Duke Nukem Forever – Xbox 360
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer(s): 3D Realms, Triptych Games, Gearbox Software, Piranha Games
Publisher: 2K Games
1999 2000 2001 When It’s Done 2009 May 3, 2011 June 10, 2011 (WW), June 14, 2011 (NA), March 29, 2012 (JP)
Genre: First-Person Shooter (FPS)
Nerd Rating: 7 out of 10 (7.5 if you love Duke, 4.5 if you’ve been nursing a grudge with 3D Realms since 1999)
That’s right! After many delays and postponements, my review for Duke Nukem Forever is finally up! It…may have missed its early April deadline. And every other promised time that I threw in the site’s comments section. And even the month of April altogether. But if you think that I’m being hilariously incompetent in my mid-twenties, think again! Those delays were a deliberate look at the false promises that me and tons of other Duke Nukem fans were subjected to since 1999! I know that NerdBerry probably glossed over that detail in his own Duke Nukem Forever review, but since I’ve covered Duke from before he had three dimensions (Duke Nukem II, etc.), I feel I’ve got special license to weigh the little time aspect of this game’s development along with the rest of what it has to offer. But don’t fret, I’ll review the game based on its own merits as well, so you’re going to get a double dose of the Duke Nukem Forever experience, then and now, to come to an informed conclusion on whether or not we can always bet on Duke. So place your bets, folks! We’re here to kick names and take ass…and we’re all out of ass. Or something like that.
Duke Nukem Forever began its long history as an idea popped in 1997, following hot on the heels of the astounding success of Duke Nukem 3D the previous year. Based on development footage and trailers made around that time, 3D Realms actually put a lot of effort into it, with actual gameplay and story fleshed out. It would probably have lived up to its hype if it came out around 1999-2000 as promised, but allegedly the project was started over from square one to make use of a new graphics engine. Cue everyone throwing out all of the good work they had done and starting anew with more pixels, and 3D Realms’ development team began its long and sordid history of progressively diminishing returns as this cycle of wash, rince, and repeat continued until 2009, when the most they did was put out a trailer with Duke Nukem doing a few bench-presses and cracking his knuckles at the camera. Needless to say, 3D Realms had effectively checked-out of the project entirely and the idea of Duke Nukem Forever nearly died in development hell. Thankfully, Gearbox Software, makers of the Borderlands series, stepped up and claimed the IP before death, developing it and getting it ready for the shelves by June 10, 2011.
Duke Nukem Forever begins with Duke Nukem basking in a life of Vegas luxury, residing in a penthouse suite where he plays his own video games and shares a bubbling Jacuzzi with the Holsom Twins (seriously?), often both at once. But his cushy stay in egopolis gets interrupted when the aliens return, back for revenge on humanity and especially Duke himself. Ignoring the president’s orders to stay out of it, he travels from the Las Vegas strip to Hoover Dam on a one-man mission to kick the alien army back into space and make them never want to go sight-seeing on his planet ever again! Naturally, the story plays to Duke Nukem’s strengths and reputation, leaving little doubt that this adventure is tailor-made for America’s favorite fictional action hero. It’s actually a pretty smart move on Gearbox’s part to simply give the fans what they’ve wanted to see for so long, rather than try to introduce new stuff of their own. Sure, it doesn’t blaze new ground for a Duke Nukem game, but when it comes to indulging its long-deprived fanbase, Duke Nukem Forever doesn’t disappoint.
Since this is a first-person shooter, I’ll focus on the shooter elements of this game first. Duke Nukem Forever borrows a lot of elements from the lexicon of popular titles that predated (or postdated) its development. To start, Duke has all of his awesome weapons, from the pistol and shotgun to his powerful RPG and badass freeze-gun, but only two at a time, in accordance with the conventions of modern shooters. And rather than have a health meter, Duke has an ego meter that you can permanently increase (ego boost) by doing very Duke-worthy things like admiring yourself in the mirror, slamming a Duke Dew, reading dirty magazines, beating various mini-games, and defeating bosses. If you’re hurt, you restore your ego by hiding behind cover for a few seconds, which is practically an institution at this point. You can use tripmines and pipe bombs at any time, and Duke also has access to a few power-ups, including the classic Steroids and Holoduke. And bosses can only be hurt by explosive weapons, which means you can’t just cheese a boss by laying down the trigger with an ammo-chewing bullet-spewer, but you do have to use reaction commands to finish them off. Sure, it sounds like Duke Nukem Forever decided to cement its casual popularity by cherry-picking gimmicks and bits from older games, and that’s a fair point against it, not to mention that it isn’t that hard of a game (save for one annoying boss battle near the end), but I still had real fun once I turned my brain off.
