Duke Nukem Forever Reviewed. Finally.

By Jeremy M. Zoss in Reviews
Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm
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Should you hail to the king?
​I've had my copy of Duke Nukem Forever since late last week, but considering how long we've waited for this game, I figured that there was no harm in posting this review a couple days after launch. That way I'd have the chance to check out multiplayer "in the wild." and allow for any launch day patches.

Besides, reviewing Duke Nukem Forever is like reviewing Bigfoot. After how long people have been waiting to see if it would really appear, it could never be what anyone was expecting it to be.

Or could it?
Warning: Excessively long review ahead.

By now you have likely heard that the general consensus on DNF is not positive, and rightly so. It is, to put it bluntly, a bad game. But, like I alluded to with the Bigfoot analogy, it is a game that's also being held to impossible expectations. All other factors the same, if this were some new shooter that was released after a normal development cycle, it would still be considered a bad game. But this is the culmination of literally the longest development cycle ever and the longest delay. The end product was not worth the wait, so DNF is being received all the more harshly for it.

However, DNF isn't a mediocre product being judged unfairly. It's a bad game. From a gameplay perspective its major sin, as you may have guessed, is how dated it feels.  Want the experience of playing DNF without shelling out $60? Load up an HD remake of Doom or Serious Sam on Xbox Live Arcade/PSN. Shooter design has come a long way from the loose, unsculpted levels and messy gunplay of the early days, and yet that's exactly what you get in DNF. Both Duke's movement and aiming speeds feel sluggish compared to what we're all used to, and coupled with overly generous collision on the environment, combat can be a chore in the tougher gameplay moments. I died multiple times on one miniboss fight because I kept getting stuck on a chair when trying to dodge his attack. Death by chair is something that just shouldn't happen. But for better or worse, these moments of frequent death are few and far between - the enemies in DNF are far too stupid to be a threat in most cases.

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Yeah... it doesn't look this good.
As bland as DNF's campaign is (it's a surprisingly slow game for something built on the premise of balls-out action), there are a few aspects that I give the game credit for. Tying improvements in Duke's health to "ego" items you find by exploring the world is a clever idea (yay for no audio logs), and every once in a great while there's an inspired pallet cleanser moment - a decent pinball minigame, for example. There were even a few combat encounters that I actually found myself enjoying, usually when the game cut loose and embraced its own stupidity. The section in which you're placed in an on-rails shooting gallery with unlimited rockets was the first bit of gameplay that actually struck me as fun. Too bad it doesn't arrive until chapter seven. 

Multiplayer is equally the slow-starter. While I appreciate the attempt depth with a leveling system and unlockable goodies, it's far too sluggish and unrefined to warrant that kind of dedication. There's simplicity to its basic run-and-gun fragfest style that's almost quaint, but the questionable hit detection, lag and flat out lousy graphics (worse than the already unimpressive campaign, it seems) make that simple charm wear off fast.

At this point, it should be pretty clear that I didn't much like Duke Nukem Forever. And if you are so inclined, feel free to skip down to the score at the bottom of the page, or leave knowing that you've gotten the gist. From here on out, I'll be taking the game far more seriously than probably deserves. You've been warned.

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Some of Duke's interactions with the world are amusing. Others are much less successful.
There are some critics that like to offer solutions to what they perceive as a game's problems. I generally don't. I feel that it's too easy to review a game based on what you think it should be rather than what it is when you go down that road. But I think there was a real missed opportunity with DNF, a chance to add some meaning that could have made its gameplay flaws a little more acceptable.

Duke Nukem is a product of a time when having a personality - any personality - was unique. That isn't the case anymore. All video game protagonists have personalities now, thin as they may be. Save for those characters designed intentionally as blank slates, most game have defining personality traits. Many have pointed to Bulletstorm as a natural heir to the Duke Nukem games, and Grayson Hunt is a fair evolution of Duke's character. But smarmy and flippant as he may be, there's an underlying guilt to Grayson's character. He feels remorse for the damage caused by his actions. Duke can claim no such depth.

Nor can Duke even seem shocking in his disregard for others - not in a world that's seen three God of War games. Kratos is in my mind the most awful gaming protagonist to date. He murders out of expediency and rage. He brutalizes without thought and (its implied) has committed rape more than once. 

Duke throws poop. 

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Keeping it classy.
Post-Kratos, Duke's immaturity and alpha-male bravado isn't even powerful enough to warrant a reaction. And despite basically having the personality of a jerry Bruckheimer movie villain, Kratos is still more likable than Duke.

There are plenty of games out there that try to shock us. To me, the most shocking thing a game could do would be to have an opinion. Even the edgiest games avoid real controversy by not taking sides. Call of Duty carefully avoids any tacit endorsement of war. Grand Theft Auto makes it known that crimes have consequences. DNF could have owned the "guns are the answer" stance of its hero. It could have parodied that belief. It could have been a satire of the ridiculousness of FPS games and their neigh-invincible heroes. DNF takes a few gentle jabs at invincible targets like Halo, and that's it. DNF had countless opportunities to do something daring. It does not.

You could argue that the Duke Nukem games aren't about making statements. But why can't that change. Franchises evolve. Just look at Resident Evil 4.

I'm taking this too seriously, aren't I? After all, Duke Nukem games are supposed to be funny, right? It's been said that puns are the lowest form of humor. I'd submit to you that there is an even lower form: the humor of recognition. Perfected (if you want to call it that) by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the team behind movies like Scary Movie, Epic Movie, Dance Movie, etc., the recurring joke in all these films is that they rip off scenes from popular movies and recreate them on a smaller scale. You're supposed to laugh when you think "Hey, I recognize that." And that is sadly the very tactic employed by Duke Nukem Forever. Duke Nukem doesn't get a blowjob because its funny or shocking, Duke Nukem gets a blowjob because that's the sort of thing that happens in Duke Nukem games. Hey, I recognize that. Duke's macho one-liners don't return because they're so funny (they were stolen from movies anyway). They return because they're what Duke Nukem says. Just like the Austin Powers sequels, jokes are reused because that's what's expected. 

And, in the end, after all the wait and the buildup, Duke Nukem Forever does exactly what was expected. And that's just not good enough.  


The Official Verdict: 2 out of 5

This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.
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