Duke Nukem Forever has been absolutely ripped to shreds by many reviewers and magazines. We’ve seen a PR nightmare and reviews full of hate, but the game is selling. Are people oblivious to the review scores, should we believe them and is DNF really that bad?
The short answer is “no”. It is certainly no game of the year but I’ve had fun playing it. There are a significant amount of flaws in the game which if you let yourself get worked up over them, will hide what can be an enjoyable experience at times. Fighting enemies can be good classic FPS action. You have crazily powerful guns are combined with pretty direct enemies leading to combat that is quite run and gun. Perhaps this may seem crude and weak compared to the more tactical and realistic modern war based shooters, but its just a different breed of game. Personally I love the weapons in Duke Nukem Forever. The shotgun feels awesome and each weapon has their own use but what really sells it is the more novelty weapons. I find being able to shrink an enemy then squish much more amusing than headshotting! Unfortunately the DNF chaps have gone and spoilt the fun by limiting the weapons that you can carry to two. As such you will need to drop the shrink ray when ammo runs low. Gutting!
Equally disappointing is the health system. Whilst the general concept of having health based on Duke’s ego and increasing it via various actions is quite a nice idea, the regen doesn’t feel right. One of my favourite aspects of the old FPS titles was trudging along with low health, knowing I have to get everything spot on to survive until I can get to a health pack. Now of course just hide for a minute and you’re back in the action. Having absurdly powerful weapons is one thing, but don’t make it too easy for me to survive being hit!
When the action is going, it can be pretty decent. Killing Pig Cops with Duke spouting off cheesey / god awful one liners is quite good fun and you can find yourself enjoying the game. For some reason Triptych Games decided this won’t do and every few minutes combat must be broken up. Of course breaks are good, essential even, but they shouldn’t be longer than the actual action. There are various puzzles that the player must complete in order to progress, such as re-arranging pipes (even though apparently Duke hates Valve puzzles), putting power cells into some form of generator or using levers to arrange walkways. These are usually quite dull, not always instantly apparent and on the PC the controls are fecking awful.
This however does not compare the the other way that Duke Nukem Forever breaks up the play. About a third of the game appears to be devoted to jumping from ledges. Often the setting is amusing, for example miniature Duke bouncing on burger buns, navigating a kitchen, but in practice it doesn’t work. Fun in a 3rd person platform game but in a first person shooter it is awkward, clumsy and hap-hazardous, not to mention feeling completely out of place. This can take a lot of fun out of the game and often leads to boredom and frustration.
Least we have boss fights though! Duke Nukem Forever boosts some good old fashioned oversized bosses, but they aren’t challenging enough. Because players are able to regenerate their health and the boss can’t it becomes a cycle of attacking, hiding, attacking, restocking, hiding and so on. Its a real shame because they have a good old school boss feel but are ultimately let down by a health model more suited to your modern war FPS.
Levels are a little hit and miss. Without a doubt the worst chapter is “The Hive” which is set in a dark and dreary alien lair full of tentacle style walls and frustratingly almost absent of enemies. As I mentioned in my first impressions, the start was very slow and after starting to pick up you are hit with one of the dullest experiences that I’ve had of late. The story takes a complete nose dive here as well. Plot is hardly an important part of the game. I expected the aliens come and take Duke’s girls so he goes out to kill every last one of them plot so when the twins he set off to rescue are killed so early on, it was a surprise and a disappointment. The manner in which they died, impregnated by the aliens wasn’t funny and just pathetic to be honest. This, added with the stupid three breasts on the walls, was more juvenile than the xxxx Movie series of films. All in all, it was one of the worst campaigns in a game.
Thankfully the many other levels are somewhat better. The mix of driving and combat in the Canyons levels worked very well, using refuelling the monster truck as a means to switch between driving and combat. At this point the more powerful weapons were also well in use and it felt like fairly solid old school FPS action, with your GTAesque distraction of the driving and basic modern day objective gamplay, hunting down gas cans. Not a bad mix really, although it was far from perfectly balanced. Unfortunately at times driving the monster truck went on longer than I would have liked when the novelty wore off and I wanted to shoot things. Other levels such as the dam were fairly enjoyable as well, suffering from some of the same puzzle / FPS platformer issues as described but also having decent combat environments. An example of this is the kitchen scene in the burger bar where a miniaturised Duke is fighting shrunk alien foes, using tins and alike for cover. Very amusing! However Having to then jump across grills, between boxes etc wasn’t fun.
Earlier when bitching about the Hive I touched upon the humour in the game. Before going any further I just want to say, this is Duke Nukem. From the outset I expected crude, cheesey and shameless humour and that is what I got. Some was funny, some was very poor and some overlapped. I imagine that if Duke was new to me, or if I looked back at the series with rosey tinted glasses that the humour would have been a huge disappointment. However some of the one liners were amusing and fitted the general attitude and character of the game. Sadly some were just pathetic, more notably the attempts to “big up” Duke and his whores of a female fan club but most of all, throwing around turds. I mean really. I wouldn’t have found that funny back when I was in my early teens playing Duke 3D.
One thing that got me a little confused was the piss takes of other games. Halo, Gears of War, Portal and a few others were mocked in the game despite being directly copied! In particular what stood out was Duke remarking his dislike for Valve puzzles, forcing you to complete a puzzle with steam pipes. Perhaps this is just the developer’s (whichever was responsible for the audio) way showing respect to other games but it felt completely out of place. I’d have rather that Duke laughed about disliking valve puzzles then just kicked the pipes and everything worked. More in character and it wouldn’t feel like the joke was actually on the player!
Finally we get onto the multiplayer in the game. It felt rather hastily put together, despite actually having a pretty decent looking progression structure. The wrappings have been done very well, although the few levels that I played did seem a bit cobbled together. However there is a range of gameplay types and it feels a little bit like Unreal Tournament to play, good classic FPS action. Well when I say that, its more a poor man’s Unreal Tournament due to awful model animations and terribly laggy servers. Gameplay was okay, nothing exceptional and I’d advocate UT3 over DNF any day if you’re looking for a solid old school frag match style game but, and this is a big but. Having the shrink ray as a weapon was fucking AWESOME. I was rather surprised when someone shrunk me mid combat and later giggling away when watching the top player in the server scurry away as I tried to squish them. I’d very much recommend having a go at the multiplayer if you have a copy of the game for this alone!
Overall, this game has the potential to be pretty enjoyable at times. Don’t set yourself high standards or expect an epic story with stunning visuals and ground breaking gameplay but accept it as a title that is dumb fun, albeit flawed. Having been warned that it was dire, I could see myself slapping a similarly low score by the time I was playing The Hive but having completed it, maybe 6/10 is more appropriate. The amusement of squishing enemies after using the shrink ray or using the cheats for big head fun (options unlocked upon completion) tempted me to up it to a 7, but as its Duke I’ll settle on a 6.9.
Completion: 100% campaign