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Duke Nukem Forever Review

2
  • PS3
  • PC
  • X360

Duke Nukem Forever is a sad mess of a game, but hey, at least it finally came out, right?

I certainly never expected that I'd write a review of Duke Nukem Forever. It was long-dead, relegated to the isle of canceled games alongside StarCraft: Ghost and Thrill Kill. So, in some weird way, the notion that Duke Nukem Forever is a final, shipping product is all the victory it needs. Duke Nukem Forever is practically a historical document, and my advice to you is that if you're the sort of person who followed 3D Realms all the way down and you're feeling like you need to know how this crazy tale ends, you should play Duke Nukem Forever and see what it's finally become. But also know that this final product is kind of a terrible shooter with a bunch of really mindless attempts at referential humor, both of which do a great disservice to the Duke Nukem 3D legacy. If you're not a history buff and you're just looking for a good time, look somewhere else.

For a game that's supposed to be so over-the-top and bombastic, Duke Nukem Forever sure is boring. Its longer-than-average campaign attempts to deliver on variety by mixing in a few vehicle sequences, an underwater section, and multiple levels where you're shrunk down to tiny size and forced to carefully jump from one platform to another, but these only help make the game feel old. Most of this stuff--the platforming and awkward underwater controls, specifically--has been bred out of modern shooters for a reason. In the context of Duke Nukem Forever, a lot of these sequences feel like filler, meant to distract you from the game's lackluster action. Duke can hold two weapons at a time and has a recharging, Halo-like shield meter, though it's called "Ego" here. This doesn't quite lead to the tactical considerations that a limited inventory might initially imply, though, as the only time you really need a specific weapon is when you're in a boss fight. The game's bosses can only be damaged by turrets or RPGs, so whenever you get into one of these situations, the game makes sure that you have the appropriate weaponry nearby.

The arsenal covers most of what you'd expect from a Duke Nukem game, including a shrink ray and a freeze beam that lets you toy around with enemies a little bit. Duke 3D had one of my all-time favorite shotguns (which is a pretty short list), and the gun returns in Duke Nukem Forever feeling mostly intact. Blasting pigs up close and watching them crumble after one shot is kind of satisfying, even after all these years.

But that's probably the only true satisfaction to be found in Duke Nukem Forever. We're past the point of getting thrills from basic interactivity like "hey, you can flush the toilets" or "oh, you can sort of play this awful pinball machine." If the core shooting in the game was exciting, these lame little extras would be forgivable. Instead, they make you wonder if the main parts of Duke would have been better if people weren't wasting their time making sure that the pool tables almost work. Enemies don't really burst apart in a satisfying way, and the bulk of the weaponry feels underwhelming. The console versions of the game also lose something extra in the translation, as an unstable frame rate that only seems to get worse when you're firing heavy weaponry makes everything that much harder to follow.

The action is often monotonous and basic in a way that doesn't even leave room for "old-school" thrills. This is a game that allows for headshots, but certainly doesn't require them. Most enemies don't put out too much of a fight and they go down relatively easily. The game doesn't make up for their weakness by throwing large numbers of bad guys at you at once, and there are even large sections of the game where there's no combat at all. Considering most of the non-combat sequences require you to wander and jump around bland, old-looking environments that feel like they were touched-up by someone wielding nothing but a shader that somehow makes every single surface look slightly greasy, the breaks from combat aren't any better than the parts where you shoot your guns. Even the boss fights get repetitive by having you face a sort-of-harder version of the game's first boss as the game's final boss.

