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    Duke Nukem Forever

    Game » consists of 14 releases. Released Jun 14, 2011

    After approximately fourteen years of development, the heavily infamous sequel to Duke Nukem 3D was finally released, in which the macho Duke must damper yet another alien invasion.

    marlow83's Duke Nukem Forever (Xbox 360) review

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    Never bet on Duke

    The long awaited Duke Nukem Forever has finally arrived, and has certainly been a rather polarizing game. It has garnered poor critical reception almost universally (with a few exceptions), but has a strong, vocal following of fans who claim that it is a fun, “just run around and shoot guys” sort of experience. Now, I hate to be blunt, but anyone who enjoyed this game has no standards or taste whatsoever. Duke Nukem Forever is a horrid game. It isn’t funny, it isn’t oldschool, it controls poorly, it looks bad, the level design sucks, the enemy AI is dumb, the weapons don’t feel powerful, the sound design is poor from top to bottom, and you only spend around half of the game actually engaging in firefights. But the biggest sin the game commits is pride. It thinks it’s better than your average shooter, and it expects the player to laugh as it takes cheap shots at Halo, Gears of War, and other games. Tell you what, Duke. I’ll laugh with you when your game stops sucking. 

    The story in Duke Nukem Forever is paper thin, but hey, at least there is one. 12 years after the events of Duke Nukem 3D, the King is living well. He’s rich, women love him, he has a batcave, and he apparently owns half of Las Vegas, since damn near every locale in the first half of the game is named after him. In the opening scene, we learn that the aliens have returned, but apparently are seeking peace, since they are currently in talks with the president of the United States. We think they desire to live as our friends, but guess what

    They lied

    Aliens in a videogame are evil? Go figure. Anyway, the aliens start shooting at people, and Duke decides to start shooting back. The aliens then decide to start stealing Earth’s women, or babes, if you will. What follows is a lot of linear shooting as Duke goes on a mission to save the women, all the while meeting unfunny, stupid characters.

    I don’t really know if there’s even a point to criticizing this game’s story. Needless to say, it’s poorly told, poorly acted, and makes little sense. Why does the president insist that the aliens are trying to unite with humanity at the end of the gamewhen they have been mercilessly killing humans the whole time? Who knows. (Actually, it might have been some half-baked world domination plan, but I’m not sure). Why does Duke discover where the women are being kept, then just forget about them? Why the fuck does Duke stop to play pinball or lift weights when his batcave is being invaded? Who fucking knows. But honestly, the events of the plot itself isn’t the issue with the story aspect of Duke Nukem Forever.

    It’s the writing. Duke Nukem Forever tries ever so hard to make the player laugh, and I can confirm I never once chuckled, never smiled, never smirked, never once had any expression on my face but that of boredom or anger while playing this game. A grand majority of the souless attempts at humor in the game are derived from two things: misogyny and pop culture references. I’ll start with the latter by spoiling every last thing the game references I can remember: Army of Darkness, Starship Troopers, Robocop, Team America: World Police, Predator, Halo, Gears of War, Half-Life 2, Call of Duty 4, and likely a dozen other things I either didn’t recognize or can’t remember. Now, very few of these references involve actual jokes, and merely consist of quoting (or often, misquoting) a line or referencing a mechanic (“I could really use a crowbar!” …ha). More often then not, Duke will just straight-up insult the game that is being referenced, with such comedic gold as “I hate Valve puzzles” and “Power armor is for pussies.” Hell, the game accuses Dom in Gears 2 of being a pussy for trying to find his wife. These kinds of blatant insults have worked better in other games (read: Battlefield Bad Company 2), because those other games either were up to par with the games they were looking down upon, or because the characters were endearing enough where the statements didn’t come off as asshole-ish. Considering DNF is a terrible game, and Duke himself is a cunt, these jokes strike out. It’s also weird that DNF tries to accuse Valve and Bungie of making low quality products when Duke himself borrows the mechanics and gameplay of both of those studios’ games. Hell, it even runs on the Unreal Engine, which is property of Epic, which means it technically owes something to the Gears of War developers as well! Fuckin’ A, Duke.

    The main problem with his incessant movie references is that he repeats them ad nauseum. In fact, the only time DNF ever gets close to being funny is when Duke is shrunk down to the size of a toy, and he sounds like he ingested a few gallons of helium. Also, DNF doesn’t utilize its “M” rating to its full potential, since it has far fewer curse words than most games with the same ESRB branding. I honestly think there is more Italian cursing in Assassin’s Creed II than there is English cursing inDuke Nukem Forever. 

