Misfortune and Severe Time Issues create dissapointment
I have not really played the original Duke Nukem, and it has been a long time since I have touched Duke Nukem 3D. I also did not pay the original retail price for Duke Nukem Forever. Considering these elements, it may come as no suprise that I actually like this game. I am one of the very few people who do. For those who are not familiar with this games infamous history, I will do my best to explain the order of events which lead to DNF being released after 14 years of development hell. In April 1997, 3D Realms announces DNF as the sequel to Duke Nukem 3D. From then until 2009, the legal publishing rights and in game engine have shifted and changed several times. Eventually in Mid 2009, Gearbox negotiates the rights to the Duke Nukem franchise, leading to a new development team taking over the DNF assets. Finally, in June of 2011, DNF is released. When the game finally did hit store shelves, Duke did not exactly recieve the warm welcome that was anticipated by the gaming community. Old school Duke fans rejected the game because it did not exactly have the gameplay the original Duke Nuke 3D had. New gamers did not like it because it could not compare to modern day titles like Modern Warfare and Halo. Unfortunatly for Duke, the 14 years in development limbo and ongoing legal battles for the Duke Franchise really hurt this game, but is it really a bad game?
The beginning of the game tries to really establish what happened to Duke between the lost time of D3D and DNF. Apparently, Duke has become a MMA champion, an Astronaut, a Multi billionaire entrepeneur, and many other amazing things. The game trys very hard to make Duke look like the coolest guy on the planet. Throughout the game Duke has spits one liners and quotes throughout the game to show his humor and personality...and it all comes across as forced, and a bit corny. I felt myself facepalming more often everytime I had to hear Duke steal a line from a movie or talk about how much he loves women. I'm sure this was cool in 1996, but now he just seems kind of like a creepy idiot. I have the feeling that alot of the dialogue and overall theme of this game kind of stagnated while the game fermented for 14 years. Its apparent when you meet Dukes girlfriend's, a set of twins who are modeled after Britney Spears catholic school girl gimmick from over a decade ago.
Once the game starts moving, it begins to become a bit more enjoyable as you travel through Las Vegas in different areas fighting off a alien invasion. The shooting combat and weapon selection are passable in this game. You have your FPS standards of handguns, shotguns, rocket launchers, etc. at your disposal. The enemy AI isn't the brightest, they basically either just strafe and shoot at you, or if they are unarmed then they basically just rush you. It is challenging when these two types of enemies are combined together, but that is a rarity, mostly armed or unarmed enemies come in pack of the same type. Some of the boss battles where decent in my opinion. The second Battlelord fight on the freeway is the shining moment of this game. You have to basically run back and forth avoiding gunfire from the Battlelord and flying enemies while managing your rockets and grenades. I thought it was fun and very underrated part of the game. On other side there are very frustrating bossfights. The Octoking was just a poorly designed sequence because of the lack of cover areas, making it almost impossible to finish on higher levels of the game.
The enemies themselves and very interesting and creative by design. I really like the look of Dukes enemies. They are all have a bad ass aestetic to them. The art director of this game did a good job with the character models at least. The game attempts to mix things up by putting Duke in situations where he shrinks down to miniscule size and has to traverse areas platform style. I really liked this idea, and it does work in a certain fast food kitchen, but overall the experience is hard to navigate and frustrating. There are also certain areas where you have to take command of a vehicle. These are neither hard to navigate or frustrating, but they do feel pointless. The only purpose they serve is to advance the game, but if they cut them out entirely I don't think they would effect the game at all. Really the only part of the monster truck sequence that has any significance is near the end, where you are racing down the freeway, avoiding other vehicles that have enemies on them throwing red exploding barrels in your way, but even that feels clumsy and forced.
The lowest part of the game is the underwater areas. You would get the notion that while swimming, the Dukes body would be horizontal. The game still recognizes Duke as standing vertically, so at times when you are trying to swim through a tight area you get stuck a majority of the time, which is a major pain in the ass because Dukes oxygen level depletes so fast. You have to learn your way around this games misgivings, which for a 14 year old game can be outright unacceptable. While this games shooting mechanics and vehicular segments might be lackluster or outright mundane, I do think one thing that is overlooked in this game is some of its event set pieces. Watching through the eyes of Duke jump off of a tower on to a flying enemie or escaping a flooding dam is fun, and what I expected in this game. This game is at its best when Duke is destroying buildings with a wrecking ball or driving a RC car to retrieve a battery cell. I can feel at points where this game had alot of ambition and greatness, but I think due to the ongoing drama with this game it got lost in translation.
I applaud Gearbox for finally putting this game out, unfortunately due to lost time and the evolution of gaming, Duke just doesn't have what it takes anymore. Maybe after some time Gearbox can give Duke a fresh new start, and put the past fourteen years behind him forever.