The entire campaign is sprinkled with bits of dialogue from Duke Nukem himself. This, you might remember, is one of the key points about the character. He's a wise-cracking, movie-line-stealing misogynist who loves strippers and cigars. Back in 1996, we were still coming to terms with the idea that PC game characters could talk at all, so it was easy to fall in love with Duke's constant chatter. But times have changed, and Duke's schtick just feels unimaginative and sad in Duke Nukem Forever. Duke's still lifting his material from other sources, and he's getting a fair amount of it wrong. Plus plenty of it is way, way out of date. A mangled version of the "remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last? I lied" line from Commando makes its way in here. At one point Duke sings "America, fuck yeah" just because your commanding officer mentioned America. The Internet isn't safe, either, with "porkchop sandwiches" dropping in straight out of Eric Fensler's GI Joe PSA reedits. That happened in, what, 2003? No jokes are wrapped around these references, making the whole thing feel like some kind of sub-Family Guy attempt at getting you to chuckle just because you remember a line from Starship Troopers.

When he's not "being Duke" by using movie catchphrases, he's "being Duke" by alluding to how much trim he gets. In the unironic world of Duke Nukem Forever, Duke's a superstar sex god with his own Vegas penthouse, complete with a set of sexy twins willing to do anything for him. Females that you encounter along the way fall all over themselves when they encounter you, and the first 30 minutes or so is little more than ego stroking, probably designed to remind you that Duke's a bad-ass. Men want to be him! Women want to be with him! The whole thing feels like it's trying too hard, and Duke's act was already kind of lame the first time around. This time, presented at face value without any meaningful wink or nod to modern sensibilities, the whole thing feels like it was written by crazy people. The character simply doesn't work in 2011, and now that I've played Duke Nukem Forever, I'm left wondering if the character ever truly worked at all, or if standards were just so much lower back then that we didn't bother paying much attention to how stupid it all was.

Though some will probably be offended by some of the things in Duke Nukem Forever, it's not worth getting agitated over. Like the previous game, Duke Nukem Forever's tone is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. You'll again see topless women and some other childish dialogue to accompany those boobs. I think this tone is best summed up in one of the alien hive areas, where you stumble upon a trio of human-looking boobs just sticking out of an alien-looking wall. No bodies, just boobs. Sexy, right? You can slap them around via the use button, and Duke chuckles to himself like some kind of sociopath. It's downright creepy, and it reinforces my feeling that a game with a bit more self-awareness about how out-of-touch the Duke character feels would probably be way funnier. There's certainly a place for sophomoric humor in video games, but the attempts to include it in Duke Nukem Forever fall flat most of the time. It makes Duke feel like a sad, pathetic character that continually needs to pump himself up by reminding anyone who will listen that he is, indeed, the king.

In addition to the campaign, the game also has a multiplayer mode with four different game types. These let you take the Duke weapons into standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, king of the hill, and capture the flag games. It has a maximum player count of eight. Hey, at least that's more than Duke Nukem 3D supported, right? You'll find a remake of the Hollywood level from Duke 3D among the 10 maps, but it just looks weirdly filthy. The map design doesn't feel like it sets you up for elaborate trip mine and pipe bomb traps like the previous game did, which is too bad, as that was one of the best parts about Duke's multiplayer. Like the rest of the game, the multiplayer feels a little mindless and old. Not classic--old.

When comparing platforms, it's clear that the PC version was the priority for the game's developers. There, the game is capable of running at a smooth frame rate with reasonable load times between levels. The console versions look extra grimy and unoptimized--things like texture pop-in and depth of field effects aren't as clean. The frame rates aren't as stable and the load times are practically a deal breaker, with huge gaps between levels and after any death. They give you just enough time to realize that you could probably be spending your time doing something else.

It feels weird to criticize a game that's been in development for as long as this one has for feeling like a relic, but in the end, Duke Nukem Forever's development history only really matters to a fraction of the overall audience. As I said before, if you're a part of that crowd, part of that faction that finds yourself so fascinated by this whole project that you need to know how it ends, I recommend you play Duke Nukem Forever for yourself. But I'd practically insist that you do so on the PC and try to wait for a sale. If you're not willing to play a sloppy, cobbled together first-person shooter just because it has some kind of weird historical meaning, though, just forget this ever happened and move on. It's great, in some ways, that Duke Nukem Forever was released at all. But don't be confused into thinking that it's a great game.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
249 Comments
Posted by Cincaid

Disappointed I am.

