Review: Duke Nukem Forever

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As the gaming industry has matured into a mainstream, big-money business on par with Hollywood and the music industry, reviewers and gamers, it seems, have increasingly taken video games far more seriously than they used to when gaming was treated more as a niche hobby for children and nerds. It’s only natural, as games have become more expensive for consumers and technology has advanced to a point where it’s easy to get sucked into the trap of expecting a certain level of quality and a certain design philosophy in line with other modern productions. I’ve fallen victim to this myself in the past.

But I do think we’ve reached a point where far too many people have forgotten about what games are really meant to be, with gamers often digging and digging to find and complain about what’s wrong with a game instead of first appreciating what good it has to offer. Duke Nukem Forever is the most recent victim of this, and without a doubt the most controversial. Hell, the PR firm representing the game was fired by 2K Games for overtly venting about the nasty reviews the game has been getting. Talk about taking things too seriously!

Anyway, my point here is that amidst all the controversy and the rush to hate on the game because it didn’t live up to some mythical level of hype that had built up after over a decade in development, Duke Nukem Forever has been brutalized beyond reason, despite being an entertaining, though far from spectacular, throwback to first-person shooters of the 90s.

Duke Nukem Forever is a by-the-numbers FPS very much in line with old corridor shooters of decades past. You won’t find an ounce of innovation in this game, but what you do get is a game that eschews any delusions of grandeur in favor of simple gaming fun, crude humor, pop culture references galore, in your face action, and plenty of brilliantly unexpected gameplay moments you won’t see in other games.

Seriously, how many other FPSs (or video games in general) have you played that allow you to grab poop out of a toilet and throw it around or slap giant boobs hanging from the walls of an alien hive? Or that have you shrinking down to mini-Duke size and hopping across sizzling burgers and hot stoves in a flooded fast food joint? Or that send you on a fetch mission to collect a condom, a vibrator, and a bag of popcorn for a hungry, horny stripper eager to give Duke a lap dance? I sure can’t think of any – but Duke Nukem Forever is loaded with silly, gross-out moments just like these.

Environmental interaction is a huge part of the game as well. When you aren’t blasting aliens and making pig cops squeal, there are a ton of side activities to discover, each one completed rewarding Duke with an Ego boost (the Ego gauge represents your shield/health). In Duke’s mansion and Titty City strip club, you’ll find fully developed arcade games, like pinball, air hockey and whack-a-mole (only with aliens popping up out of a naked woman’s body). You can also lift weights, ogle nudie mags, play slot machines, use the potty, Xerox Duke’s ass, and so much more. These little touches are what make Duke Nukem games different and special.

The gameplay, on the other hand, is not special at all – but that doesn’t mean it’s terrible either. The core shooting model does feel a bit old and clunky on a console controller, but still manages to pack enough of a punch to itch your trigger finger in a satisfying way. The huge boss battle set pieces are particularly exciting, and while they may not be as sharp as a tack, the pig cops, typically exploding into fat, bloody chunks of pork when killed, are the perfect targets for Duke’s steroid-induced rage.

Although many of the settings have a distinct style to them, the levels are almost entirely straightforward corridor shootouts, the enemy AI is easy to exploit, and the pacing is all over the place. One minute the game will be fast and exciting, and then the next it will suddenly become slow and plodding until you reach the next scripted action sequence. The unforgivably long loading screens sure don’t help either.

Plain and simple – Duke Nukem Forever looks, plays and sounds like a game conceptualized 15 years ago. Is that really a surprise to anyone?

For some, the dated design and production quality will carry with it an appealing charm, yet for others it will probably just seem archaic and uninteresting. Multiplayer in particular is a complete joke, even judged by older FPS standards. The maximum player limit is eight, so matches are shallow and lifeless, and they also tend to drag on much longer than they should since there simply aren’t many other players to shoot. Plus, there are only a few basic match types, and overall the weapon capabilities and spawn point locations aren’t very well balanced. There is some simple satisfaction to be gained through earning experience, leveling up, and unlocking new avatar costume pieces and decorations for your in-game apartment, but not enough to consistently hold your attention.

Fortunately, the campaign is pretty substantial, and, should you get sucked in by the game’s throwback charms and frat boy brand of humor, you can expect to squeeze out a solid eight hours of play time on a first run as you hunt for all the ego boost interactions and spend way more time than you should playing pinball, shooting pool, and slapping boobs. I was also thrilled to see Gearbox toss in a bunch of sweet bonus materials, including a complete timeline of the game’s production, a soundboard so you can listen to Duke’s famous quotes, and old-school cheat options, like infinite ammo, invincibility and big head mode, to make replaying the campaign a worthwhile task.

I don’t mean to trample on any fond feelings you may have when I say this, but Duke Nukem has never been a great or classic gaming franchise in terms of high-end game design. Duke unexpectedly rose to icon status for his raunchy one-liners and in-your-face attitude, and his games have always been more like vulgar, B-movie parodies of other, better FPS titles – nothing more, nothing less. That’s exactly what Duke Nukem Forever is, too.

Continuing that tradition, Duke Nukem Forever is not a great or memorable game, but it is a great guilty pleasure experience that is far more enjoyable than it probably should be. It’s not a game to be taken so seriously, and if you can avoid doing so you will enjoy Duke’s ball-busting, beer-chugging, alien-ass-kicking return to gaming infamy.

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Pros:
+ Core FPS gameplay is surprisingly fun and challenging
+ Many unexpectedly clever mission designs
+ Ego boost interactions are a lot of fun
+ Excellent bonus materials
+ Raunchy humor

Cons:
– Looks, plays and sounds like a game that’s been in development for 15 years
– Level designs and gameplay mechanics are incredibly basic by modern standards
– Weak, unnecessary multiplayer mode
– Poor pacing and horrendous load times

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for PC and Xbox 360
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Release Date: 6/14/2011
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1 (2-8 online)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!