Like many gamers who will inevitably purchase or rent Duke Nukem Forever, I grew up with Duke Nukem 3D and the menagerie of cheesy spinoffs it spawned. I was a little a girl when I got my first taste of Duke, but even then I knew I liked what I saw. Writing that sentence makes me realize just how much I’ve grown up since then, because that double entendre didn’t even make me giggle. I’ve always felt a bevy of different things while fragging with Mr. Nukem: playfulness, silliness, and even annoyance. It’s a classic shooter, sure. Unfortunately, the rest of the games in the franchise never followed suit. Still, I’ve always had fun playing.
Despite the franchise’s flaws, Duke Nukem 3D was the beginning of a legacy and we’ve always clamored for more. The many fond memories I have of Duke Nukem 3D are tucked away safely in the back of my mind, along with the rose-tinted glasses that might cloud my vision of the present with the release of the oft-referred to as vaporware Duke Nukem Forever. It’s finally here. Excuse me for being a little less excited than I thought I would be. Yes, it’s taken twelve years to grace store shelves, but it’s finally here. Had I not spent so many hours with it I may be more optimistic about its arrival, but instead I’m just shaking my head and asking myself: what exactly did they do with all that time?
All jokes aside, Duke Nukem Forever is a colossal disappointment, whether you’re a Duke enthusiast or you just love to frag. You’ll find plenty of Nukem humor in abundance, but little to none of what you’ve come to love about shooters in the past few years. And if you’ve never played with Duke before, this is an absolutely terrible place to start. Granted, plenty of Duke’s outings have left a lot to be desired. However, with the advancements we’ve made, with what developers have accomplished in much less time and with so little to work with, I have to wonder what happened here.
At least things are great for our hero. Duke is enjoying a time of rest and relaxation, in a world of citizens who idolize and nearly worship him as their savior from the alien menace in past years. There are Nukem statues dotting the landscape, kids begging the hero to autograph his book, and bleach-blondes double-teaming the King in his lavish mansion…all in the first ten minutes of the game. Oh, and there’s even some toilet humor to balance everything out. But as the song goes, there ain’t no rest for the wicked, as the aliens have returned in full force, abducting women for use in their nefarious schemes, most of which are supposed to be funny but felt much more like the wet dream of a fourteen-year-old. It’s up to Duke to stop them…but you knew that.
From there to your very first firefight, the game feels so much like a budget title that I found it hard to believe its being sold at full price. Dated mechanics aside, simply taking in the smushed faces of NPCs and plasticine sheen to environments is a pity. Duke smashes any old button with his hulking hand rather than what should appear to be the correct floor. Textures are jagged and murky. The women, who I would imagine are an unfortunate focal selling point for many players, aren’t the least bit attractive. Even the enemies lack a certain oomph that made them humorous in the first place.
Your arsenal of weapons includes your typical loadout: shotguns, alien weapons, the Ripper, missile launchers, turrets, you name it. It’s a veritable who’s who of shooters when it comes to munitions. When you’re left to your own devices to kill every last alien son-of-a-you know what in the room, DNF truly shines. While you run and gun, taking down the newly redesigned pig cops and their alien companions, it’s hard to stifle a smile. This, further refined, is what the entire game should have consisted of.
But it’s not. Instead, there’s no cover system (you just run and hide like a crybaby), you’re forced into some truly horrid RC car segments, and predictable boss battles that require little more from you than a stand in one place, launch rockets, lather, rinse, and repeat strategy. At some of these crazy scenes (miniature Duke?) I laughed at first, and then the silliness and unfunny jokes began to grate on the nerves. It was funny all those years ago. Now? I just want Duke and everyone around him to shut up and deliver me a decent shooter. Put away the toys, Mr. Nukem, and let me play a modernized version of the game I grew up with. And for the love of Randy Pitchford, let’s cut down the wait on the load times. If you die (and you certainly will for the lack of cover) you’ll wait a good 30 to 45 seconds to respawn, if not longer.
I am quite torn. I want to say you should at least try the game for a rendezvous with classic Duke one-liners and classic action when it’s there and ignore all of the lukewarm firefights, but there’s just not enough good to outweigh the bad. When it forgoes gimmickry and frustratingly stupid humor to focus on what you likely came for, eradicating your enemies, Duke Nukem Forever works well. Unfortunately, it does this as often as it values and respects women as anything other than sex objects. And hey, I’ve been there since day one. I’ve giggled at some of the dumb blondes over the years. I’ve even poked fun at my own gender several times in the past. But neither this, the lack of cover, lazy game design, nor the plethora of childish one-liners are quite so funny anymore. Was it ever to begin with? Come on, Duke. If you hope to extend your legacy even further, you’re going to have to come at us a little harder than that.