Developed by 3D Realms, Triptych Games, and Gearbox Software
Published by 2K Games
Played on PC
It’s been the joke of the gaming industry for ages. The list of things that happened before it came out is tremendous. And it was expected that, when 3D Realms shut its doors, it would never happen. And yet it did. Against impossible odds and a 12-year development time, Duke Nukem Forever came out. And the final result is…well, about what you’d expect out of a game 12 years in the making.
Duke Nukem (Jon St. John) has been in retirement since he defeated the aliens 12 years ago, becoming the world’s biggest celebrity in the downtime. Unfortunately, the aliens are back. And naturally, it’s up to Duke to save the world again.
I’ll just get this out of the way at the start: the game is rampantly misogynistic. Any female characters exist only to make crude jokes and get killed. This isn’t NECESSARILY a fault that just this game has. It’s just particularly painful here. The times have changed since Duke Nukem 3D came out in 1996, and it can be hard to play this and see Duke’s world ignore all the changes.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the gameplay. It’s like what you’d expect a modern FPS to be. You have regenerating health and a few weapons that let you blast alien baddies. The main problem with the gameplay is that I always feel like I’m doing things because I have to do things. I don’t feel like “Ah, I need to get to X, thus I need to do Y.” It’s more like “Well, I don’t see anything else I can do, I might as well go in this direction and see if that’s right.” Maybe by the end of the puzzle I’ve figured out “Oh, I was trying to do X”, but that’s just a shrug at that point. I also feel that having the same baddies that were in the original game hurts this a good deal. Sure, the enemies look new and do new things (the pig cops now come in several varieties). But you get this constant feeling of “Been there, killed that”. You don’t ever get a moment of surprise when an exciting new enemy pops out. It’s just “Oh, I remember these guys” before you start shooting them. Then again, the entire game has this feeling of “I’ve seen this before”. I feel like it could easily be a slideshow of FPS trends over the past 12 years, because that’s what it feels like. Remember when vehicle levels became huge? What about when simple physics puzzles were the next big thing? How about regenerating health and only being able to carry two guns (fortunately, a patch has updated this to 4, since the game is extremely difficult to play with just 2)? You even get trends that have long gone the way of the dinosaur, like swimming levels and platforming segments. And this also extends to Duke’s phrases. Now I’ll be fair again and point to Duke Nukem 3D ripping off phrases from various action movies. But when Duke says “Tonight we dine in hell” for the second time, it’s getting ridiculous.
The humor in general in the game is just weak. I think at best I may have given a few moments a “Heh, that’s actually kinda funny”. At worst? A mix of groan- and cringe-inducing. The game has an obsession with the number 69 that gets old fast. The one-liners that Duke says get tiresome (especially since they endlessly repeat). And somewhere in the constant language and juvenile humor, you’d think they’d accidentally hit one genuinely hilarious moment. They don’t. They really, really don’t.
For all the game’s fault, there are some genuinely good ideas here. The game world’s interactivity is pretty incredible. Flipping on and off light switches is been there kind of stuff. The fact that you can pick up various objects and throw them at enemies, get and consume things from vending machines, draw on whiteboards, and play games like pinball or air hockey inside the world. That’s the incredible stuff. The interactivity also leads to the ability to increase your ego. The regenerating health here is Duke’s ego, and doing things like lifting weights or looking at porn magazines increases it. It’s a cool feature that encourages you to interact with everything.
The game’s first half is also notably more interesting than the second half. The first half takes place in a Nukemed Las Vegas, with Duke going through a Duke-themed casino, a Duke Burger, etc. It not only plays into the sillier side of the game world, but it’s stuff you don’t see in every game. This section also features my favorite level of the game, where Duke ends up shrunk inside the Duke Burger kitchen. In order to get to a power switch, he has to platform through the entire kitchen. It’s a genius level. And yes, I ragged on the game for having platforming segments earlier, but when it ends up creating a part of the game where I genuinely have fun, who am I to argue? Sadly, the second part turns into boring deserts and bland dam interiors that I could see in any FPS.
I almost feel like saying that everybody should play Duke Nukem Forever just because it finally came out. Of course, you’re going to end up playing this random mishmash of a game that occasionally has its shining moments in a game full of mediocrity. It’s certainly not as bad as it could’ve been. But it’s not as good as it should’ve been.