2 out of 5 stars
I have never played a Duke Nukem game. You may think that makes me unqualified to judge a title that fans have been waiting over a decade for, but I think it gives me a better perspective to review it than most. I don’t have to look through nostalgia tinted glasses and dismiss potential flaws with excuses like “well at least it’s Duke Nukem!” Rather, I’m able to rate Duke Nukem Forever simply as a game, and not compare it to past titles, but to its present day competitors.
Simply put, the game is a mechanical disaster. It’s hard to even imagine another AAA title released at this low level of quality, and even though the game has been developed over thirteen years, it looks like they stopped trying to keep up with the times around 2005.
The first thing you’ll notice is the graphics. The blocky, muddy, choppy graphics. Yes, it might be rare to actually be impressed by visuals these days, as we’ve come to expect a certain level of polish, but it’s even less frequent to be astounded at how unspeakably terrible the graphics of a game are, especially for one as high profile as this.
I manned a turret and watched an alien mothership fly overhead and I could swear it was made out of mud. It was brown, murky and blurred, and I thought “wow, texture pop is really bad in this game.” That term describes a moment where a game’s textures look blurry, but then pop into focus a few seconds later, a process normally viewed as a technical flaw. But Duke Nukem‘s textures never pop. They’re just always like this.
This is the mothership battle in question, but you can’t find these shitty textures in pre-released screenshots because they don’t exist.
Next is character animation, which I can describe as “adequate” for enemies (though their AI is nonexistent) but for Duke himself? Wow. This can only really be seen when looking in a mirror, but when you do so, if you move around, Duke flails his legs around while his arms stay straight at his sides like he’s riverdancing. When jumping, his arms still stay glued to his hips, while his knees contort awkwardly in the air. This animation is the single most dated thing I’ve seen in a video game in the last decade.
What’s even worse is that despite these horrendous graphics, Duke Nukem Forever has comically long load times, and when the shitty looking level appears at last, you have to wonder what the hell took so long. The game claims to use the Unreal engine, but it feels like a knockoff made out of sticks and glue and scrap metal. While most games will show you a tip or two as your level loads, this game makes you sit through about 10 or 12 as you can often wait a solid minute for the game to load when you reach a new area or die, which will happen with increasing frequency as you progress.
The controls aren’t great, and they’re slippery and loose like the floor and guns are all covered in jelly. The game attempts to combine aspects of Call of Duty (stick clicking to sprint) with Halo (no aiming down the sight), and the result isn’t a bad control scheme, just the physics of it are pretty far off. I don’t even know what the proper term is, but it’s best described as “feel.” When you shoot someone or are hit in Halo or COD, there is a sort of weight to it, that’s a combination of physics, visuals and sound that makes it feel real, and that’s just missing here. The entire game feels hollow. It’s something you get used to after an hour or two, but when compared to titles that even came out three or four years ago, it’s pretty atrocious.
Surprisingly, driving sucks the least, and was actually my favorite section.
I never played the original games, but I do know something of the mythos of Duke. He’s the most alpha male to ever exist, and his titles are full of crude humor wrapped in loads of sex and gore. I actually appreciated the beginning of the game, where Duke plays a copy of his own video game while being blown by two twins wearing school girl outfits in the penthouse of a casino that he owns called “The Ladykiller.” I actually thought the first section of the game dedicated solely to Duke’s ego was pretty funny. You go from the casino to the “Duke Dome” to the “Duke Burger” all of which have statues and posters of him everywhere. You learn that essentially during his decade off, his fame and fortune bought him most of Las Vegas.
But much of the humor falls flat, and this is readily apparent with practically every line Duke utters. When he’s not making a bad pun, he’s quoting a five year old movie (“Tonight we dine in hell!”) or an equally ancient internet meme (“Damnit Leroy!”) there is almost nothing Duke says in the game that is actually funny. While I may appreciate the concept and environment and have no problem with a ridiculous caricature of a macho man, and even could be persuaded to embrace the concept, this game is not funny, despite how desperately hard it tries to be.
The game is a typical shooter to a point, sure, but the game does attempt to Duke Nuke-ify the genre a bit with small changes like making your rechargeable shield your “ego.” It’s sort of fun to go around and lift weights or shoot hoops or smoke a cigar to increase the bar, but some things don’t make sense (throwing a paper airplane?) and some are downright annoying. I was told that “interactive” activities would give me the biggest ego boosts, so I figured I’d crank out some points on the air hockey table. I started playing, and scored three times in about five minutes yet nothing happened. So is it up to five? I scored another two times, and still my opponent pressed on. F*** that, I’m not playing a twenty minute game of virtual air hockey to earn a few bonus points.
“Kid wants my autograph? Self-esteem boost!”
I like the weapon selection, and found myself mixing up my arsenal quite a bit between assault rifles and shotguns and rocket launchers and alien tech. I did not however understand why a game that prides itself in the ridiculous found it necessary to restrict me to carrying only two weapons at a time, which seems odd for a hero as hulking as Duke. I’m also told that there are zero new enemy types or weapons in this game, which seems astonishing considering how long the title took to make. You mean to tell me in thirteen years, no one had a new idea for a bad guy or a gun? Seriously?
Duke Nukem Forever at its core is a host of ideas from other, better games packaged into a game starring a beloved character. It’s got Call of Duty sprinting and hiding, Halo shooting and jumping, Gears of War executions and dismemberment and Half-Life physics puzzles, but it does each aspect worse than those it ripped off from. All those elements could in fact be combined to make a pretty fun game, and at times, Duke comes dangerously close to one. Once you play it for long enough, you forget about the shit controls and lackluster graphics, and the intense run and shoot balls-out style can be enjoyable. But that said, the entire thing feels trapped in a time warp, and when you look down and realize it’s 2011 and you’re 23, not 2003 and you’re 15, it’s a lot less fun. If this game was released then, it would have probably delighted an age group who wouldn’t have even been allowed to play it, but released today to a gaming public that for the most part are adults? It just doesn’t work.
There is a fun, hilarious game buried deep down inside of Duke Nukem Forever, but I was only able to catch a glimpse of it, and play it for a few brief moments. But the title as it exists is so terribly dated in terms of both animation and humor, it’s a recipe in how to murder a potentially successful franchise.
2 out of 5 stars
Seriously, it should be illegal to release screens that are rendered this well when the final product looks the way it does.