    But now, let’s address the issue of the hour, the misogyny. The women in this game are naught but objects, meant to be gawked at. That was predictable, and isn’t necessarily an issue. Hell, a good majority of games are guilty of this, since most gamers are male, and a good contigent of males enjoy looking at boobs. But there are sequences ofDNF that take this too far. The most talked about instance of this is the level ‘The Hive’, which depicts topless women writhing in agony, many attached to phallic objects. These women were recently raped and impregnated by the aliens, which they mention in between their crying and moaning. And I guess it would be good to mention that this scene is played for laughs, for the most part. Lines like “looks like you’re fucked” and “it was our first time… with an alien” are cringeworthy in their own right when taken in this context (or for the latter, at all), but those were not what angered me about this section. Two things about this level really disgusted me, the first being wall boobs. Among the pain and agony around him, Duke can take the time to slap boobs that grow out of the wall and giggle to himself, and make jokes about breast implants. Yeah. The second is the line “I want my Daddy.” Now, the women occassionally say this line, and the rest of the content in the game leaves me with no other impression than that they are implying an incestuous relationship with their father. Yeah. Really, all of this adds up to one simple fact: there is nothing sexy in Duke Nukem Forever. It’s all just hateful and creepy.

    Duke meets a particularly uninteresting cast of characters in his epic journey, including a suicidal grunt named Leeroy Jenkins, his best friend who likes talking about cornholes and skullfucking, the worst president in the history of time, and a General. None of these characters are funny, and they end up shooting the game in the foot more than anything. The best friend, in particular, ends up barking expository dialogue more than anything, which did nothing but emphasize just how generic the experience was. That, and Jon St. Jon’s cold, detatched portrayal of Duke himself. The writing in Duke Nukem Forever is nothing but a clusterfuck of unfunny, relatively tame lines and unintentionally boring storytelling, further enhanced by the bad voice acting. 

    But poor characters, story, and humor aren’t even close to being the game’s most damning issue. Now, Duke Nukem 3D played like Doom, except that the main character could look up and down. This iteration of the franchise has gameplay that is essentially a cross between Halo 3and Half-Life 2. The game takes both the two-weapon system from Halo, and Halo 3’s specific health system: A recharging shield (or Ego, inDNF) and a limited, never specified amount of health beyond that. It didn’t work particularly well in Halo 3, it doesn’t work well here. FromHalf-Life 2, the game borrows long sections of gameplay that have absolutely no combat, vehicle sections of questionable quality that are broken up by on-foot sequences, awful first person platforming, and mind-numbingly easy puzzles. Now, Half-Life 2 can get away with the extended sequences with no combat, because it has a strong atmosphere and the lack of combat allows the player to absorb the richness of the game’s reality. DNF doesn’t offer that experience, and as a result the long sections with no combat are just boring. The only gameplay sequences that are not seemingly taken directly from those games are when Duke is shrunken down. These sequences are normally very platforming heavy, and play like a first person version of the Toy Story 2 action game. Except not as good. 

    I mentioned in the opening paragraph that the game isn’t oldschool, and it truly isn’t. It plays like a modern shooter, complete with a pull left trigger to aim, pull right trigger to shoot mechanic. While there are no iron sights, the mechanic works in the same way. The game has a sprint function, and it is completely linear, with no secondary objectives or explorable areas. It often utilizes first person cinematics, and it has quick time events. I hate to break it to you, but it is a modern shooter. Just because the name “Duke Nukem” is associated with old  school shooters, does not necessarily mean that any game to feature the character has those qualities. Thus, the argument that its flaws are a result of it using a design philosophy that has fallen out of favor is invalid, and not an excuse for poor quality. 

    I could just redirect anyone to a review of Mirror’s Edge to explain to people why first person platforming, even at its best, doesn’t work well. But, I’ll do my best to make this discussion focus on Duke Nukem, specifically. As with any first person platforming, it is difficult to tell where the player is standing in relation to the edge of the platforms, making it unnecessarily difficult to actually pull off some of the jumps. And the levels are designed in such a way that it’s sometimes difficult to know which way is the proper way to proceed, such as one point where the player has to climb to the top of a room, when shruken down, just to jump all the way back down to a box across the room. There is another platforming sequence that takes place on top of a bunch of rotating gears that is particularly horrible. The player has to jump through little rotating holes as well, but these are hard to squeeze through, especially when the player is either falling into the crevices in the gears or nearly falling off the edge of the cogs. Speaking of which, the limited field of view that results from the first person perspective makes it really hard to see if the player is about to fall off the goddamn gear. it’s sequences like this that really exacerbate the flaws in first person platforming, especially the bits of it inDNF. Oh, and those bits take up about a quarter of the game, did I mention that?

