The development of Duke Nukem Forever has been anything but easy. The original development team, part of 3D Realms, had been working on the game since 1997, suffering budget cuts and staff reductions before eventually being disbanded in 2009. A handful of the original team continued working on the project, forming Triptych Games and with the assistance of both Gearbox Software and Piranha Games, the game finally reached completion. After so long in development it was inevitable that Duke Nukem Forever would have a tough time living up to fan expectations. The game needed to feel nostalgic and yet still bring the franchise into the 21st century; reminding players of their love for the Duke Nukem series, whilst introducing something new and fresh. In a very competitive FPS market, anything short of brilliance was going to disappoint, and unfortunately we received something unquestionably average. Continue reading for the full written and video reviews.
The problem with Duke Nukem Forever is that it feels very fractured – which no doubt has something to do with the number of different developers that have been involved over the last fourteen years. On one hand the Duke pokes fun at modern titles and claims that he’s still the king of first-person shooters; whilst at the same time trying to imitate the game mechanics that have made them so popular. The gameplay is very linear and rarely gives you the chance to explore your surroundings, instead you are forced to follow a set path until you reach the next scripted event the game has waiting for you. Unlike in past Duke Nukem titles there are no secret areas filled with goodies to discover; if you’re lucky you may find something useful stored in a locker or hidden behind some crates, but that’s about it. However you are encouraged to interact with certain objects you come across to improve Duke’s ego bar (which acts as his health meter) and this does reward players who slow down a little and take a look at their surroundings. It’s easy to see the link between Duke lifting weights or admiring his reflection in a mirror and his ego, although some of the objects did seem to be there just for the sake of it. The ego bar is a great example of the conflicted development that Duke Nukem Forever has been through. The recovering health meter is very common in modern shooters and forces the player to take cover and avoid enemy fire whilst it regenerates. Unfortunately it just didn’t seem to suit this game. Crouching awkwardly behind the limited cover that was available, as you waited for the ego meter to regenerate, didn’t make me feel like I was playing as the Duke. I wanted to charge into each situation with my shotgun obliterating each enemy, not cower behind a wall and pray that my ego bar would stop flashing red. Not to forget that every time I did get killed (on the Xbox 360 version), I could expect a 30 second waiting time with the loading screen. That managed to get frustrating very quickly. The Duke is now limited to carrying two weapons at a time, which is quite the contrast compared to the amount of equipment he lugged through Duke Nukem 3D. This limit does force you to keep switching the weapons that you’re using, but I really would have liked to have seen a larger amount of ammunition available for each one. I felt like I spent far too much time darting around my enemies searching for weapons, instead of actually using them. The rocket launcher was extremely useful, especially when fighting larger enemies – but the Duke could only carry five rockets at a time, so I rarely decided to fire it! The gunplay itself is thankfully pretty fun and the range of weapons that you can use throughout is definitely one of the better aspects of this game. Fan favourites such as the shotgun, ripper and devastator weapons make a welcome return and we’re also introduced to a few new toys. The railgun sniper rifle will easily one-shot your enemies from a distance, whilst the Enforcer Gun fires three homing missiles at a time that look great and deal a large amount of damage. If you’re looking for a more amusing way to dispatch an opponent you can always rely on the Shrink or Freeze Rays, which will do exactly as their names suggest. These weapons reminded me exactly why Duke Nukem had been such an enjoyable series, I just wish I could say that about the other elements of the gameplay. Graphically the game looks old – which can almost be forgiven considering the development issues I seem to be so intent on talking about. Today’s gamers expect great visuals from their shooters and Duke Nukem Forever doesn’t even come close. In all honesty the game just looks boring. There’s no real attempt to impress the player with stunning backgrounds or great looking cutscenes and if you begin to look too closely at the game, you’ll find some rather disappointing texture detail. So the single-player is very average, but what about the online multiplayer? Maybe this will help Duke Nukem Forever warrant its £40/$60 price tag, by offering some decent replay value? Well unfortunately, that isn’t the case. The developers tried to recreate the Duke Nukem 3D multiplayer on a modern day console, with graphics the original developers could only dream about and online matches that players could jump right into. Admittedly that sounds incredible, but in reality it feels old fashioned for all the wrong reasons. The online multiplayer makes use of a pretty basic matchmaking system and consists of only four different game modes including the CTF variant “Capture the Babe”. Most game types will have the player spawning with only a pistol and you’ll need to race to the weapon locations to gain the upper hand, which may seem odd to players that are used to weapon loadouts, but it can still work brilliantly. However the problem arises when you realize how unbalanced some of these weapons can actually be in a multiplayer setting. The rail gun sniper rifle is just as powerful as it was in the single-player, allowing you to easily one-shot other players from a distance, with no scope movement, or pesky single shot reloads to worry about. If you have the misfortune of finding a rail gun or shotgun instead, you’ll be given very little indication as to whether or not your bullets are actually hitting your enemies until they fall to the ground and stop moving. This lack of feedback becomes even worse when you start to make use of the melee ability as it’s extremely difficult to tell if you’re making contact or not. Today’s gamers have become used to enjoying a much more balanced FPS experience when playing online and many of us find it frustrating if our game of choice doesn’t maintain a fair playing field. The Duke Nukem Forever multiplayer seems so outdated in comparison which is a real shame, as both gamers and (in fairness) the developers, were really hoping that it would just be good chaotic fun. I’ll end this review by mentioning one last feature of Duke Nukem Forever that probably encapsulates everything that is wrong about the game. Plenty of modern shooters reward gamers for playing online by leveling up and unlocking weapons and perks to play with. However Duke Nukem’s weapons are all found on the battlefield itself and so instead players will find themselves unlocking items for the Duke’s virtual mansion. That’s right. Virtual. Mansion.