Did you ever wait ages to take a dump and then finally do a great big splasher that brought tears of relief to your bowels? Well that’s what Duke Nukem Forever was supposed to be like. After over a decade in the making I think we all felt some surprise and relief that someone finally picked up the torch and tried to squeeze out this big chunk of messy delight… unfortunately it would appear that it is more of a drippy, runny, unpleasant gunge. I really appreciate what Randy Pitchford and Gearbox set out to do and I totally get their frustration at the feedback they have received from the gaming media. There’s nothing worse than putting allot of skilled effort into something and then having people who wouldn’t know a pixel from a spline telling you how crap your production is, so I can really sympathise with their valiant effort. Unfortunately it doesn’t change the outcome, Duke Nukem Forever is far from the great comeback game it was hoped to be and could indeed be a Duke killer (though I really hope not). Many a Duke fan may feel insulted by this offering while others will be relieved that it saw the light of day at all. A smart move would have been to make this troubled title a DLC game or at least sell it at a reduced price, but I think either blind faith or perhaps a touch of greed took over, resulting in a media backlash and a few mafia style threats from the publisher/PR company. But is the game really all that bad to justify such a shit-storm? Read on…
What are the main issues with DNF? Well firstly, it is very dated in its look and feel. You cannot compare this game to today’s Modern Warfare or Halo style games, that would be like asking a middle aged man with a hip replacement to whack off faster than a teenage athlete. DNF is more comparative with some of the games we saw banging around four or more years ago like King Kong, Call of Juarez, Prey or even Quake 2. That doesn’t make it a ‘Bad’ game, just a very out of date experience which is not what people expect when they pay top price for a new title. From a development aspect the game is a patchwork of quality. Level design in general is very linear and predictable with the exception of novelty environments such as the strip club or some of the miniature Duke areas, these do mix up game play a bit and can be a good laugh but provide little in the way of ‘Wow’ factor. Some parts of the game look rather nice and feel more polished than other levels but for the most part environments are quite blocky with poor refresh rates and provide little in the way of eye-candy.
The first level set in Vegas is probably the most disappointing, apart from a chance to play with your balls on the pool table and drive a mini R/C car, it is quite a standard fare. The smart money would have been to make the first level a ball grabber but unfortunately it is just a bit of a lazy tickle. There are a few levels that have a nice feel to them and look better made, like the more open world of the highway/desert where you get to drive a big monster truck around and squash pigs into pattys or perhaps the gewy labyrinths of the alien infested Duke Bowl where topless chicks are being
molested held captive as alien baby makers. Throughout the game there are highs and lows of quality, it all feels very… inconsistent and dated.
In fairness to DNF it does try and break up the linear feel by introducing some rail gun action or driving sections between levels, most of which work reasonably well depending on the difficulty you choose. They also litter environments with interactive bits and bobs, from vibrators to rats, you can pick up stuff and interact with it, which is a minor amusement but fun all the same. Throw in on top of this the mini games of poker, pool, pinball and a few others and there are plenty of little fillers to keep the most cynical gamer amused for at least a short period. As an extra incentive to play with the surroundings you can activate or use certain items or games correctly to get an ‘Ego’ boost that basically adds to your health meter, a particular favourite is where Duke can stick his ‘Big Fella’ into a toilet door hole that represents the mouth of a crudely drawn chick and gets ‘taken care of’ by the dweller on the others side… with further investigation it turns out to be a guy – euwww!! Duke gets dicked! Then there are the end of level boss battles which, although very stereotypical, they are faithful to the Duke universe and style that we saw in DN3D and can be a challenging and enjoyable tussle. Overall the formula of Run-Gun then turret fight then Joyride then boss battle is a rinse and repeat affair that many a veteran gamer will recognize from the old days and although a predictable experience it is not unpleasant and at times is quite addictive. Surprisingly it is quite a long game, even though it only has about five main stages. The levels are broken up within them to create near triple that amount giving the impression of a long campaign. You should get at least eight or so hours of game play out of this and more if you mess about with all the bits.
Character models in the game also suffer from inconsistency issues with many of the enemies being quite detailed and well animated while most of the human NPC’s are poorly rendered and in some cases very badly animated, mainly the chicks surprisingly. The acting and timing of gags/punchlines while interacting with NPC’s feels stilted and out of step making the conversations bland rather than the intended humours effect that could have been this games saving grace. There are a good few attempted comedy moments littered throughout the game and although they are far from side splitting laughs they do add a certain charm to the overall experience, like when Duke has to smack a mouthy
Christian Bale guest backstage at a TV show or when he is boob slapping alien wall titties, yes I said Boob! Unfortunately such moments are few and I feel that the humour falls short of what was hoped for in many gamers expectations, that said the overall tone and vibe of the humour is ok and it does convey Duke’s sexist, beer swilling, ass pinching world well enough, so Duke is still Duke, thankfully! He still has all the cheesy one liners ripped off and adapted from various popular movies such as Starship Troopers, Robocop, Team America and many more, which is great and is probably the best source of humour in the game. He has the same care free sexual pervert attitude and he still treats women like playthings, although some might find this offensive, most ‘Dudes’ will at least get a casual smirk from watching the Duke in action and it is all done in a very cheesy tongue and cheek manner. It is kind of hard to see why so many are so offended by any of the games ‘portrails’ as there is little difference compared to DN3D of years ago, haven’t we progressed past the taboos of then? Or have we gone full circle and become so ‘politically correct’ that were too tight arsed to appreciate a bit of base/crude humour?! Even if you feel too ‘grown up’ for this style of humour, it will at the very least stur up some nostalgic thoughts for the Duke vets out there. Besides – it wouldn’t be a ‘Duke’ game without such elements of immature, slightly retarded, testosterone filled brainlessness. Its a roller coaster to be ridden and enjoyed – not over analysed.