    The puzzles are incredibly uninspired, really to the point where they feel downright lazy. A good majority of them are just simple physics puzzles, where the player has to search a small area for a certain color of barrel, which is then used to weigh down a platform or something. Other puzzles involve bumping up against some movable object to create a platform or something similar. Notice my choice of words there, I did not say “push,” I said “bump into.” There is not a button for interacting with pushable objects, the player is only able to walk into them to move them. It’s that sort of corner-cutting that provides specific examples of how half-assed the entire game feels. Duke also has to control the occassional electronic device in order to move a platform. The only problem with these sections (other than being monotonous and pointless) is that the button to stop using said device doesn’t always register, which can result in the player thinking they’re not controlling the device anymore, which leads to some pushing of the left analog stick, which in turn fucks up the platform’s positioning. 

    There are also a few driving portions, in which Duke has to pilot an RC car by stepping into it and driving it as though it’s a real car (a concept that has never made sense to me), and when he has to drive a fully sized monster truck. These sequences are… mediocre at best. The RC section is rather weak, since it contains very little challenge, and it’s not always that clear where to proceed. Also, the RC car itself has controls rather muddily. It doesn’t turn quickly enough and just feels a little stiff. The monster truck sequence is markedly better, if only because it has several jumps that you can only get across by using nitro and going really fast. The problem is, it’s hard to see these jumps coming and it’s hard to know when to start the boost, because more often it’s better to hit the jumps at normal speed then hit the boost while you’re in the air, which goes against most racing game conventions. 


    There are also little interactive bits of scenery that Duke can utilize in oreder to boost his health. Some of these require nary more than a button press, such as lifting weights, slapping wall boobs (ugh), admiring oneself in a mirror, or spying on women who are sunbathing during an all-out alien invasion. These are pointless little asides, but at least they aren’t painful, unlike the interactive minigames. Duke can also play fully fledged games of pinball, pool, and air hockey in order to add to his ego meter. These are all awful in their own special way. The one pinball machine in the game has a boring layout, and there is a serious delay between when the player presses the triggers to use the flippers, and when they actually, y’know, flip. Considering pinball is all about timing and reflexes, it makes these little asides practically unplayable. The air hockey is almost more terrible, with Duke’s hand being almost uncontrollable in these sections. Also, when the puck gets going, there is a bad delay between when the player makes physical contact with it, and when the contact actually registers.  Also, Duke can draw on whiteboards. The thing is, this requires the player to actually look closely to the textures in the game, and, well, I’ll get to later. 

    Now, all of these gameplay sections are broken up by more than a few sequences of this new innovation called “first person shooting.” Honestly, the only real compliment I can give the shooting is that on the most basic level, it works. That is, you point the reticle at the enemies, push a button, and eventually the enemies fall down. But games can’t be given credit for that anymore. Anyone can develop a basic shooter, the challenge is in making this mundane mechanic interesting. Duke Nukem Forever fails in this regard. The limited weapon selection certainly doesn’t help matters, with Duke’s entire arsenal consisting of a pistol, shotgun, machine gun, a sniper rifle (railgun), a good RPG, a shitty RPG, a shrink ray that is literally used once, an utterly useless freeze ray, and an equally useless melee attack. All of these weapons lack impact, since some, like the pistol, machine gun, freeze ray, and the lesser quality RPG take senseless amounts of ammunition to bring down even the most basic enemies. Now, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the enemies can soak up a lot of damage, but the weapons still need to feel impactful. Take Gears of War for instance. In Gears, it takes a lot of bullets to bring down a single enemy, but when those bullets impact the enemy, it still looks like they’re tearing the player’s opponent apart. DNF lacks that visceral punch, since the enemies don’t react to shots much at all, and there is no blood splatter from the enemy deaths. The gore in DNF is rather unsatisfying overall, and it looks and feels far more like taking limbs off of an action figure than it does blowing aliens apart. Also, it doesn’t help that Duke can only carry about 4 clips of ammo for each gun, and since he can only carry two at a time, the player constantly feels undersupplied. 

