had a stroke.
Duke Nukem becomes frustratingly difficult at higher difficulty levels, not because the enemies are particularly intelligent, but because the game employs a system of throwing large numbers, seemingly perfect aim, and infinite grenades. To top it off, the game progresses at a locked pace, where you are not allowed to progress until the game feels you are ready. For the most part, these offenses are minor, but there are multiple points where destructible objects remain immune until you hunt down every last bad guy in the area. Thank you, Duke Nukem Forever, for reminding me that bullets can't destroy a flimsy piece of wood holding a ladder up until the plank starts glowing.
If anything, Duke is a pair of shades through which we can see the psyche of a clinically insane megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur, and the game would provide more of an insight into extreme misogyny disguised as a first person shooter if we hadn't known from the get go that 3D Realms had no intention of making that the underlying message. Sigmund Freud would probably diagnose Duke with a lacking relationship with his mother, because Duke sees breasts everywhere. From his fans, the well endowed bosses, and the walls of boobs that populate a couple of levels. That's right, walls of breasts, which you can slap. Heading deeper, even the loading screen messages seem to convey Duke's inner thoughts ("You can slap the wall of breasts because your girlfriend probably won't like you slapping hers."). Oh Duke, you assume too much.
Multiplayer is sloppy, laggy, and shallow. As you level up, Call of Duty style, you fulfill Duke's secret dress-up desire and gather a whole wardrobe of new articles of clothing to wear.
Perhaps Duke would have been better received in 2001 when the game was originally supposed to release, without the additions that were thrown on over the years. In 2011 however, Duke is just received as the guy who still goes around making fart and boob jokes, repeating the same lines he's been using for the better part of fifteen years, the end result being a guy you still hang around with and laugh at his jokes just so he doesn't feel the need to explain them, but whose presence ruins your plans to go out because you'd rather not be seen together publicly.