Review: Duke Nukem Forever (PC)

At long last Duke Nukem has returned. In a world chocked full of Modern Warfare clones with zero personality, it’s refreshing to play a FPS that has balls of steel.

Some early reviews were especially harsh on Duke Nukem Forever. I believe most of them were based on the Xbox 360 version, which apparently has issues with performance and load times. On the PC, DNF ran well for the most part. Most load times weren’t too bad, but the game did stutter and hiccup more than I would expect from a polished title. Even with the graphics settings reduced, there were issues.

So where to begin? Where can you begin with a title that’s been scrapped multiple times? Might as well start with the bells and whistles.

DNF is probably the most interactive shooter published. This would be the good side of having a development time a bit north of a decade. I don’t want to ruin the fun of discovering the items you can interact with, but there are a lot. As you find them, you’ll get boosts to your ego which acts as health for the most part.

Much like Duke Nukem 3D however, these are mostly front-loaded, meaning that at a certain point, you’ll stop seeing as many distractions and start focusing on blowing things up. That doesn’t mean the game is simple run and gun. You’ll just be microwaving a lot less popcorn.

The action segments stay true to the Duke franchise. You have pretty much the same weapons that were in DN3D. The only addition is the Rail Gun, which is effectively a sniper rifle. The weapons are still as fun to use as they were last century, but it would have been nice to see a few new toys.

It would also have been nice to carry more than two guns at once. That’s not really a deal breaker. It just means you have to think tactically. If you keep an eye out for the guns your enemies drop, you should be able to swap out regularly.

The shift in tone probably accounts for most of the design choices.

It’s impossible not to see the gigantic Half-Life 2 influence in DNF. It’s all over the character and level designs. Scripted sequences and set pieces drive the action, but it doesn’t make for an experience that screams Duke Nukem. It’s almost like 3DRealms’ version of Half-Life 2.

That’s probably what’s most disappointing. DN3D set the bar for other games to meet. DNF is playing catch-up. Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty to enjoy. The game has some good moments, and you’ll even be tense a time or two. But when you strip away the things you’ve seen before, there isn’t a lot DNF can call it’s own.

It’s also apparent in the way Duke’s attitude doesn’t quite fit in with his own game. He throws out plenty of wise cracks, but the game feels serious. It feels more like your dad is hovering over your shoulder dispensing quips as you play.

If you mute Duke’s voice, there’s really not much humor at all. Take pigcops for example. You’ll spend a good 70 percent of the game fighting them, and they don’t look like a cheesy pun at all. They look like someone took a pass at making them appear more realistic and formidable.

Maybe the real issue here is that the landscape of action in video games and movies has changed. You’ll notice Duke uses a lot of his old lines in DNF. There just aren’t a lot of new action movies that aren’t based on superheroes are asian kung-fu films. How many quotable action films can you cite from the past decade? There ARE some, but it’s hard to think of many along Duke’s lines.

The same goes with video games. Now most of your FPS are ultra-immersive military stories. DNF is plenty immersive. (I’ve never felt so much like I was drinking from a water fountain.) But that comes at the cost of hyperbole and satire.

DNF gets the job done. You can revisit Duke, in a shooter that isn’t as dated as the reviews make you think. But when all is said and done, you want feel like there was that one level or moment that stood out from other games.

The multiplayer offers the typical shooter mainstays, but nothing made me want to play it. I’m just not into deathmatch, domination or capture the flag anymore.

Hopefully this won’t be the end of Duke. I enjoy a game that caters to mature gamers and would love to see him return with a more updated repertoire.

After finishing the game, make sure you check out the extra features, especially the timeline and gameplay trailers. You’ll be pretty surprised at what was cut along the way. DNF is a game that has been made and scrapped multiple times. I can’t help but wonder what the earlier incarnations would have played like.

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