Duke Nukem Forever
Developer: 3D Realms, Triptych Games, Gearbox Software, Piranha Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3, PC
Release Date: June 10, 2011
Price: $29.99 (Available HERE)
It goes without saying that Duke Nukem has been built up over the years as a massive gaming phenomenon. It’s no secret that Duke’s own popularity experienced has experienced ups and downs over the years. This was until the 1996 release of the widely known title: Duke Nukem 3D. Duke’s popularity suddenly soared as a result of this highly acclaimed hit. The game was raunchy, edgy and crude, yet gamers loved this up-front and brutally honest nature of the in-game elements. Combined with the humour and the degree of interactivity offered to players, Duke Nukem 3D set out gaming’s quintessential masculine idol. A man who kills aliens for a living while gambling, drinking beer and having every hot woman on the planet fawn over him. An inspiration to us all really. Duke himself literally became a King of gaming. Now, 14 years after the fact, Duke has returned to bring his own personal brand of kick ass back for old fans, and show off what he’s all about to a new generation. Out to create a re-imagined First Person Shooter with a difference, Duke Nukem Forever is finally here.
As it turns out, gamers across the world weren’t the only ones getting a little annoyed at how damn long Duke’s game was taking to develop. Duke himself was not all too happy about it either. 14 years ago, Mr Duke Nukem has saved the saved the world from the foul alien scourge that threatened to destroy mankind. Since then he’s been reaping the rewards of his heroic and super manly deeds. For the past 14 years he’s been living the high life: Opening his own casino, scaling Mount Everest, fishing for sharks, going into space, becoming one of the richest men in the world and, of course, “courting” a large collection of lovely young ladies to his side. Everything in life has been good. Except for 1 small imperfection: His own game has yet to be released. 12 years late of its allotted development time. From my perspective as a gamer, I think that the developers using the HUGE wait time as an in-game gag is utter genius. But eventually, after all its development time, Duke finally gets the chance to sit down and “play with himself”.
The introduction sequences of the game actually occur within the in-universe game that Duke himself has been waiting for. Players will actually play through a short level of Duke’s game. New players to the Duke Nukem franchise will probably just see this as a very basic training level. But to the seasoned veteran players, especially those who completed Duke 3D, the intro level might look familiar. It in fact depicts Duke’s experience in the final level of Duke Nukem 3D, where the King himself faced off against the alien Cycloid Emperor boss. Nostalgia bomb much? All the way down to the perfect field goal ending. The level ends with the title screen “Duke Nukem Forever”, just as the camera pans out to reveal the “real” Duke holding his own personalised Xbox controller. We also hear the giggles of the blonde and busty twins at his waist, who appear to be giving him something more that an innocent foot massage. This introductory level provides all players with a good idea of what sort of experience they’re in for. During the initial points in the game, players will be able to interact with many of the in-world objects. Players will discover they can interact with many items in the world, from toilets, to sinks, whiteboards and light switches.
Getting back to the plot, Duke’s life is finally complete. He’s done it all, and now he has the video game evidence for everyone to experience. Everything is perfect. And then, surprise surprise. Guess who drops in on the party? The alien invaders have returned, and they’re PISSED AS HELL. Duke’s perfect world is once again thrown into chaos as the aliens tear through an inferior Earth military, destroy the natural environment and all in all, rip human civilization a new one. Their goals are pretty much the same as the previous instalments. Capture and conquer the human race. Turn the worlds men into mutant pigs for their armies, and turn the worlds women into breeding sources. It goes without saying that the latter gets Duke a more than a little hot under the collar.
Due to the abysmal efforts of the military to halt the alien invasion, Duke Nukem himself is once again enlisted to single handedly halt the alien scourge. And be totally badass while doing so. And while the source of Duke’s strength, cunning or pure manliness is never really established in a story context, that’s part of the package. You have to be BORN that awesome. It’s what made him such a legend. The stuff he does in-game doesn’t always make sense, but frankly, the players don’t really care. As long as there is ass kicking and hilarious one-liners to be had, gamers far and wide will be drawn in to see Mr Nukem come out of his “retirement”. So, thanks to yet another alien invasion, we get to see the King gear up one more time, in the gameplay experience we’ve been waiting for almost 15 years.
In a market that is dominated by popular first person shooter franchises, such as the Call of Duty series or Halo, it is clear that Duke Nukem Forever clearly sets itself apart gameplay-wise. Remember that the DUKE series has been out of practice for about 14 years now. The clear goal was to create a unique FPS experience, while still retaining the popular features of the modern day FPS. Mixing these elements together clearly attempts to maximise appeal to both the old die-hard Duke fans, and the players who have yet been unable to experience what Duke Nukem is all about.
