Duke Nukem Forever

Flat out – if you have enjoyed previous Duke Nukem games, you will enjoy Duke Nukem Forever. Period. It has exactly what you want out of a Duke Nukem game with no apologies necessary.

I am a huge first person shooter fan.  Doom, Black Ops, Serious Sam, Left 4 Dead, Half Life 2 – if it involves running around and blasting people I am definitely a fan.  It surprised me, then, to be perusing the internet the past few days and encountering all these negative reviews for Duke Nukem Forever.  “Duke Nukem Forever?” You may be asking yourself, “isn’t that game just a rumor, like 2012 or National Health Care?”  Which is pretty much how all the online reviews have went, though with less funny.  Turns out the game is out as of June 14th and nestled snugly in my Xbox 360, 90% complete and ready to be reviewed, after almost 14 years of “coming soon” promises and huge fan expectations.  If the major game sites are any indication, this game probably should have never come out but that’s why you’re at Cybermonkey: you don’t care what some fairly well-paid game reviewer says about new products since they most likely didn’t play it anyway and were told what to write.  You’re here because you know we don’t get paid, we honestly love this stuff  and we play the games we want to play regardless of the viewpoints of the majors.  So the question remains, does Duke Nukem Forever even begin to live up to the hype?  Is it even playable after 14 years of development?  Should we care?

First, a little history lesson.  Duke Nukem Forever stands as a direct sequel to Duke Nukem 3D, a wonderful Doom-era shooter involving Duke, the he-man protagonist, struggling to defeat an alien invasion.  Often spoken of in the same breath as Serious Sam, Duke Nukem 3D was a brilliant shooter that was a ton of fun to play (and is available in the Xbox Marketplace for around $10, a great investment and is hugely multiplayer, even in co-op) and got fans excited for the continuation of the franchise.  When Duke Nukem Forever was announced in 1997, fans went ballistic.  Speculation about the new title and gameplay was rampant and rabid fanboys sat on the edge of their seats, anticipating the sequel to one of the most enjoyable shooter franchises of the 1990s.  Then, something happened.  1998 went by, as did 1999, the early 2000s, 2004, 2006 and no Duke Nukem Forever.  What the hell, right?  How long does it take to crank out a Duke Nukem game?  Long enough, apparently.  In 2009, it looked as if Duke was lost forever as a huge lawsuit began over developers 3D Realms inability to put a game out in even a remotely reasonable time frame.  All seemed lost until Gearbox Software (creators of the brilliant Borderlands) stepped in and rescued Duke from video game limbo.  A few polishes and some quick finishes and indeed, Duke Nukem Forever is now in my Xbox, freshly played.  We still are left with the question of how it is and if the reviewers that have trashed the game know what they’re talking about.  Is Duke worth the play or not?

Duke Nukem Forever begins about 12 years after the events in Duke Nukem 3D.  The aliens have been routed and Duke is a National Hero, with his own chain of burger joints and strip clubs and a wealth of Duke-related products that are hilarious to read when encountering them in the game.  Duke is all man so he’s spent the interim playing Xbox and sleeping with the Holson twins.  Of course, the aliens return but the President has assured Duke that their intentions are peaceful and there is no sign of threat or hostility.  Then the aliens begin kidnapping all of Earth’s women and Duke is not going to stand for that, especially since the Holson twins have also been taken!  Thus begins the story of Duke Nukem Forever.  The game has 23 playable levels, which amount to 20 or so hours of gameplay on Normal (seems short but in today’s game market that’s not bad) but many of the levels are broken up into several parts so it seems to take longer to get through.  And the levels are huge.  Duke has a lot of territory to cover and most of it looks pretty good.  However, the game prides itself on interactive items that will raise Duke’s health bar, called the Ego meter here.   Every time Duke shoots a basketball into a hoop or lifts weights or even takes a drink from a drinking fountain, it will raise his Ego meter a tad, encouraging players to look around and discover neat things for Duke to do.  This is also one of the major flaws in the game.  The levels are so huge you could hide dozens of Ego raising activities in each level but there is more territory than things to do in that territory.  It is nothing that will hold up your enjoyment of going through the level, you’ll just think to yourself  “why is there nothing in this nifty hidden corner of the room?”

The developers did give Duke a plethora of mini-games to take his mind off the lack of interactivity in most levels.  Duke can play pinball, air hockey, he can gamble, play a rousing game of Alien Abortion (whack-a-mole, basically) and other sundry, yet fun, activities to break up the shooting bits.  This is one of Duke Nukem Forever’s stellar traits; breaking up the gameplay.  Duke punches, he shoots, he drives an RC car, he gets shrunk and tears around in a matchbox car, he drives a monster truck, he drives a forklift, he shoots turrets – tons of stuff besides just running around, gunning down aliens, though Duke does plenty of that as well.  It’s just a nice break after a level of slaughter to tear around in a monster truck and run down miscreants.  Admittedly, some of the events, like the truck driving, amount to “drive to area, run out of gas, get out of truck and kill until you find gas, get back in truck, head to next area” but the point is it’s not all mindless shooting of hoards of enemies.  Duke does all kinds of different things and kudos for that.

