They once called it “Did Not Finish.” Now I ardently wish it hadn’t. Just a few days back, I questioned the critic reception , wondering if they were taking the game too seriously; if reviewers had forgotten the primary focus of a game like Duke Nukem Forever . It’s shameless, lewd, crude, and oh so cheesy, and that’s precisely the point. And if DNF was all those things and tons o’ fun, I would’ve been satisfied. Heck, I would’ve been thrilled. But now I’m so annoyed and disappointed I can hardly see straight enough to type this review; the game is ugly, tedious, monotonous, and poorly designed. A few bright spots just aren’t enough.
I’m fairly certain most any game produced in the past three or four years looks better than DNF. Resistance: Fall of Man is technically superior in every possible way, and that was a PS3 launch title. The animations are jerky and even broken in some areas (I’ll explain below), the overall level design is drab and uninteresting, and the environments are clearly from 2005. The only bright spot lies in the enemies and bosses, all of which are actually decent and appropriately intimidating. Those nasty foes often stand out against the stark, technically mediocre backdrops, but the special effects do little to assist. A fair descriptive word? “Blech.”
The sound is no better, even if you accept the fact that Duke is supposed to sound that way. I was perfectly willing to laugh at his cheeseball outdated voice – and I did laugh at his voice when shrunk; it’s hilarious – but the other voice performances are equally painful and I can’t very well give them a free pass. The soundtrack might be good, but I rarely heard it as the balance was always way off. Effects would override voices and music, the soundtrack would often drop out entirely, and the audio effects lacked impact. The latter is a serious issue, too, because we needed that to enhance the atmosphere. Technically overall: poor.
But I repeat- none of that would’ve mattered too much had the gameplay been tight and entertaining. Well, having such lackluster sound would’ve hurt but truthfully, I could’ve dealt with the archaic visual presentation, provided the thrills were there. All I really wanted was a classic run ‘n gun adventure with that Duke-ish attitude we’ve so missed over the years. Plus, so many shooters are so realistic these days; it’s all about cover and strategy. We really haven’t seen a true blue run ‘n gunner since the days of Serious Sam (although Bulletstorm was close). All I wanted was testosterone-fueled bad-assery with endless attitude.
Was that too much to ask? Apparently, it was. The game starts terribly and it’s a good thing I played for a while; otherwise, the score would’ve been even lower. They kick off with several lame gimmicks, which includes pissing in a urinal, getting a blowjob from a pair of sluts dressed as schoolgirls, and punching aliens in the head (before you get any firearms). There’s also a big boss fight in a football stadium, after which you kick a field goal with the beast’s severed head. Now, given the right surroundings and style, this would fit; it’s very Duke-like in nature. But then I started moving around.
At its core, the movement itself isn’t bad at all. It’s relatively smooth, the jumping seems normal, and maneuverability isn’t really an issue. It’s the rest of it: the enemies are stupid and cheap at the same time, even the biggest weapons lack all semblance of power (not in their performance but in how they sound), the poor level design is cut straight from a very, very old game, and the story is just plain stupid. I’d give the storyline a free pass, too, if only there had been anything even remotely amusing about the plot. Make it stupid; go right ahead. But at least make me laugh. At least let me say, “hellz yes, gonna kick all sorts of ass!”
Sadly, it’s just terribly put together. I had to load over 4 gigs worth of data onto my hard drive and the loading times are still absurdly long. What’s worse, I had to sit and watch that loading screen every time I died, which was frequent and frustrating. The pig enemies that rush you can pin you in a corner and never let you leave, and oh yes, sidestepping isn’t possible in cramped areas. They’ll just home in on you no matter what. If they rush straight at you, you can grab them by the horns and snap their neck by pressing the X button quickly, but the amount of damage you suffer in that time means you’ll probably be dead in the next few seconds.
The close and confined areas are the worst and unfortunately, that’s how the game starts. Once I got outside, things got a little better, as I finally got to move around a bit and sample new weapons. There was one good boss fight that involved a massive alien and a rocket launcher, which I liked, and I also enjoyed smashing an alien-infested concrete wall with a wrecking ball. And yes, there is a fair amount of running and gunning that feels very old-school, but as you constantly feel at a disadvantage, it’s often more about survival than kicking butt. Because just about everything seems stronger than Duke, his coolness factor drops like crazy.
Lastly, the glitches, hitches and miscues are borderline comical. If one of those enemies that rush you misses, he’ll often – not occasionally, often – freeze in place against a wall or even in mid-air. The jetpack-enhanced enemies will sometimes get stuck, too; it’s as if they hit an invisible barrier and just started glitching in place. Collision detection is extraordinarily iffy and Duke’s abilities are barely even abilities. He can take steroids to increase his melee power, which is almost entirely useless beyond the first few hours, and he can drink a beer, which somehow makes him tougher. Woozy, but tougher. That proved useful at times, though.
There’s also Duke vision, which is basically a blue version of night vision. Other than that, there isn’t much to talk about. There are some driving sections, which aren’t horrendous but they drag on far too long and the controls are just too loose. The entire game just feels like a chore, and one that isn’t inundated with lots of offensive goodness (offensive stuff can be “good” in certain situations). I desperately wanted to love the game because I love the character, and I fought to enjoy myself. I’m glad I played longer than I had intended because things did get better. But eventually, I lost the fight. The less said about the multiplayer the better. Tragically, after over 13 years, the end result is a mess.
Duke Nukem Forever will likely go down in history as one of the biggest disappointments ever. For the record, had Gearbox simply given us a solid old-fashioned shooter with all those retarded one-liners and strippers and gore that made the series great , I would’ve enjoyed it thoroughly. I would’ve defended it like crazy. But there’s just nothing to defend here; those who think there is are suffering from an over-abundance of nostalgic influence. Nobody wanted to love DNF more than me but I just couldn’t get any enjoyment out of it. The sad part is, Duke really deserves a great game. Maybe someday it’ll happen.
The Good: Attitude isn’t too far off. Some diversity, although gimmick-related. Decent enemy design and a few cool bosses.
The Bad: Terrible technical presentation, loaded with glitches and errors. Soundtrack and effects are seriously lacking. Control is loose. Duke is just way too weak. Poor level design. Weapons have no punch.
The Ugly: “Damnit. Duke didn’t deserve this.”