For the most part, Duke Nukem Forever controls as one would expect from a modern day FPS title. In writing this review, I was playing the Xbox 360 version of the game, and I found the controls to be pretty standard to what I’ve come to expect from console shooters. The controls are pretty standard fare: (A) to jump, (right trigger) to shooter, (Y) to change weapons, (Left stick) to move and strafe etc. Mind you, some of the control functions might seem somewhat awkward, such as clicking the right stick to toggle the “crouch” command. While the player will be able to pick such control adjustments after a while, if the player prefers an alternative control style, the options menu does provide several very aptly named alternatives: “Freeman”, “MC”, and “Duty Calls”, which adapt the control settings of “Half-life 2”, “Halo” and “Call of Duty” respectively. It should be noted that these feature amongst a myriad of cameos and reference to other series that the player will inevitably experience in-game.
However, returning to the controlling of Duke himself, it is especially worth noting the function of the (X) button in allowing the player to interact with pretty much everything in the duke-verse. And when I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING. Being able to interact with objects such as weights, tv’s, light-switches, pinball tables, barrels, electronics, and so many other in world features provides a VERY strong sense of immersion in the universe. This is clear from the very beginning of the game, with the afore mentioned urinal interaction. Again, not exactly the most refined or delicate way to present this feature, but you’re not playing a Duke Nukem game for subtlety or politeness, are you? Didn’t think so.
It is in this very interactivity element where Duke truly distinguishes himself from the like of the modern FPS hero. Rather than players rushing on in to destroy anything and everything, players should be encourages to take some time to explore the world and universe for items to interact with. THEN blow them up. But one might ask: “Why would I want to? It’s a waste of time… like searching for collectibles. What’s the point?” The answer to that is twofold: One, that many of the interactions that take place are funny as hell, and usually accompanied by one of Duke’s trademark one-liners. But the second, and more significant aspect is that performing certain masculine, egotistical or juvenile actions will permanently increase Duke’s “Ego bar”. This HUD feature essentially operates as the players shield bar in combat. Take too many hits, duck for cover and wait for the ego to build back up. And while it is possible to run through the game without looking for the interactive elements, the player is essentially shooting themself in the foot. The game experience will feel shorter, and the game will be all the more harder to complete. The combat difficulty and enemy ruthlessness grow more intense as the story progresses. There are multitudes of opportunities for the player to expand their ego. I first discovered the ego boosting feature when I found that you could put certain things in microwaves with very visceral, but humorous results. Rat Flambé anyone?
My own indicators of having underlying psychotic tendencies aside, performing actions such as lifting weights, winning at air-hockey, picking up chicks, shooting hoops or defeating certain enemies can provide significant ego boosts through prompted quick-time events or mini-games. All this is achieved while satisfying our own inner childhood delinquents. However, on the flip side, the inclusion of the Ego bar has meant the total omission of the health bar from gameplay. This may appear as a detriment to some hardcore fans of Duke Nukem 3D but I feel it is an excusable change.
The combat segments of the game are appropriate for that of a modern day FPS title, with the standard “shooter whatever moves” methodology still very much in effect. Quick-time events are also introduced as reactions to when an enemy is able to force the player into a grapple situation which is a nice touch to break up some repetitive attack patterns. What may catch some FPS fans off guard however, is the total omission of any kind of radar from the single player mode. Like Duke 3D, the game forces players to identify enemy locations with their eyes. This is clearly an attempt to retain some of the old-school elements of the series, but in some instances where Duke is simply overwhelmed by numbers, it can get a little irritating to only find enemy locations based on getting hit. Mix this with the absolutely BRUTAL nature of the enemy AI system, players playing the “normal” difficulty setting or higher can expect to die. A lot.
But what is a good FPS without weapons? The weapon variety available to players is quite reasonable for an FPS series. Many players of Duke 3D will be happy to see old favourites such as the Ripper and the Devastator return to the fold. However, the game also incorporates brand new ways in which enemies can be dispatched with in humours or humiliating manners. The shrink ray is a new weapon that is an absolute blast to use, shirking down enemies to a size that are appropriate targets for Duke’s big Size 12. The game also incorporates vehicle sections to the game, and I will be honest, they could have used some more work. While the driving sections are certainly playable, the handling of the vehicle sections feels too slippery, and the player can develop a feeling of not really being in control of vehicle sections. It’s reminiscent of the issues players had with the Mako in Mass Effect.
An additional gripe I have to add is the loading times. By god, was the 14 year wait not long enough? Each level that is played through is divided up into 3 sub-parts, each of which are divided by a minute or so long loading screen. Not too long a wait, but it can get painful when the loading screen has to show up again and again every time the player gets Duke killed. I was able to install my 360 copy to the hard drive which minimised the wait time down to about 15 seconds which was much easier to work with. Players who intend on obtaining a 360 or PS3 port I would encourage to do the same.
Gameplay-wise, the game isn’t perfect. But for all the small technical issues, it did not deviate from the purpose of the gameplay: Raw masculine fun.
In addition to an absolutely HUGE and expansive campaign mode, Duke Nukem Forever also features an online multiplayer mode to appeal to the fans who want to really obtain the thrill of crushing other, real life opponents. The multiplayer mode features a variety of game types, which one would typically expect from a modern day FPS. What’s not typical are the unique Duke Nukem spins that are put on them. The best example of this is the Capture the Babe gametype, which plays like your basic Capture the Flag match, but with the twist of having to abduct a girl and drag her rather unceremoniously to your capture point, spanking her as she tries to impede your vision. Other game types include the team based Dukematch, or the King of the Hill gametype: Hail to the King.