Online
Posted by Metal_Mills

I knew it would get 2 stars. Sad after so long.

Posted by aztecjester

Sad man here.

Edited by PhatSeeJay

Still believe they should have just put this one to bed and gotten started on a completely new game instead.

Posted by skrutop

That Quick Look was brutal to watch. It had to be worse to play through three times.

Posted by Arker101

Yep, but hey there's always the next one. 

Posted by DeeGee

Bulletstorm is the closest we can come to a modern day Duke Nukem.

Posted by phrosnite

I'm not disappointed because I knew DNF wouldn't be good.

Posted by Whizbang

Score is too high.

Posted by CyleMoore

At least it came out.  I'll pick it up once it is in the bargain bin.  

Edited by LiquidSwords

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Posted by Floppypants

I think Jeff gave this an extra pity star.

Posted by buckybit

I just read something that wasn't planned to really exist.

Posted by RampageAssassin

Overview statement sums up the thoughts of many gamers. Nice work Jeff and good job getting through this damn awful game.  

Posted by Silentsnake510

Bad Games are bad....

Posted by TehJedicake

Good review, Jeff.

Posted by MattyFTM

Cut them some slack, the development was clearly rushed!!!

Bad jokes aside, I saw this coming a mile away. It was never going to be a good game.

Moderator
Posted by Tordah

So sad to see the Duke has fallen so low.

Posted by Minlow

What a shame.  Maybe next time, Duke!

Posted by innacces14

Jesus. You doing alright, Jeff? After I heard you say that you had to play the PS3 and PC versions I belted out a huge sigh akin to Krusty the Clown's.

Posted by AlwaysBeClothing

Hmm, maybe one of the lowest reviews for non shovelware. I feel like Jeff was generous to this game in light of its history

Posted by RE_Player1
I'm glad this is out because it allows Gearbox to create their own Duke Nukem game and not be chained down to a relic.
Posted by Delta_Ass

Morning Silhouettes.
Warriors stand ready-tense.
By noon, pained silence.
-Haiku by Coordinator Minoru Kurita

Posted by Jedted

2 stars seems generous for this game.  A for effort, huh? 
Posted by Win

An honest and well written review Jeff. 
 
You sounded sick in the QuickLook, get better soon duder.

Posted by Bolgirk

With this release, it makes me wonder if this was just part of the purchase of Duke Nukem franchise for Gearbox. They were able to near instantly monetize the franchise and at least get the name back out there. Allowing for Gearbox to reboot the series, and try again at a later time. Either way I think I'll do as Jeff suggested and wait on buying it until its on sale as I'm very curious to see the insanity that it is, just not 50-60 dollars curious.

Posted by Chirag4

There's always next time!

Posted by President_Barackbar

I almost feel like this is a good thing. Now that they are rid of DNF, maybe if someone else took a reasonable stab at making a new Duke game it could be really good.

Posted by nickux

After hearing Jeff rant about Duke Nukem Forever never coming out on old episodes of the Hot Spot in 2006 it's surreal to be reading this review. The people at 3D Realms who managed to somehow not ship this game after more than a decade should be ashamed of how inept they must be. Will we ever know what really happened? Crazy!

Posted by afrokola

@DeeGee: Totally agree! Grayson Hunt is this generation's Duke Nukem and he isn't a total jerk!

With that said, I love Duke Nukem, but I'm gonna take Jeff's advice and wait for the game to go on sale. I need to play it, I need to close the book on this game, but I am not gonna pay full price for it based on what I just read.

Posted by White_Silhouette

This review read exactly how I thought it would and the games sounds exactly how I expected it to be. For good or ill I am picking it up because I want to experience it. It's too bad it couldn't have been better. But props to Gearbox for at least finishing it.

Edited by essi2

Well atleast I'm getting a GFX card upgrade out of this... or a 223EUR pile of shitty game... I choose to belive the former.

Posted by DukesT3

I think this game woud've been decent if it came out in 1999 or 2000 at the latest. 