    The more effective weapons, like the shotgun and sniper rifle, don’t get a pass either. They both feel relatively weak thanks to poor sound design. The sniper equivalent, in particular, has a particularly meager little “pew pew” sound effect. It’s a bit odd that the weakest guns sound the strongest, and the strongest guns sound the weakest. Mix in DNF’s floaty movement and shooting controls, and that’s a hell of a mess.

    Now, that doesn’t actually account for all of the combat mechanics in the game. There are some mundane turret sequences, in which turrets become almost useless thanks to the enemies’ inane jumping ability. Duke can take steroids to have a temporary ‘rage’ state, in which he absorbs less damage and can instakill any normal enemy with a single punch. The thing is, these kills cause the framerate to dip something fierce, making them an annoyance to pull off. Duke can drink beer to make himself tougher, because why not, and he has night vision shades. Now, this game manages to totally ruin night vision goggles in a way many games have, so I’m going to set some ground rules for night vision goggles now: they are fun when they are used to gain some tactical advantage over the enemy, NOT when it’s so dark that they are a necessity, because you’re the only thing in the game that can’t see what the fuck is going on. That’s just making the player experience the core game with an annoying filter over the screen. Also, some enemies get on their knees when they near death for some unknown reason, and Duke can “execute” these enemies, which results in the King landing an anti-climactic uppercut or kick. When the enemies are shrunk down, Duke can just stomp on them, which could have been fun, but the mechanic for this (run at them while looking down) is so awkward and the animation for it so bad that it falls on its face just as much as the rest of the gameplay. 

    Speaking of enemies, the ones in this game are pretty forgettable. The aliens, pig cops, and octabrains from Duke Nukem 3D make their less than triumphant return. Also in the mix are octababies and pregnators, both obnoxious little fucks who will either make you desperately try to use the innaccurate melee or spray bullets all over the damn place. The aliens and pig cops occassionally have different amounts of armor, or different weapons, which provides some variety, but it isn’t enough to save the game. You’ll almost never engage more than one enemy type at a time, and there are never more than 4 enemies on screen at a time. The game tries to trick the player into thinking the battles are large by quickly spawning more enemies after the first wave is killed, but it shouldn’t fool anyone. 

    The standard grunts aren’t the only enemies, there are also boss fights! Oh, these are terrible too. Only explosives and turrets work on the bosses, which requires that the same 3 weapons be used on every single boss, making the boss battles seem incredibly repetitive. Every battle consists of finding a rocket launcher, finding an ammo cache, then running back and forth between shooting the boss and getting ammo. The game actually recycles two of its bosses wholesale, and tries to change up the fights by either adding a few grunts or by making the boss gain their health back entirely. ‘Cause that’s challenging, right? Anyway, every single one of the battles is incredibly easy, with one exception. All of these factors just make shooting rockets at big enemies incredibly tedious, with the underwater “Energy Leech” boss being one of the worst. 

    Oh, speaking of which, the two underwater sections of this game are possibly the worst experiences anyone can have on this generation of consoles. Duke can only hold his breath underwater for a few seconds, and needs to find streams of air bubbles every 20 feet or so in order to recharge his breath meter. it doesn’t help that Duke moves at a snail’s pace underwater, reaching a maximum speed of maybe 2 miles an hour. Also, Duke has a tendency to drift around in the water, making it hard to stay over the air bubbles. It doesn’t help that Duke tends to get stuck in doorways that are far to small for him, as well as in other areas in these underwater sections. All of the problems are exemplified in the first underwater portion, in which Duke has to move through an area that has a turbine that will hit Duke and take half of his health if he doesn’t hug the wall. Furthermore, in this section Duke has to squeeze through a tiny door, where he is swarmed by octobabies that can easily evade gunfire, since they can swim quickly through the water. They take a lot of Duke’s health, and easily knock him back into the room with the turbine and push him into it, leading to what seemed like hundreds of cheap instakills. Keep in mind that the breath meter is dwindling the whole time. Fuck. It’s also worth noting that because Duke moves so slowly in the water, the Energy Leech’s attacks are forced to be telegraphed and slow as hell. 

    The level design in the rest of the game doesn’t fare as badly, but it’s still poor. Duke has to go through linear corridors, with the occassional open area for a boss battle or turret sequence. Enemies then fill these corridors 3 at a time, and they come until Duke kills all of them. The large variety of activities helps to distract from the linearity of the core shooting sequences, but it doesn’t hide it entirely. Now, there’s no inherent problem with linearity, as long as the game moves the player along at a brisk pace from one impressive looking set piece to another.