It can’t be denied that the multiplayer game modes are fun, but for fans of the single player glory of Duke in the past, the multiplayer may seem like uncomfortable territory. Additionally, matches can become quickly unbalanced. It’s basically a formula that reads: “Whoever gets the Devastator first will win”. Perhaps Gearbox may consider balancing that weapon’s damage ratio in a future update.
Similar to Halo and COD online, the multiplayer mode also features customisable aspects and a levelled ranking system. The former allows players to create their own unique multiplayer Duke by utilising the many unlockable items that can be obtained by fulfilling certain single player or multiplayer requirements. The later feature allows the player access to the “My digs” room, which essentially operates as an interactive multiplayer lobby, where players can unlock special Duke Nukem commemorative items. Players will be able to interact with unique items from Duke’s past and present. Featuring a Gym, Entertainment Room, Bar, Gallery and Games room, the Duke Nukem “my digs” rooms will no doubt provide VERY worthwhile incentives to give the multiplayer modes a spin.
Graphics and Sound
The graphics of the game aren’t anything amazing I must say. While VASTLY superior to the ancient days of pixel ted animation, they seem a few years behind the graphical standard of other modern shooters like Halo Reach and COD: Black Ops. However, I don’t think that many people will be opting Duke Nukem for a visual art design award any time soon, mostly based on subject matter. Depth and distance can sometimes be a little hard to grasp, and the lighting effects are a little too realistic, often creating a light-blur in areas where you have to fight off aliens while facing direct sunlight. Coupled with a slightly busy colour scheme, Duke Nukem Forever’s graphical detail can strain the eyes at points. As for the environments, they were detailed pretty well. Enough to provide a sense of depth and distance, but the difference between playable areas and background visuals are painfully obvious. This is not to say that it is a bad thing. The game is still completely playable, regardless of one’s inner art critic.
Character designs are quite decent, but there’s not a lot of variation amongst NPC’s. It seems that with many of the men and women in Duke’s world, the other inhabitants just seem like copy-paste jobs in many situations. It is not uncommon to every now and then two COMPLETELY identical looking people. (and no, the Holsen twins don’t count.)
Sound-wise, I feel the game is well lifted. The Duke Nukem theme song that opens the game carries the old score music from Duke Nukem 3D and creates a new heavy-rock version to compliment the modern day game music that one would typically associate with the FPS genre. The event music of the campaign also helps the flow of the game by setting the appropriate mood for the player. It should be noted however that the game rarely attempts to instil fear, which I believe is an attempt to maintain Duke’s perspective on events, rather than what the player’s might be.
Voice acting wise, my opinion is mixed. While Jon St John does an absolutely GREAT job at voicing Duke himself, some of the other voice acting performances just sound painful and annoying. Chief among them are Duke’s giggly fangirls. From listening to their giggling and whining, I’m fairly certain Duke doesn’t choose to keep them around for conversation. But on the positive side, the one liners that are dropped are always appropriate, and often reflect the thoughts of the player in particular situations. From “You got guts. Let’s see what they look like”, to “Those alien bastards drank all my beer!”, to “Who the hell picks up wet faeces?!?”, you can bet that Duke will have an appropriate response, no matter what situation you throw him into.
The only additional comment I feel I should make is how surprised but entertained I was by the inclusion of SO many popular culture and gaming references in the story-mode of the game. When presented with a set of VERY familiar looking green combat armour, Duke shrugs off the suggestion, stating that “Power Armour is for Pussies”. At the same time, we are introduced to a foul-mouthed bandana wearing solider who keeps whining about how his last partner “kept bitching about finding his missing wife”. I also thought it was quite clever to see several internet memes even included, particularly the inclusion of a VERY angry actor yelling at a stagehand, as well as the inclusion of one Private Leroy Jenkins. I’ll give you three guesses as to what he does. These out of context references are also featured in many of the customisable objects in the multiplayer mode.
When it comes to playing Duke Nukem Forever, whether the player likes it or not would generally be determined if that person is comparing it to something else. Holding it to the candle of modern FPS games or the “glory days” of Duke 3D would obscure one’s judgement on this matter. Duke’s latest adventure has clearly attempted to set itself aside as a unique experience, both in terms of story progression and gameplay. And there is no doubt that this game is VERY strictly male oriented. After playing through an absolutely massive campaign, I certainly feel this has been achieved. But was it worth the 14 year wait?
The wait time no doubt built up a lot of tension and expectations by fans. And while it is clear that a huge amount of effort has gone into finally releasing this title, I don’t think a 14 year wait on anything is justifiable. HOWEVER, what HAS been presented to us as the final product should be acknowledged for what it is: A REALLY GOOD GAME. Is it worth your time? It is.
The game has managed to not only deliver a unique FPS experience, but has also done so in a way that will be able to satisfy old-school fans and newbies to the series alike. So ladies and gentlemen, or babes and fells:
Duke Nukem has returned. And it kicks ass.