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Duke Nukem Forever (PC) Review

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  • Duke Nukem Forever (PC) Review

    Warning: The following review contains screenshots that may be too explicit for some readers. If you're offended by digital nudity or language, stop reading now.

    Opening Ramble
    Oh, Duke Nukem Forever, where do we even begin with you? Do we talk about the 15 year development you underwent? Let's face it, not that many games have an entirely separate Wiki page dedicated just to the time spent in development. Nor do they have their own site dedicated to what world events took place in the time it took for the game to be released. Do we dive right into the gameplay that seems to combine minor aspects from games over the past decade? Maybe we just talk immediately about how Duke tries to excel in a variety of gameplay mechanics but always manages to come up just short?

    For being in development for over a decade and handed around to at least three major development studios before ultimately being released, what did the gaming world honestly expect to find when Duke Nukem Forever was in their hands? Did they expect a game polished and refined like none other before it? Did they expect mind blowing gameplay that was somehow both the classic Duke Nukem 3D gameplay the world loved and a cutting edge game that featured never before seen mechanics?

    Come on, let's be realistic here. The hype, for everyone that was pulled into it, led them to colossal let down. There are those who remember Duke fondly and recall back to an age where they enjoyed the ever living crap out of Duke 3D. Many reviews out there focused solely on the console experience which, as I seem to be finding out, probably shouldn't have been released in its current state. The console version is apparently a buggy, slow loading mess and it's obvious that the home of Duke Nukem Forever is on the PC first and foremost.

    I struggled with starting this review as I wasn't sure where I would place myself. I'll admit up front here that I never really enjoyed Duke Nukem 3D. Feel free to call me every name in the book but it's true. Sure, there were fun times had in high school programming classes during down time. A small group of us would "duke" (ha ha) it out in a LAN deathmatch. I attempted to enjoy the single player experiences ages back but I just didn't particularly care for it. I even lucked out and received a copy of the Xbox Live Arcade version of Duke 3D from George Broussard himself, but even then I just couldn't get into it.

    Perhaps that is why I went into Duke Nukem Forever with almost no expectations. Oh sure, I know Duke's persona, his affinity towards the female form, and his mighty boot, but not so much the games and gameplay. But I didn't go in thinking it would be a fantastic throw back to games of yesteryear. I didn't go in with rose tinted glasses that fogged my vision of what the game truly is and I didn't really know what sort of a ride I was in for. I've seen the trailers throughout the years but those don't honestly tell us much, especially with how long ago some of those came out. No, the only notion I had going into this game is that "this is a piece of history. The game nobody ever thought would be released is here, in my hands, waiting to be played." And play it I did.

    I want something to be made clear here. If the title wasn't a dead giveaway, this line should be: I have played this on the PC version. I could have opted for a console version, gotten a review out pre-release, and suffered accordingly, but I insisted upon the PC version. I almost felt as if I'd be doing a disservice to Duke if I played this title on a console. The differences between the consoles and PC version are probably already well known to you by now, but we'll discuss them in greater detail later.

    One of the first things you'll come to realize about Duke Nukem Forever (DNF) is that it simply tries too hard. It tries too hard to be shocking, humorous, violent, new, and old. It is as if the game doesn't have its own identity anymore. There is regenerating health in the way of Duke's Ego, a common mainstay of modern shooters. There's a bizarre choice to limit Duke to handling just two primary weapons at any given time. The Mighty Boot was removed as an option to be used in any situation, appearing only at random when you "execute" a downed enemy.

    However, at the same time it's trying to incorporate new gameplay mechanics it still tries to retain a lot of old school feeling gameplay. There are a lot of enemies, a lot of explosions, and a great deal of interactivity that fans of Duke 3D were quite fond of. The problem is, and you can see where this is going, is that DNF never really excels in any of these aspects. It is not a fantastic modern shooter nor is it old school enough to be a great throwback to memorable shooters like its namesake, Duke 3D, or Doom, Half-Life, or others from that golden era of shooters. It's almost as if Duke was frozen in time while the rest of the world grew up, which if you think about it, is precisely what happened.

    Would we have looked more favorably upon DNF if this was released a decade ago? I think, and I hesitate to say this with 100% confidence, is that yes, we all would have looked upon this game as being absolutely mind blowing if it was released over 10 years ago and not in 2011. It still retains enough old school gameplay that in 2000, it would have felt immediately familiar and fun while making just enough jumps in new gameplay mechanics that, at the time, would have been revolutionary. Regenerating health and interactivity out the ass? Whoa! This is really neat! Sadly though, we've seen this all done in other games and done much better.

    Simply put, I just didn't know how to review this game. Even after playing 9 hours, beating the single player and then firing up multiplayer for a bit, this game still feels like an enigma. Even now, I am still not sure how I should have approached the game and review.

