The trouble with writing a review a couple of weeks after a game has been released is that everything has already been said. Aside from a few people who are afflicted with an unnatural devotion to Duke, it’s been universally accepted that after what feels like 42 years in development the end result is quite disappointing. But you know what? It’s not all bad…
The biggest issue for me isn’t the length of development itself, but the fact it doesn’t feel like a modern FPS title. This is clearly a Nukem game, of that there’s no doubt. Between them 3D Realms and Gearbox have kept the feel of 1996’s Duke Nukem 3D by allowing you to interact with a series of pointless but curiously addictive world items, letting you turn on water fountains for no reason, look at yourself in mirrors or write on books and whiteboards. Very little actually does anything, but that’s just the way Duke Nukem was last time round. There’s also the very adult themes throughout (in fact the actual game starts with two twins getting a mouth full of Duke while he plays on his XBox) which if it were in a different game would be scowled at and criticised, but fits in with the Duke Nukem legacy.
But apart from the these superficial inclusions, nothing really stands out to make the game great. Graphically it’s obvious that the game’s engine sits earlier in the development time and the clever little jokes that were spread so freely through Nukem 3D have been over-egged to the point of being cringeworthy. Some of the weapons available are brilliant, but because of only carrying 2 at a time need to be swapped for the more conventional shotguns/machine guns to finish off most enemies, and that’s providing you can get round the slightly wonky aiming mechanics and actually hit something. The first few hours of the game are also far less fun than final half, and it’s not unlikely that many gamers and reviewers will have given up after the first few levels never to return.
And yet stick with it and the game isn’t actually all that awful, certainly not as bad as some will have made out. There’s a fair bit of variety in what you get up to and while not all of the levels work out too well it’s refreshing to play a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, that shrinks you down to something the size of a gerbil and has you climbing round a kitchen trying to avoid an electric floor. There are plenty of set piece sections, letting you man a huge gun to shoot down aliens or drive around while having exploding barrels thrown at you. The later levels are genuinely well designed and certainly bring the game to a pretty satisfying conclusion, one which has a sequel written all over it.
And that’s why I reckon that by the time it was released Duke Nukem Forever not was as a game that was meant to blow the gaming world away. I see it as a canny bit of business by Gearbox to give them an opportunity to make their own Duke game from scratch next time round. Let’s not forget that these guys didn’t really make DNF, they just finished it off and got it onto the shelves. This is the company who made the excellent Borderlands – they CAN make excellent FPS titles, and when the next Duke Nukem game is released it stands every chance of being something that Duke Nukem Forever should have been.
Meanwhile, we’re left with a game that is probably worth playing through just for the experience. It’s not every day a game is released whose development has spanned three decades, and even if it’s not up to modern standards Duke fans will still find a fair bit to amuse them. There’s also a pretty decent online system that suits the smaller maps that have been provided to give some fun and entertaining matches, especially once you start to shrink other players. But ultimately this game doesn’t belong in 2011. It’s bizarre to say so, but it feels like the game was rushed.
Love Duke? Give it a go. Otherwise if you want a decent, modern, full blooded FPS game you’re better off with the likes of Killzone 3. An unfortunate ending to an epic development saga, but this isn’t the last we’ll see of Duke Nukem.