Duke Nukem Forever review
Is it worth the wait? Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. How could any game possibly be worth waiting 14 years for, especially one that only ever aspired to be a low-brow comedy first-person shooter? There’s no reinvention of the genre here, no real attempt at grandeur. More than anything, Duke just wants to party like it’s 1997.
Check unrealistic expectations at the door and forget the ancient, hyperbolic promises of self-deluded developers before you even consider buying this suddenly corporeal ghost of PC gaming history. The development-time-to-awesomeness ratio isn’t impressive. If you can do that, Duke Nukem Forever can at least mostly succeed in its aspiration. After all of its tumultuous history, it’s ended up as an entertaining FPS wrapped in juvenile, smut-laced humor. Its gameplay is a hybrid of old-school and new, and it won’t wow players with stunning visuals—its window of opportunity for that passed years ago—but it does put on a good show of alien ass-kicking by working what it’s got.
Like a hyper-violent, over-sexed Peter Pan, Duke Nukem refuses to grow up. Though 12 years have passed since the events of Duke Nukem 3D, he’s the exact same trash-talking, cigar-chomping, muscle-bound man of action, still rocking that ’90s-style buzz cut and red tanktop. The source of his superhuman action-hero powers is his own ego, which doubles as a literal recharging shield over his (also recharging) health. It’s reinforced by an entire world of people who worship him as an infallible man-god and sex idol—women want him, men want to be him. He’s the stereotypical teenage boy’s power fantasy personified and turned up to 11. Sure, he’s a ham-fisted action hero parody, but Duke remains one of the most memorable characters in gaming history for a reason: he’s simply more fun to play as than SERIOUS FACE ARMY MAN.
As two-dimensional as Duke himself, the story gets right to the point: intergalactic sex-criminal aliens are re-offending, and Duke must defy orders and step in to defend Earth’s chicks. Even that flimsy B-movie tribute plot is resolved (sort of) half way through—DNF becomes simply about shooting aliens ’cause they’re ugly, and bits of the script are little more than profane Mad Libs. Lazy writing or pointed critique of the state of story in first-person shooters? I prefer to think of it as the latter.
Action-wise, the single-player game fulfills its obligations as a successor to Duke Nukem 3D. It’s fast-paced run-and-gun battle against diverse, love-to-hate ’em monsters, using weaponry ranging from conventional boomsticks toover-the-top sci-fi, and fought through a long series of corridor levels where there’s almost always something unique to see and interact with. Almost every original weapon (except Duke’s boot) returns—and after taking the Shrink Ray and Freeze Beam for a spin, it makes me wonder why few shooters have appropriated the joy of killing enemies in two-step attacks. Sure, shrinking enemies and then squashing them or freezing and shattering isn’t as efficient as double-tapping to the head, but it’s more fun. There’s also the Devastator, a ridiculously powerful, double-barreled, rapid-fire rocket launcher that never pauses to reload until it’s spent.
Duke’s trusty pistol, shotgun, Ripper chaingun, and rocket launcher may not be anything particularly unique or special (and certainly not realistic, lacking even a hint of recoil) but they’re loud and potent alien killers. The new weapons, a rail gun sniper rifle, an alien laser, and a triple-missile-launcher called the Enforcer Gun are pretty ho-hum—no new classics here. The biggest sadness is that DNF has adopted the Halo-style two-weapon system, which frequently forced me to abandon my beloved Shrink Ray for lack of ammo. Even with all of that heavy weaponry, I still died quite a bit—despite the regenerating health system, Duke Nukem Forever is one of the more challenging shooters I’ve played in years.
At least the signature remote-detonating pipe bombs, laser tripwire mines, and Holo-Duke decoys (plus melee-enhancing steroids and pain-mitigating beer powerups) exist outside this limitation, allowing you to set all manner of devious traps in the diverse range of linear, corridor-style levels and lure enemies into them. Duke battles the aliens through his high-tech Duke Cave, his self-styled opulent casino, the aliens’ disgustingly organic hive (complete with Prey-style sphincter doors that open when tickled), a Vegas skyscraper, a Dukeburger restaurant, Hoover Dam, construction sites, Nevada canyons, underwater, and more.