Game Reviews

Duke Nukem - Never

Duke Nukem Forever

Angels may fall first, but it is our heroes, our icons, who fall the farthest. And no greater a fall can be seen in the past year than the entire collapse of an entire fanbase in anything related to the Duke Nukem franchise once cited alongside Tomb Raider and Mortal Kombat (both of which have undergone their own downturns in the past decade) as a part of the classics in western gaming history. Yet this game is no tribute to the franchise's high points ala 2011's Mortal Kombat or the much appreciated Tomb Raider Anniversary. Instead, Duke Nukem Forever feels like a poor regurgitation of all the things we hated about the franchise but forgot to mention - including the much maligned last hurrah of first person shooter jumping puzzles.

The first crime is one against the very nature of the game's genre - the gunfights are boring. Yes, as a first person shooter you would expect that they would at least revive that old school feel in the weapons, including a powerful shotgun and a rocket launcher with some actual splash damage. Both guns feel nerfed, however, and the rest of the cast feels rather pitiful even in comparison to their Duke 3D versions. The pistol sounds like a pea shooter and is pretty much only usable for headshots (and for an achievement, if you're into that sort of thing), while the shrink ray finds itself to slow acting to be of much use on the battlefield. Freeze ray's range does not match its payoff (and probably would have worked better with a longer range and a shorter effect duration), making it dead weight in a firefight.

The enemies you're shooting are about as good as the guns. Pig cops and jetpack aliens make their return from Duke 3D, but they all look like their trying to make their way through molasses instead of fighting you in the style of. . . say . . .Painkiller or Serious Sam. It's rather sad that I would prefer a horde of AI rushing at me then this game's lame attempt to lop a poor implementation of AI tactics into what is supposed to be a run and gun game in the style of old first person shooters. Duke Nukem does occasionally encounter gigantic enemies that are supposed to bring back the old school shooter boss feeling, but they feel closer to the final boss of Halo 2 than to anything out of Doom or Quake.

The final nail in this game's coffin is a bafflingly atrocious level design which highlights how dated the very thought of platforming in first person shooters is. That Duke Nukem is supposed to be (and I quote) "An intelligent play experience"* is laughable at best, but to interpret that as a full go-ahead for all the quick time events and lame jumping puzzle sequences they could shove down a player's through is easily the single worst design decision since Far Cry 2. Even the non-jumping puzzles make feel dumber for doing them, especially everything related to that non sequitur stripper sequence that happens in a dream solely as an excuse for the game's stripper models to get some use.

Speaking of the stripper models, remember when we weren't supposed to care about them? Remember when the General's orders and alien invasion were an excuse to kick alien ass and little more? Apparently the developers of the game forgot that, instead forcing you to sit through a long, 30 minute post-tutorial exposition before you finally get to shoot anything other than Duke's mouth off - no wait that's scripted too. Duke Nukem Forever's insistence on making me look and listen to these cardboard ripouts it calls characters would have driven me out of the game even if the game were excellent to play, which it obviously isn't.

It's clear what happened here. Someone up top wanted to make a modern, cinematic shooter complete with two-weapon load outs, regenerating health, "collaborative AI", an unhealthy dose of quick time events, and a strong sense of story and character. Someone else wanted to bring back all the old guns, all the old jokes, the old platforming and puzzle sequences, and everything we remember about Duke 3D, good and bad. The result is a lousy attempt to modernize a system of first person shooter that ought to have died with the Dreamcast, and a crushing defeat for any chance of a franchise revival. For those of you who ever gave a damn about this game (namely its 15 year development history), be content merely looking at the box and imagining a game inside. No matter what you conjure up, it is assuredly better than anything Duke Nukem Forever has to offer, and no patch or DLC** will ever fix that.

*paraphrased from a Gearbox comment in one of their developer podcasts

** While the PC version was patched to up the number of weapons from 2 to 4, it did not make enough of an impact to adjust the overall score. The Doctor Who Cloned Me is more of the same in terms of campaign, highlighting in 3 hours the problems of the 9 hour main campaign. Finally, the multiplayer at the time of printing is effectively dead due to no community support whatsoever, and so was not considered worth reviewing

Other Reviews...