Duke Nukem Forever review

Dan Stapleton at

This little piggy is coming for blood.

Oh yeah, and there’s a shameless strip club level with no combat—it’s mostly a showcase for boobs and a playground for the many interactive games (pinball, air hockey, billiards, video poker) and gross-out moments in the bathroom. No two settings are alike, and with plenty of Easter eggs scattered around that boost your health when interacted with, exploring the world is a frequently rewarding high point.

Blast from the past
At the end of these levels lie some old-school-tough boss battles. Almost all of the hulking beasts took me out at least once before I figured out and exploited their attack patterns (notable exception: the final boss). Fights against a mothership, a massive alien queen, an underwater leech, and others are more about the spectacle of fighting huge unique monsters (plus an excuse for Duke to nut-punch something for an ego boost) than creating interesting gameplay.

It's Duke vs. Goliath.

The old-style design is probably due to the fact that DNF should’ve come out years ago. (Hell, 2K’s recommended PC is built from five-year-old hardware.) Here and there, it shows; while alien monsters look pretty cool—particularly the iconic Pig Cops and flying, tentacled Octabrains—humans and many of the environments look well behind the curve. But thanks to the aliens’ comical massacre of EDF (Earth Defense Force) troops, you don’t spend a lot of time looking at people, so it only really offends when the incompetent President waves his unarticulated fingers in your face.

Pop culture references are similarly out-of-date—even growing moldy. Considering that the freshest ones I caught date back all the way to 2004’s Team America: World Police (excluding reenactment of Christian Bale's 2009 meltdown in the opening and a crack at Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare tacked on at the end), most of Duke’s one-liners were probably recorded in the early half of last decade. Though Duke still delivers several chuckles per level by quoting ’90s films like Pulp Fiction and Starship Troopers and jabbing at Halo, it’s noticeable that he’s been living under a rock for quite some time.

Eh, it's Vegas. They were probably going to tear that hotel down and build a bigger one anyway.

I encountered a lot more puzzles (of the jumping, physics, and switch-throwing varieties) than I’d expected, and few are befitting of Duke. Dropping barrels into one end of a shipping container to tilt it and create a ramp is too mundane a task for a super badass—Duke’s not making fun of the puzzles other shooters started using a decade ago here, he’s imitating them. Poorly.

The more innovative puzzle gimmick is shrinking Duke down to a few inches tall and sending you scurrying through levels made for man-sized play. Being action-figure sized gives you a new and interesting perspective on the world—jumping around a vast kitchen battling rats and mini Pig Cops among the shelves while using mustard jars as cover is a very different experience, and one encounter in particular makes an epic battle of what would normally be a one-shot kill. However, running any significant distance on tiny legs can get tedious.

Mmmm, bacon bits!

Action is also varied up with frequent turret-shooting scenes, most of which are thankfully short and punchy, and two separate driving sequences: one as mini-Duke in an RC car, one in an oversized monster truck. Both are longer than they probably should be, as the uncharacteristic lack of guns on Duke’s cars limits you to repeatedly running over enemies and turbo-boosting over jump after jump.

One category in which DNF has surpassed its predecessor by leaps and bounds is in its uncensored nudity, particularly in the first half. Breasts abound, some attached to shapely but dead-eyed ladies, some to other, less appealing things. If that kind of thing bothers you, you’ve probably already been warned away by the long-as-your-arm ESRB rap sheet—but my personal taste threshold was exceeded only once, by a mid-game incident that goes just a little too far in mixing boobs, comedy, and gore.