    It’s too bad then, that DNF utterly fails on both of those counts. The easy as hell asides and monotonous shooting, combined with a longer-than-average length (about 10 hours) make Duke Nukem Forever feel like it’s moving at an incredibly slow pace.

    And not one thing about the game looks impressive. Quite frankly, the game looks like utter garbage, with no redeeming factors whatsoever. On the artistic side of things, Duke Nukem Forever is bland and generic, especially near the end of the game, which has Duke visiting the inner workings of an industrial complex. Some of the sights around a Vegas are a little more colorful, but they’re not unique. Rainbow Six already explored Vegas, and they did that 5 years ago. Sorry Duke.

    On the technical side of things, the graphics fare far worse. This is apparent as soon as the game’s first mission ends and we have the reveal that the entire first level is Duke playing a videogame, and the camera pulls out to a show a gamepad that looks like utter crap. I hadn’t looked at the textures particularly closely prior to this point, and I when I was forced by the game to look at one up close, I was actually taken aback by how bad it looked. All of the textures are low quality, and there are obvious cut corners everywhere. For example, early on the player is prompted to look out a window at an alien mothership, and the mothership is clearly just a 2D backdrop, not a rendered part of the scenery. The developers (i would name a company, but I don’t know who the hell did this) try to hide the low resolution textures behind hard lighting and making everything glisten. The textures still look bad, but from a distance, this obnoxious glistening makes them almost impossible to see at all. All of the character models are blocky, with not a single clean edge on any model. and their awkward animation makes them look even more dreadful. Every character looks stiff and lifeless. It’s worth noting that there are many moments where characters are talking directly to Duke without actually facing him. There’s a great (read: terrible) bit where a bunch of women are staring at Duke through a piece of glass. When the player is at a distance, they look like they are actually looking at Duke, but when they are approached, they look past Duke and off into the distance. 


    As if generally poor graphics weren’t enough, there are many other technical issues as well. The framerate is absolute garbage; it drops constantly, especially when using explosives or after taking steroids.While it’s most likely that the game will turn into a slideshow during those actions, they aren’t exclusive to them. The framerate drops pretty much constantly, seemingly for no reason. Also, as with almost every game that runs on the Unreal engine, there is copious amounts of texture pop-in. Not to be outdone, the textures in DNF take much longer to load than they do in other Unreal games. There’s also a bizarre glitch in which the textures load incorrectly. It’s hard to explain adequately, so here’s a picture below.

    What the hell? 
    What the hell? 
        As if that wasn’t enough, the load times are unjustifiably long. Every load time in the game is between 40 seconds and 1 minute, even when the player character dies and is returned to a checkpoint. It’s horrendous, especially in the later parts of the game, when the godawful level design results in more than a few deaths. There’s no way that the game looks this bad, with textures that take forever to load in, and still needs horrendous load times. It’s truly mind boggling. 

    Now, i know that the textures and loadtimes are better on the PC version. Guess what? I don’t care. 

    I suppose it’s worth noting that the game has multiplayer. Now that I brought it up, it’s worth noting that it is a soul-crushingly awful experience. There are four modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and king of the hill. None of the modes are called this, but that’s exactly what they are, and I won’t address them by their stupid names here. The pedestrian modes are enough to make the multiplayer completely pointless, but the main issue here is the lag. The lag makes the game essentially unplayable. It’s strange that the lag is that bad, too, because the mutiplayer levels suffer a significant graphical downgrade, and the matches are limited to eight players. There is a persistance system, where the players gain experience to buy costumes for their multiplayer sprite (who is just Duke Nukem) and for items to add to Duke’s “digs” (penthouse). It’s not that interesting a system, and the gameplay in the multiplayer is so awful that the experience system doesn’t matter. This game is probably one of the worst online experience I’ve had.

    In case you couldn’t tell, I didn’t like Duke Nukem Forever. It’s boring, spiteful, ugly, and generic. It’s incompetent in everything it does, and the fact that it can be released in the state that it is in, then the developer can accuse me, the reviewer, of being “clueless,” offends me greatly. So I close with this: Fuck You, Randy Pitchford.I have the utmost respect for Gearbox Software, but you anger me.  And to the gamers of the world, I advise this: NEVER bet on Duke. 

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