    The amount of "this game is horrible, 2/10" crap I keep reading seems so bizarre to me. It's really not that bad of a game. No really, I swear it isn't! It also isn't a solid 8/10 game either, as I have seen a few publications give it. It's the most solid "average title" I've played in recent memory.

    In spite of its flaws, the game is fun. It just isn't revolutionary. Shooting aliens always feels satisfying, and DNF will be a wholly satisfying experience for you if you block out the negativity, ignored whatever memories you have of Duke 3D and just go into this game as you would a the latest popcorn flick in the theaters. Big on set pieces, action, violence, but void of any real substance. You go in for the experience and if you hold no expectations, aside from knowing you're going to shoot things and that they're going to die, then you will enjoy the game quite a bit.

    There is some semblance of a story in DNF. It's stretched a bit thin but there is one present. Aliens again invade Earth. They steal our babes, Duke gets mad, and sets out to kick as much alien ass as he can. Oh yes, there's a bit in there about how the President of the United States thinks you started this renewed war, and while he occasionally pops up here and there in the game, it's mainly filler to kill time between battles.

    Throughout the game, Duke experiences love, loss, anger, joy, and ... oh who am I kidding? Duke is a man fueled by testosterone and things that the manliest of manly men fantasize about. He even cracks immature jokes when his "lady friends" are about to meet their end courtesy of alien babies bursting out of their bodies. Problem is, a lot of what made Duke endearing in Duke 3D is a bit old now. The pop culture references and the one-liners just feel out of place in 2011.

    It's almost a bit odd to hear duke exclaim "pork chop sandwiches" as he blows up a Pig Cop given that the reference is over five years old now. Halo, Gears of War, Dead Space, Valve, and more are given referential nods in the game. Some of these nods are blatant and in your face, such as looking at Master Chief's armor. Others are a bit more subtle, such as a reference to Leeroy Jenkins (another reference that is about five years old now). Again, these dated references are just another sign of the lengthy development period this game has had.

    The short of it is this: Duke has to fight off aliens again in order to save all of the "babes" of the world. There you go, Duke Nukem Forever in a nutshell. Original? Hardly. Something Duke would do given his personality? Absolutely.

    If it moves, shoot it. Alright, there's a bit more substance to Duke Nukem Forever but not much. Let's face facts here, the Duke Nukem series has never been known as a "thinking man's game."

    You can shoot one of your two on-hand weapons. Sometimes you'll feel a little frisky and swap one of those weapons out for a different weapon located throughout the environment. Either pump enough rounds into an alien to finish it off, use an environmental hazard to kill it, take control of a mounted gun, or finish a stunned enemy with an execution move. They all boil down into killing, killing, and then killing some more. Weapons themselves consist of Duke's pistol, shrink ray, a freeze ray, shotgun, Devastator, grenades, tripwires, pipe bombs and more. It's a fairly standard load out for Duke.

    The Mighty Boot is gone as a standard melee attack. It has been pushed to the back seat, only to pop up occasionally as one of Duke's execution moves performed on stunned enemies. While there is a weapon smash melee attack, I would have loved to have seen the Boot return as the melee attack of choice for Duke.

    In the rare times you aren't blasting apart aliens with a well-placed shot, you do have some time to take in the highly interactive environments. Many areas include a number of interactive distractions such as pinball tables, slot machines, air hockey, pool, phones, toilets, skin magazines, televisions, light switches, sinks, and plenty more. In fact, utilizing some of the more obscure objects in the game provides a nice boost to Duke's Ego, which serves as the health bar in the game.

    Speaking of health, it's a regenerating system. Yes, sadly Duke has gone the way of other modern shooters and makes extensive use of a health regeneration mechanic. It's not terrible, but it kind of takes away some of the game's challenge since all you have to do is hide behind a wall to get your Ego back instead of crossing your fingers for a health pack being around the next corner.

    Gameplay segments either consist of shooting enemies in fairly linear levels, driving vehicles around, hopping on a mounted weapon to take care of waves of enemies or enemy ships, and more. There are a few unique segments. Duke will sometimes shrink to the size of a rat and have to drive an RC car to safety or avoid giant enemies or navigate a deadly fast food kitchen. Another unique experience finds Duke under water and trying to stay alive by taking in oxygen from pockets of air bubbles. Perhaps you will enjoy Duke's fevered dream that tasks you with retrieving a dildo (among other items) for a stripper. Sadly, these unique gameplay elements are just too few and far between. I honestly wish there were more of these unique gameplay segments like these.

