Okay, I know I have a bit of history of… well… history lessons, but just for once, when it’s probably the most pertinent time ever to provide one, I’m not going to. I’m sure there are plenty of other sites out there that start off their reviews with the full historical rundown of this game. Besides, if you’re even the slightest bit interested in gaming, then you probably have at least a vague idea of the history of Duke Nukem Forever and its 12-year delay.
It’s probably the closest thing us gamers have had to a truly significant historical event. With a game like Duke Nukem Forever, which has taken so long to come out, and been part of gamer culture – if only in spirit – for so long, it surely takes a huge pair of balls for a company to think they can release something that will meet the almost mythical expectations the game has surely garnered over the years. Well, Gearbox certainly thought they had a pair big enough to rival Duke himself, and unlike some other wimps, they actually got the job done – but here’s the million dollar question. Is it good?
In another dramatic break from tradition, I’m going to answer straight away, and this is the final answer – no, it’s not that good. There are parts of it that are good, sure, but overall, it seems like someone dropped the ball, so to speak. It certainly wasn’t Duke, it’s clear he’s as ballsy as ever, so it has to be the game designers themselves who are the nutless wonders that loused this event up. Okay, okay, I’ll stop talking about balls now. It just seemed kind of appropriate, given the subject matter.
The game opens with one of its cooler ideas: the final boss fight from Duke Nukem 3D. This has been done before in other games, and I guess it’s not a bad idea to stir up some fond memories as your first course of action. In this case, Duke has to fight the Cycloid Emperor in the football field using the Devastator. Once you beat him, you get to actually kick his eye through the goal posts yourself, just like Duke did in the original’s closing cinematic. After this, the action zooms backwards to reveal that it’s not actually the game itself – but Duke playing a game of himself. You see his hands holding a controller and everything – I know! Pretty clever, right? Anyway, following this is some dialogue with Duke’s two slutty schoolgirl girlfriends who reveal that Duke is due to appear on a talk show at any moment to commemorate the twelfth anniversary of him kicking the alien invaders in the ba-… backsides.
So far, so good, eh? Sounds like a good start for a game that aims to deliver an experience worthy of the legend. Unfortunately, this is where things start to go downhill. Turns out the aliens are still sore about Duke beating them the first time, and it’s taken them 12 years to hatch a plan for revenge. Their grand scheme? Exactly the same as the first time – kidnap as many human females as possible to impregnate them with alien horrors. And with that, Duke’s appearance on the show is cut short as he has to run out into the city of Las Vegas, which has apparently become a massive, city-sized shrine to him, to kick some ass.
The actual game is where the biggest problem lies. Once you’ve stripped away all the drunken, frat-boy monkey-garbage, what’s left is a very straightforward shooter – a very bare-bones straightforward shooter. I guess the hook was supposed to be the humour and the funny little things you can do every now and then to increase Duke’s Ego (life bar), like shooting hoops, lifting weights, peeing and slapping around titties (seriously). Unfortunately, it’s just not enough to make the game good when the shooting action is this bland.
Duke can only hold two weapons at once, and there are usually only two weapons to be had at any time, meaning the developers wanted you to go through certain section with a particular pair of weapons. The weapons aren’t even that interesting – they’re mostly the classic Duke weapons you know: Ripper, shotgun, Shrink Ray, Freeze Ray, RPG, with one or two boring additions like an alien laser. The enemies are ripped mostly from the last game too, again, with one or two unremarkable new additions. Occasionally you’ll have to solve a low-key puzzle or engage in a bit of driving or turret shooting, but really, it’s nothing new at all. Even the aiming feels backwards. When you hold down the button to zoom and aim, all that happens is that the view is tugged forwards a bit – no iron sight aiming or even a slight posture adjustment on Duke’s part. I didn’t think it would be a big deal until I realised how unsophisticated it makes the game feel.
Okay, so the single player game is amusing but mediocre – but surely fighting others online with all this humour should make it more fun, right? Well… maybe. I guess there’s some fun to be had shooting other players with shrink rays, or setting laser trip mines in devious locations – but don’t expect anything revolutionary. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill (cute), and Duke Nukem’s take on capture the flag – Capture the Babe, in this case – are your lot. You can customise your Duke with a few accessories and colour as you rank up, too, if that makes any difference to you.
When all’s said and done, I can’t help but feel that the developers were focusing on completely the wrong thing here. They spent so much time trying to make the game crass and offensive – and they succeeded – that they forgot they were making a game. Duke Nukem 3D was crass, offensive and very complex and innovative for its time. Duke Nukem Forever is crass, offensive and just plain backwards.