The weapons feel good and heavy with a nice kick to them. Although its hardly an arsenal of weaponry available, what is on offer suffices and many of the DN3D favourites make a comeback, such as the shrink ray, Holo Duke and pipe bombs. Much fun can be had stepping on shrunken little piggies while Duke blurts out one liners about stepping in shit, making pork-chops and just generally taking the piss. You can only carry 2 weapons and a limited amount of ammo meaning that if you run out then its fisty-cuffs for Duke, which is far from ideal and not very effective without a power up of either – Beer to make you tougher, or – Steroids to turn you into a fists of fury Duke-Hulk mode. Thankfully there is usually loads of ammo around. Health is measured by ‘Ego’ which is fitting and regenerates when you stay out of trouble for a short period and this is much better than the health pack system of DN3D, yay – Progress!
Vehicles control reasonably well and although not perfect, their overall physics are quite good making the driving levels pretty enjoyable. The turret sections are quite frustrating when playing on a high skill setting but are a fun bit of alien shredding otherwise. Unfortunately the aiming system for everything form playing pool to turret shooting is fecky and feels inaccurate, this is a poor and lazy oversight regardless of what era this game was made for and although it wont ruin the experience, it is a frustration. And where are the feckin jet-packs? eh?
Probably the biggest and totally unacceptable factor of DNF are the loading times, there is nothing subjective about it – they suck!! Its bad enough to have to wait for a level to load the first time, that I could overlook, but to have the same delay after every death – seriously? Its just about bearable when playing on Normal or lower but try playing the game on insane difficulty and you will soon want to either smack yourself in the nuts or press the eject button in frustration… choose to eject!
If you do have the patience, fortitude and kahonies to finish the game then you will unlock the ‘Insane mode’ and a load of goodies such a Duke Nukem sound board along with videos, pictures and general history of the long and troubled development of DNF. Useful for Duke fans or Industry minded folks, and perhaps it is a bit of a ‘look at the shit we went through to bring you this game‘ kinda thing. I found it all rather interesting and a nice little extra.
Multi player is tacked on! Its jerky, its basic and it is a cheap thrill with little to offer the seasoned on line player, it is really just an extra rather than a proper game mode. There is Deathmatch, Capture the Babe and king of the hill game types in both team and solo modes. Gearbox have tried to keep it interesting by adding a ‘level up’ system. The more stuff you do the more points you get to increase in level, which then allows you to unlock items and customize your Duke and his ‘Digs’ with weird and wonderful decorations… big deal! The maps aren’t too bad although they do use the basic ‘mirror bases’ format and as a result the enemies side is no more better or interesting than your own, seriously its all pretty crap and is nothing more that a cheap thrill with ‘Capture the Babe’ being the mildly more interesting game mode, and only for the very slight amount of humour involved… Maybe if you have a bunch of pals to play with you can knock a few laughs out of the matches but if your on your own looking for some thrilling shooter action then your playing the wrong game. I have to admit I only suffered this for a couple of hours and solely for the purpose of knowing what was involved for this review and all I can really say on the subject is – Don’t bother!
Back when DN3D first blew its load onto our screens it was fresh, clever and pushed the limits of what was allowed appear in a video game and we loved it for that. The use of Arnie like quotes and sexual innuendo made the experience bliss for the youth of the day, this is still valid in DNF, its just as sexual and cheesy as it was back then – except that was then and its all a bit stale now. Despite all its many flaws it is still worth a casual play through for any FPS lover, and simply a must for Duke fans, at the least to form a valid opinion if nothing else. Duke Nukem Forever is less of a ‘new’ title and more of a ‘remake with extras’ of Duke Nukem 3D. To answer the question I asked at the beginning of this review – Is the game really all that bad to justify such a shit-storm? – The answer is NO! DNF does not deserve the backlash it has gotten, I’m quite surprised at the stance some of the game Journalists I respect and admire have taken on this, and although I will continue to respect their views in the future, I have to say – Take that pole out of your ass and lighten up a little! Gearbox may have fumbled the ball but they didn’t drop it completely and they made a good attempt to fix the unfixable. That said – Is it worth the full price of a full game – No, certainly not! A good second hand purchase – perhaps, if half price or less. A good rental – I would say that it deffo is! I’m not sorry I bought it new even though I couldn’t honestly advise anyone else to do so, and I thoroughly enjoyed running through the game (on normal setting) despite its shortcomings, but then again – I’m a Duke fan and Iv got Balls of Steel!!!
Doctor Recondite: Bah, I get the feeling journalists were just waiting to pounce on this and rape it for every fault possible, like a scout master at summer camp. A title this long in development was never going to live up to the hype and once 3D Realms fell over whoever picked up the rights was always going to rush something out to cash in on the name. The word in the wind is we haven’t seen the last of Duke, here’s hoping it’s a different situation next time around.
Deadman: After spending 15 years in the melting pot people were lining up to see this, it was only going to go one of two ways, game of the year or steamy pile of poo. Sounds like Ball’s of S**t might have been a better title…