    Level designs are fairly uninspired affairs. Ignoring the interactive opportunities, the levels are quite linear and may leave some longing for the days when you need to find key cards littered throughout a level to continue on your journey. There is very little back tracking, which may be a blessing to those who have never experienced a game older than Halo. Again, this just feels like an attempt to push Duke into a more modern era. While it isn't a huge issue, the lack of exploration opportunities, a common feature in Duke 3D levels, was often disappointing.

    Let me just get this out of the way now. The ending left me wanting something more. By that I mean that I wish there were more levels to play right then and there and that the last boss fight left a rather stale taste in my mouth. You'll understand what I mean if you've played the game already. It is known that one of the DLC offerings coming for Duke Nukem Forever will add in 15 additional single player levels. It remains to be seen whether or not these additional levels will continue the story after the end of the main game.

    Duke is a cocky son of a bitch and he is completely unapologetic about it. He cracks out one-liners as he used to, even if some of them are a bit old and irrelevant in this day and age. But hey, in terms of audio quality, Jon St. John delivers in spades. The gentleman they picked up to voice the DNF mock Marcus Fenix did an excellent job of being the dude bro to end all dude bros in videogame stereotypes. The music is rocking and really gets you amped up to take back our planet with as much gusto as you can possibly muster.

    Explosions go bang, weapons are pleasing to the ears, etc. Frankly, there isn't much to complain about in the game in terms of the audio. Well, there is just one thing that falls a bit flat. The voice acting of some of the non-essential NPC's is a bit forced. It's really a minor complaint but it's still worth noting that the audio isn't 100% perfect.

    DNF runs on a heavily modified version of Unreal Engine 2.5. At least, that's what I think they finally ended up using after all these years. With a number of engine changes it's rather difficult to keep up with some of these facts. I have to admit, the game actually looks damn good, due in part to a number of shaders and post-processing effects tacked on top of the base visuals. Some of the post-processing can actually destroy some of the game's visual fidelity so either enable it or disable it to your own liking. Personally? I played through the game with everything enabled and was only annoyed by the post-processing depth of field effect. Everything else looked quite nice given the circumstances.

    It isn't Crysis levels of detail and it won't even come close to maxing out video cards, but it still manages to look good. I'm sure graphics snobs out there are turning their nose up at the mere thought that the game is on a modified Unreal Engine 2.5 but you know what? Screw those guys. There are plenty of set pieces and interactive bits that you won't find in other titles out there even from the most graphically demanding games. Plus, you know, digital breasts are present in the game (and we aren't talking about Duke's muscular man pecks). I'm sure this fact alone will draw in a few of the more perverse gamers out there.

    I was actually quite pleased with the look of the enemies Duke comes across in his adventures. They aren't super detailed but they are all visually unique and offer a fantastic change of pace from the human enemy types we're used to seeing in current shooters.

    The only gripe I may have is that in order for Duke to proceed to other areas of a level, he sometimes has to create a bridge or other means to access those apparently inaccessible areas. One such instance, which you have seen in the demo, includes shooting down an enemy ship that just so happens to fall in a very precise manner to form a bridge. It looks as if the team took an easy out on that one instead of making something a bit more dynamic or used an alternate solution to the problem. Things like that are fine in games from a decade or so ago, but they tend to be frowned upon in an era ruled by physics puzzles and scripted sequences that don't appear as scripted sequences at first.

    Simply put, I see nothing inherently wrong with the games overall visuals. Could they have been better? Sure, but the same can be said about any game out there. I have read of a number of people taking issue with the game's field of view but I had no problems with it. Again, this is a personal preference and is entirely dependent on the gamer and of any ailments they may have from a narrower FOV.

    Oh yes, you can see Duke's feet when you look down. A bonus point is awarded to the developers for that. Sadly, a half of a point must be taken for how Duke looks when you jump in front of a mirror without any weapons equipped. Really, it's quite silly to the point of absurdity.

    I want to love DNF's multiplayer. I want to take it all in and just bask in the glory of the old school multiplayer feeling that Duke Nukem Forever's multiplayer modes exude. I want to feel like I'm back in high school playing on a LAN with my buddies. I want to but I just can't.

    Duke Nukem Forever has some rather interesting net code issues. I honestly don't know what it is. Even with a low ping, it feels like the entire server is lagging and indeed, there are times where people have said that the server lagged at a particular time during a match, even when everybody's pings were low, or at least, acceptable.

    This is seriously the only thing that is holding me back from enjoying Duke's multiplayer to its full extent. Perhaps it was first week jitters that made the online experience worse than it should be. Maybe it's something that will be fixed in a patch. But until then, the multiplayer is always going to feel a bit "off" to me.

