Duke Nukem Forever Review
Duke Nukem Forever is a long-lost relic, the result of an archaeological dig that brought back something from an era seemingly long past, then spit-shined and put on display with the hopes that someone is still around that appreciates what little it can do. What 2K Games and Gearbox Software may not understand is that even those of us that do appreciate Duke for all its annoying gameplay and outdated jokes - and I think I qualify in that group, as I played a lot of Duke Nukem 3D back in college, and even the shareware originals back in the early 90s - most of us have moved on. Sure, a few will enjoy the older-than-old-school simplistic shooter action immensely, but even that has been compromised by "modern" shooter mechanics in what seems like an attempt to entice younger gamers. Gearbox Software may have resurrected a long-dead game, but there's little they could have done in the year they had their hands on it to make it right. Duke Nukem Forever is a decade late and a dollar short.
I've heard the console versions were put together at the relative last moment and suffer from frame rate and texture issues, and my short time spent trying it at trade shows told me as much. I went ahead with the PC version since that was the original rightful home of the franchise, and I figured it wouldn't hurt to try and see the game in the best possible light. I felt like I owed the game this after so many years and so many shattered hopes and dreams, but it didn't pay me back. Oh, sure, the graphics are good for about five years ago, which isn't a bad update from Gearbox considering that this game should have been released long before that, but that's about all I can really say on that front. The sneering, offensive attitude of Duke needed more of an update than the gameplay or graphics did, as he's stealing jokes from movies that came out years before, or just trying to be offensively funny in ways that wind up being incredibly awkward. He's not the lovable jerk he once was; he's just a jerk now.
Gearbox Software went in and turned this into a Halo-style shooter affair where your regenerates after a few seconds of not getting hit, and you can only carry two weapons at once, and if there's one thing that might have been their fault with this game, this might be it. This turns the almighty Duke into a coward that's peeking out from around corners when low on health, constantly wondering which two weapons to take into the next battle, and just altogether being not nearly as brazenly badass as Master Chief, Marcus Fenix, or even Darius Mason ever were. It seemed that the point of bothering to finish and release this game was to empower players to go back to a day when men were men and shooters were shooters, and these changes are constantly compromising the balls-out style of play that the level and enemy design, which seems to have gone largely unchanged in the last several years of development, seemed to promote.
Even the enemies seem somehow less fun to fight than they did on the Build engine. Pigcops used to have much more attitude and the standard troopers were lovable and stupid, but these new ones seem to live to annoy you rather than give you some cannon fodder to smash. It's fun once in a while to toss out an execution or punch enemies to death with steroids, but that feeling quickly fades and you're left wondering why you've still got five hallways of dudes to go through before the next big fun setpiece pops up.
There are moments of fun, and it's in those little weird gimmicks that 3D Realms put together way back in the day. We see plenty of goofy, interactive moments involving pinball machines, toilets, whiteboards, RC cars, and more, and that's just in the first hour or so. But these moments of "oh hey, I can't believe that little fiddly thing works!" become few and far between as we go, and the rest is dragged down by awful vehicle sections, repetitive levels, weird puzzles, and a lack of fun that constantly made me want to quit playing after a couple of hours. Did I get the mildly-amusing trip down memory lane that I was looking for after so many years? I guess, but that feeling died quickly, and what was left made me wish that DNF had died its final death years ago so no one would have had to go through all this. It wasn't worth it.
While the single player game is amusing for a little while and eventually turns into a chore, the multiplayer mode is just plain awful, with boring objectives, lag all over the place, and just uninspired design. It's absolutely not worth it, and all the fun I had back in the day of playing cat and mouse with Holodukes, pipebombs, door/switch puzzles, hiding in corners to trick people, all that - gone. Those memories I made will stay in place, although only barely, because the memories of DNF's Capture the Babe mode almost overwrote them. But only almost.
I've heard rumors that 2K only allowed Duke Nukem Forever to be resurrected in an attempt to recoup a fraction of the money they spent on the game through 3D Realms, but I don't think it was a good idea to bother. I've also heard that Gearbox knew that they couldn't possibly deliver an actual good game in a reasonable amount of time, so they worked on it for about a year and just tossed out what they had so that they could make their own real sequel from the ground up. If that's true, then I can see a glimmer of good coming out of all of this, but Duke needs to be redesigned and reworked with very little of the old games' tropes still left hanging around. If Duke Nukem is to be continued, then Gearbox is going to have to look at what made this game so bad, and (if I may be so bold as to use a non-sequitur movie quote) TAKE OFF AND NUKE IT FROM ORBIT. IT'S THE ONLY WAY TO BE SURE.