It has been a long, bumpy road since Duke Nukem Forever was announced back in 1997. Now, after 15 years, the game that we have all been waiting for has finally been released. Duke Nukem Forever was easily one of the most anticipated titles of this year. Unfortunately for everyone, it is still the game that time forgot.
Duke Nukem Forever is clearly not a Gearbox Software title. For those unfamiliar with this game’s history, the game wasoriginally in production in the mid-90s. The original developer, 3D Realms, went bankrupt and ceased production while its financial situation was resolved. From that point on, the game would get picked up and dropped by the remaining 3D Realms team. The developers released screenshots from time to time and made numerous promises that the game was right around the corner. Finally, 3D Realms closed its doors and the game slipped into obscurity. Then came Gearbox Software, who reached into the murky depths and pulled the game into its loving arms. Gearbox then patched a few parts and released the game mostly untouched.
With its history in mind, the game definitely looks as if it was slated for release back in 1998. Duke is very stiff and his upper body rarely moves, while his legs move where you want Duke to go. It looks very clumsy and just isn’t on a par with modern standards. The environments also look dated, and the level design is rough around the edges. This rough and dated look should be expected considering what happened with this game, but there is no excuse for releasing it in this state.
The game often reverts to gameplay elements that either don’t work or have been phased out entirely by now. One of these elements is first-person platforming, something which is very difficult to do well. Duke Nukem Forever is one of those games that definitely does not do it well. The game spends way too much time making you traverse the environment in first-person mode. In modern first-person shooter games there is usually a light platforming section where you may have to jump to a rooftop, or something similar. In Duke Nukem Forever, large portions of the game are in this style and as such are more frustrating than they intend to be.
When you aren’t awkwardly jumping around the landscape, it seems like you are behind a turret shooting at monsters and spacecraft alike. Normally, turret sections break up first-person shooters, but when it is done frequently it melts into the normal gameplay and becomes a distraction rather than a fun break.
Overall, the levels are very long and fail to engage the player, which normally wouldn’t be a problem, but when the controls are poor it becomes daunting to finish them. They just don’t hold up to modern equivalents, which makes them stand out negatively, more so than they would otherwise. The level design makes this game more frustrating than fun. When you have to repeat the same jumps or see the same textures over and over again, it is easy to lose attention quickly. When you combine this with the fact that Duke can only carry two guns at the same time, it’s too much to bear.
A more technical issue with the game is the inclusion of extremely long loading screens that seem to come up frequently. Whether you are moving to a new section of the level or about to see a cut-scene, you are shown a loading screen. This is just unacceptable in today’s market and if Duke Nukem wasn’t on the cover, people wouldn’t even let the game finish loading before they turned it off. What makes matters worse is that the game takes the time – about twenty minutes – to install on your hard drive before you play it. From the time you open the package to the time you get control of Duke, thirty or more minutes can pass, and that is way, way too long.
There is multi-player in the game but it suffers from problems of its own. There are four modes to choose from, all of which are standard modes you’d expect from a first-person shooter, but they do have their own charm. Many could live with that, but there are a number of technical issues that prevent the multi-player from standing out. The frame-rate drops considerably in the game, and the multi-player is no exception. When the action gets going, the game struggles to keep up, and that prevents players from really making a connection with the game. On top of frame-rate issues, the servers lag quite a bit and make normal gameplay almost impossible. With so many current games offering satisfying multi-player experiences, this game has its hands full trying to make players want to play it online.
One thing that this game does do well is the number of nods the developer included to tug at those nostalgic heart strings. Fans of the series will appreciate the quips and commentary that Duke gives while traversing the game. There are some classic Duke references, which is something to appreciate. Duke Nukem 3D was revolutionary for its time, and becamethe game that first-person shooters would model themselves after for years to come. So the fact that there are so many references to the old Duke is endearing. It is also interesting to play a piece of video gaming history. So much drama circulated around this title that to finally get it finished and into the hands of consumers is a feat in and of itself.
All in all, Duke Nukem Forever is not the Duke game we’ve been hoping for all these years. It feels like a hodgepodge of previous titles stitched together to make a living game. Unfortunately, there are so many issues with this game that it makes playing it hard to bear. Duke is a classic video game character and reviving him for a modern audience was a great idea, but this wasn’t the game that should have done it. Hopefully in the future we will see a title worthy of carrying the Duke Nukem franchise into the 21st century.
This review is based off a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Duke Nukem Forever by 2K Games.
- Fun Piece of Video Game History
- The Duke is Back
- Poor Graphics / Presentation
- Frustrating Level Design
- Not Much Fun