What about the graphics?  Yes, many modern gamers I know are graphics whores.  They want the game to look as stellar as possible, damn the rest.  I have always been a playability guy.  Who cares if it’s a little ragged looking if it plays well?  Duke Nukem Forever doesn’t look bad at all.  The backgrounds and settings are fine and the character models are serviceable, though their lips don’t always move when they talk and some movement animations are clunky.  It  looks fine and doesn’t detract from the gameplay like others would have you believe.  The bosses are gigantic and look pretty bad-ass and the enemies are more realistic versions of what was seen in Duke Nukem 3D.  Sure, it doesn’t look as hyper-realistic as Battlefield 3 or MW3 but really, how perfect does your next victim need to look?  Doom is like 300 years old and looks a little dated and is still more fun than 85% of what’s on the game markets now.  Duke Nukem Forever may have begun development in 1997 but the game doesn’t seem out of date, just a few years behind the curve and still competes with a great amount of today’s titles in terms of look.

Duke is a Man’s Man and the humor is decidedly adult and aimed at their huge male demographic.  Duke is just as sexist and misogynistic, as well as hysterical, as ever.  Several pals and I have laughed out loud at some of the stuff we’ve seen in the game.  The developers (whichever team did it) put together some awesomely funny products with full descriptions on the back that are a joy to discover.  Every can of Duke Baked Beans or Duke Mayo has product ingredients and return policies that are knee-slappingly humorous and is something most players won’t even notice in their hurry to complete certain levels but I encourage you as mini-Duke to really look at some of the products in the kitchen of Duke Burger.  Duke’s humor is not limited to the products and posters scattered around but every loading screen comes with stellar advice such as “if you’ve fallen from a high place it’s most likely your own fault” or “if you’re taking damage from bullets try and get out of the way.”  They also remind you that if things get difficult you can cheat online by looking at FAQs.  They even take a few shots at other modern franchises, like Duke’s mention of “hating Valve puzzles” or his view that “Gears has nothing on him.”  Sensitive males and women will not find some of the Duke humor funny, like slapping the wall boobs or his rather sexist take on everything but most guys and any Duke fan will be pleased by the sophomoric humor on display.  The tone of the game totally lives up to it’s predecessors and I found myself enjoying it immensely.

So what’s bad?  Well, it’s needlessly difficult in some areas, more so than it needs to be on Normal and a great amount of internet venom has been spewed by people who find it impossible on Insane difficulty but there you go.  The enemies are quick and will close the distance fast, making it difficult to aim on them, the teleporting  jetpack dudes and octobrains totally suck  and you will die a lot but nothing has been so impossible that three or four tries won’t get you through whatever you’re stuck on.  There are a couple of spots where Duke is not clear on where he’s supposed to go but again, looking around a bit usually will solve the problem in no time.  Other than the previously mentioned graphic dated-ness and lack of more interactive items, the game surprisingly is a solid shooter that I have had a fun time playing.

Where people are having the biggest problem is the fact the game took 14 years to be released.  I don’t know who these reviewers that are so disappointed are but lower your expectations a tad, willya?  I don’t know what kind of game you were expecting or how mind-blowing you desired it to be but any game that’s been through as much development hell as Duke Nukem Forever has is lucky to even be playable, let alone the game masterpiece of the decade, which is wasn’t and was never going to be.  It is better than you’d expect from all the trials and tribulations it had to go through to hit the shelves and any review other than “solid” was done by someone whose expectations exceeded the reality of the situation.  It’s solid, it’s fun and it’s playable, more playable than many of today’s touted games.  My friend Gus put it the best when he said “if this game had bee released in 1999 or 2000 in this form, it would have blown people’s minds.  Today, it’s a solid shooter that you’ll have fun with” and that, ladies and gentlemen, is gaming 101.  These other reviewers wanted Duke to be the be-all, end-all game and when they didn’t get this monumental game their minds had invented, they took it out on a game that isn’t groundbreaking but also isn’t a broken mess, either.

Duke Nukem Forever may have taken forever to get here and isn’t the dream game so many people wanted it to be but it did turn out to be a fun, enjoyable shooter that is more than serviceable.  Variety of gameplay, decidedly adult humor, huge bosses and fun activities make this game more than your average shooter but less than the fantasy re-definition of the genre so many misguided reviewers seemed to desperately want.  Flat out – if you have enjoyed previous Duke Nukem games, you will enjoy Duke Nukem Forever.  Period.  It has exactly what you want out of a Duke Nukem game with no apologies necessary.  I am happy to see Gearbox take over the franchise and if any group can bring Duke up to speed, and not take 14 years to get there, it’s the Borderlands guys and I see nothing but bright things on the horizon for Duke but his present isn’t terrible, either.  Just not as groundbreaking as it would have been a decade ago.  If shooting aliens and rescuing damsels in distress with a heavy dose of adult humor is your thing, check out Duke Nukem Forever.  Just check your unrealistic expectations at the door.

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