Duke Nukem Forever
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“Ten years, man! TEN! Where have you been for ten years??!?! … Ten years, man! Ten yyee..ten years! Ten years! Ten! Ten! YEAAARS! Ten years!” – Jeremy Piven, Grosse Pointe Blank.
Actually, it’s more like 15. The name Duke Nukem has become synonymous with Vaporware having promised fans a sequel almost since its original release in 1996. Through a series of delays, closings, tradings and circumstances otherwise too long to account here, the sequel never happened until 2K Games and Gearbox salvaged what was left of 3D Realms’ infamous franchise and did their best to hype it back into existence. Sadly, a game cannot survive on hype alone.
Duke has been riding high since saving the world the first time around. Women surround him and men envy him as he sits on a throne in the most lavish suite on the top floor of his very own Vegas casino. Whilst taken advantage of certain…amenities (whose names aren’t given)… Duke it once again called to, well actually, he’s told by a 5 star general and the president of the United States NOT to get involved. That would make for a very boring game. So Duke gets involved as an excuse to spout a series of one-liners and and blow aliens into little bitty bloody chunklets. And this being Duke Nukem, there’s no shortage of T&A either.
So, after all these years, Duke Nukem Forever should be a perfectly polished blend of humor, engaging gameplay and story, right? Well, no. Now, to be fair, despite already giving the history lesson, I’m not going to hold the development time against them. Let’s just assume that the team at Gearbox went through a typical development cycle with typical launch deadlines. What we end up with is a mediocre, at best, first person shooter with the lowest of low-ball maturity levels that might only really appeal to the 13 year-olds that shouldn’t have access to it in the first place.
Most of the level design is your typical, dark and dank tunnels or rubble-ruined interiors littered with alien egg pods and benign tentacles. There are a few unique levels though. Early on players guide Duke down the outside of his casino high rise using conveniently placed tentacles and outcropped rebar. Another pits a Liliputian Nukem against the deep fryers, hot grills and exposed wiring of a fast food joint bearing his name.
Weapons are of similar fare. A few uber-weapons with names like The Devastator are peppered in with plenty of typical pistols, shotguns, machine guns and rocket launchers. My personal favorites are back: Pipe bombs and laser trip-mines. They do come in handy. That said, the freeze ray is essentially useless except against the smallest of enemies that need nothing more than your foot to defeat anyway.
The rest is just pure, unapologetic exploitation. The developers had no hesitation in throwing equal amounts of nudity and blood at the screen. By itself, that isn’t really a problem, but when a game is wrapped solely around just being “bad-ass” you end up with a boring, repetitive rehash. I happen to enjoy immature humor, but I only found myself chuckling here and there at Duke’s phrases or the so-called “hints” displayed on the interminably long load screens. Even the game mechanics suffer. Instead of a health bar, you get an ego meter that can be enhanced by reading titty mags, playing in-game pinball or slot machines and even throwing paper airplanes. When you take damage, it comes out of your ego meter that is regained by avoiding damage (in other words: hiding in order to heal). Wouldn’t hiding be more shameful than ego-boosting?
And forget about any eroticism the commercials might tease. Despite the barrage of topless women, none of it is titillating. Even the walls of some of the alien-infested areas have boobs on them that exist solely for the player to “slap”. Which, by the way, boosts your ego. I’m not sure if I would have found that funny even as a teenager. It’s true that you can find more to be offended about on a typical episode of South Park, but even those guys have a higher story or point to get across. Duke Nukem Forever has none.
Now, you might ask, what about multiplayer? That was the whole reason to play the first one, so they’ve certainly put more effort into online multiplayer, right? Wrong. Multiplayer Duke is largely tacked on. Deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and king of the hill modes are present and accounted for, just like every other FPS game in existence. Challenges, like in Call of Duty, can be met to earn XP which in turn equals unlockables like hats, shirts and decor items for your “pad”. You earn nothing in the way of better weapons, armor or gadgets, so there’s little motivation to keep playing after a few sessions. I did appreciate the inclusion of the Duke Burger level (mini-Dukes in the fast food restaurant), but not enough to keep me riveted.
Simply put, Duke Nukem Forever is a disappointment regardless of the nostalgia factor. Duke, you and I had some good times back in the 90’s, but it’s time to retire for good this time. There’s an old adage that can be applied here: “Better to stay silent and let people think you a fool than to open your mouth and prove them right”. Maybe staying forever Vaporware was the better way to go.
Duke Nukem Forever, rated M for Mature, is available now for Windows PC, OnLive, Xbox 360 and PS3. A copy of the game was provided to Media Geeks by OnLive for review.