Posted by CookieMonster

I'm still gonna bet on Duke.

Posted by Legend

I was expecting 1 star from Jeff after seeing the quick look. lol

Posted by Jiquk

Such a shame, I'm still happy it was actually released though. Does anybody remember the old footage from that old ass E3 trailer? I want to play THAT game.

Posted by Kaigan
@President_Barackbar said:

new Duke game [...] could be really good.

Nah.
Posted by MistaSparkle

So, do you think Jon St. John knew that he was laughing at a set of wall boobs, or did they just add in the samples of things he said while recording where they saw fit? Because I have at least a tiny feeling that he wouldn't be as for these actions coming out of his character as Gearbox was...

Posted by zombie2011

Kinda sucks that Gearbox has this shitty game on there resume.

Edited by TadThuggish

"But also know that this final product is kind of a terrible shooter with a bunch of really mindless attempts at referential humor, both of which do a great disservice to the Duke Nukem 3D legacy. If you're not a history buff and you're just looking for a good time, look somewhere else."

Jeff, this reads like a 1 star game and your distaste for it is palpable. Maybe an extra star was added for hype or historical importance.

Posted by StandStrong

So sad, so sad. I promised myself I would play it no matter how bad it turned out. I fear I may break that promise. Why would you in this day and age put out a piece of shit like that? And also... break our hearts...

Posted by onimonkii

haha the front door image for this review is great

Posted by President_Barackbar

@Kaigan said:

@President_Barackbar said:

new Duke game [...] could be really good.

Nah.

If you told me a couple months ago that I could possibly be interested in a sequel to Prey, I would've laughed in your face. NOTHING is impossible.

Posted by MariachiMacabre

@Arker101 said:

Yep, but hey there's always the next one.

I think we should probably move on from Duke. His hayday is about 14 years in the past. Most do not find his jokes funny anymore and I think it's time we moved past the Duke series.

Posted by Ventilaator

"...with a bunch of really mindless attempts at referential humor, both of which do a great disservice to the Duke Nukem 3D legacy."
 
Because Duke Nukem 3D was mature and deep and thoughtful-like in it's humour, right?
 
  

  How dare they release this garbage with immature humour in it and call it the sequel to Duke 3D
 
IT IS TAINTING THE PURITY OF THE DUKE NAME
 
*tear*
Posted by KingLouis51

you had pretty nothing positive to say in the quick look so why two stars instead of one? you can't give them credit just for shipping the game. if it's shit then it's shit and you should judge it to the same standard you do other games.

Posted by Pop

I've finished it, man it's just bad I don't know if my install was bugged or something but I felt that duke said like 20 lines (if that) of dialog in the entire game and none of them were funny, dude Bulletstorm had better one-liners than this and I think that's saying a lot, that was the only reason why I got the game to hear Duke say some immature lines, don't buy this game, only if you really want to prove it exists :D.

Posted by DonPixel

No surprise here demo sucks balls

Posted by VincentVendetta

I was seriously anticipating a 1-star review after seeing that Quick Look.

Posted by StingingVelvet

Well I am only an hour or so in but so far I very much disagree (playing on the PC).  First off I turned off processing effects because the whole thing was blury and suddenly I see nice crisp visuals with some great textures.  Turn off processing people, it looks like ass.
 
As for the game itself it seems really fun.  I do not think "Duke doesn't work in 2011"... this kind of satire actually works for me even better today than it did in 1996, since the media tends to be way too politically correct and liberal for my tastes.  On the other hand Conservatives tend to praise simplistic thought and mock education.  In the end Duke works as a mocking of the former and a parody of the latter for me.  I haven't seen anything truly offensive yet, though I have heard of some sections I might not like that happen later.  The shooting and general gameplay are fun for me and work perfectly on the PC.  I like being rewarded for messing around with the environment through ego boosts.
 
There is lots more to play but so far I agree with the PC Gamer review most of all, which gave the game an 8 out of 10.