    Ignoring that, DNF's multiplayer is a definite toss back to some of the glory days of shooters. Weapon and item spawns are located throughout each level alongside jump pads, environmental hazards, hidden pathways, and more. Variation amongst the levels is thanks to the development team pulling inspiration from the game's single player experience. A variety of traditional game modes are offered up including deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the babe (Capture the Flag), and Hail to the King (King of the Hill). There isn't anything here that is new or really unique to the multiplayer arena.

    There's a persistent unlock system found within the game's multiplayer. Rank up in levels to unlock new clothes for Duke and new items for his humble abode. You don't unlock new weapons or new character models, which is a nice change from the mentality that more points means you have God-tier weaponry at your disposal. Levels are fairly simple to acquire as most everything you do provides you with some experience. Kill someone? Get XP. Jump off of a high ledge and die? XP. Win a round? Oh you better believe you get some XP for that. It's nice that the experience is there for those that want it but it's just as nice that it isn't a requirement to have a good time as everything it unlocks is cosmetic.

    The multiplayer is limited to four vs. four when in the team battles and eight players total for the free for all modes. I initially thought that the low player count would be a negative but for the size of each of Duke's 10 multiplayer levels, the eight player max fits quite nicely. Server admins will be happy to know that there is a Windows dedicated server available.

    Bottom Line
    Duke Nukem Forever is a fun, albeit flawed, venture down a distorted memory lane. For those who have been waiting for 15 years for this game's release, the final result is almost bittersweet in its delivery. We've all grown up and perhaps grown beyond Duke as he remains locked in the 90's with his attitude, gameplay, and story. If you can accept that DNF won't revolutionize the genre in any meaningful way, you will enjoy what was offered here by 3D Realms, Triptych, and Gearbox Software. There are no surprises hiding beneath the surface of DNF, it is a "popcorn shooter" and if you take off the rose tinted glasses and toss aside any lofty expectations you will actually end up being pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable the game is.

    As for my personal take? I loved the game. As I said before, I enjoyed it for what it is, not for what it could have been and not for what it should have been. Reviews that slam the title have, I feel, either played the game on the inferior console versions or they had such unrealistic expectations that could not have been met no matter how good the game was. It certainly isn't a perfect title but it's nowhere near as bad as some places would like to have you believe.

    That said, I must also make a final note here about the differences between the console versions and the PC version that this review is based on. The consoles, as I have come to learn, suffer from rather lengthy load times. If you die a lot, prepare to watch the loading screens for far more time than you would like. The console versions also seem to suffer from inconsistent visuals and some framerate issues. Neither of these issues were experienced on the PC version during my play through. I only had a few, very brief pauses during a couple of the game's checkpoint saves and the longest load time experienced was about 20 seconds.

    Completion of the game opens up a bevy of extras that you can access from the main menu. These extras include a handful of trailers released over the years, art work, concept pieces, and even a lengthy timeline detailing the major events of Duke Nukem Forever's development.

    We at Total Gaming Network would like to thank 3D Realms, Triptych, Gearbox Software, and 2K Games for providing us with a review copy of Duke Nukem Forever. Personal thanks go out to Steve Gibson from Gearbox, Charlie Sinhaseni from 2K Games, and Jim Redner from The Redner Group for putting up with my requests throughout the months for this review.

    Story: 5.0/10
    Gameplay: 7.0/10
    Audio: 7.0/10
    Visuals: 7.5/10
    Multiplayer: 6.5/10

    Total Gaming Network Score: 6.5/10

  • #2
    Re: Duke Nukem Forever (PC) Review

    I loved DNF, the multiplayer was kinda sucky. But the single player I still find myself playing parts of it again because I can't stop laughing about the one liners and other things. Overall for 10+ years later I still love DNF from the first time I ever played it early versions.


    • #3
      Re: Duke Nukem Forever (PC) Review

      My take on the game was, poor attempt at humor, bland game play, ugly and bland visuals and for being in the works for 12 years this is going to sound ironic but it feels rushed. I would personally save your money for something else and mark this as one of the most overrated games in history.


      • #4
        Re: Duke Nukem Forever (PC) Review

        eeeh it was an ok Duke game; it does show its age tough.

        So yeah the humor... either you loved watching Abrahams-Zuker films back in the day or you didn't, it's not crass humor, it's adult humor very inpolitically correct and it may scare a lot of people. It features the best ever parody of Marcus Phoenix you are going to get.

        Gameplay... well it's a 10 years old game, that's how they were; completely mindless. And hard, I found myself dying a lot because current games have dulled me into thinking all encounters are defeatable by standing there firing; instead of running around like a headless chicken firing at everything that moves; it's old school and you either like it, remember it fondly, or you don't; that's Duke Forever for you. It was never meant to break any kind of ground from the moment it became the poster child for vaporware.