As for the non-shooter elements that Duke Nukem Forever enjoys, one of my surprise favorites are the driving sections. There are only two such sections in the game, but they really help break up the monotony of simply going to different rooms and shooting up the place, and they really fit the Duke Nukem lifestyle, especially when you get to do sweet nitrous jumps in a monster truck. Another thing to write home about is the pretty well-done “mini-Duke” sections. Yeah, in Duke Nukem 3D, there are points where you get shrunk and you have to run through a small opening into a locked room before you go back to normal size, but the systems of the day couldn’t support you having a mini-Duke Nukem adventure where you fight across countertops and do miniature platforming sections. Duke Nukem Forever also takes it up a notch by letting you use your weapons when you’re small, sometimes even fighting normal-sized aliens who are trying to stomp on you! It’s a neat little gimmick that Gearbox dusted off and reused very well, which deserves praise given that they didn’t have much room to get creative elsewhere.
The platforming and puzzle sections in Duke Nukem Forever aren’t too bad either. I mean, I know some people gripe about them in FPS games, but I like it when there’s something else to keep the pacing interesting and challenge your mind, and there are even weight distribution puzzles right out of the Half-Life series. Funny enough, this whole game follows the Valve playbook of good storied shooters pretty well, except there’s a lot more centerfolds and strippers around. Duke Nukem Forever does have its mature themes and full-frontal nudity as far as the babes are concerned, naturally played for laughs, but it’s generally not jarring to the eye and fits well with Duke’s machismo, save for the Holsom Twins. Seriously, Duke’s go-to babes used to be the kids from Full House. It may just be because I’m throwing up a little bit whenever I think about it, but that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
In the sound and music section, Duke Nukem Forever has got it covered. It’s not anything too special where the soundtrack is concerned, but when it comes to a Duke Nukem game, as long as you have his theme song done in blasting guitar riffs and big, bold drums, you have nothing to worry about. The sounds and voices are done well too, in the sense that none of them are done badly enough to derail your Duke Nukem power fantasy. And since I have time to discuss it, I might as well point out that Duke Nukem Forever has a surprising X-factor: Being fun to goof around in. Sometimes the potential to go nuts and pointlessly piss away time your own way is a huge plus for a game, and when the game is already a celebration of what makes Duke great, having a chance to do everything from repaint the Mona Lisa in markers (some people actually did that), to play pinball (with the mechanics lifted from the old Balls of Steel video game), to even grabbing a turd out of the toilet and throwing it at someone whose face you don’t like (yeah, didn’t make that up) can be what makes a player come back to it over any other game. I mean it, this is a quality that more games need. I would personally play more Doom 3 if I was allowed more than one chance to play Super Turbo Turkey Puncher 3, so the fact that Duke Nukem Forever is peppered with silly little diversions just gives it more general fun appeal. Why? I don’t exactly know, it’s why I’m calling it an X-factor, because I can’t quantify it but I just know that I want it!
So when we get right down to it, is Duke Nukem Forever worth playing? I used to think it was no, because I was looking at it through the spectacle of squandered potential and empty promises built up over twelve years. But as I grudgingly started to play this game for the review, I slowly realized that I was actually enjoying myself! I wasn’t playing it because I was expecting it to be as good as a game hyped up for twelve years, I was just playing it without expectations and found that the game, by itself, really wasn’t that bad at all! So I’ll go ahead and say, yes, Duke Nukem Forever is NOT bad and is in fact worth a play. It’s not the earth-shattering released that we were promised in 1998, that’s for certain. If you’re looking for the Half-Life 3 of Duke Nukem games, this is definitely not it. And no, you shouldn’t just be happy that it’s a Duke Nukem game after twelve years of waiting, I think that what we got could have been a lot better. But it’s certainly not a turd in a box, so that’s something. Call it a guilty pleasure, if you will. I know I will, and I’m probably going to replay this game later when I just want to enjoy some brainless macho action. I know, right? I guess you really can always bet on Duke. No wonder I’m not a betting man, I would have put money down on thinking this game was gonna suck…
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