Posted in: Game Reviews by Michael Durr on June 29th, 2011
“Hail to the King, baby.” That phrase through the years has escaped my lips on plenty of occasions. Most of the time, it has also ended by me being pushed onto the floor with a blanket and pillow and/or the eruption of laughter. Since Duke Nukem 3d debuted in 1996, I have always found new and not so appropriate situations to spew his catchphrases. Fifteen years later, nothing has changed, I still speak the Duke and I am still waiting for Duke Nukem Forever. Well today I shall wait no more.
When development for Duke Nukem Forever largely came about, the Playstation 2 and Xbox combination were ruling the console airways. As a result, this game looks straight out of that era with dated graphics that at best could be labeled as an early Xbox 360 first person shooter. The video is fairly rudimentary and detail can be found to be severely lacking or blurry.
The gaming environment is also troublesome as we find Duke in the blandest of locales. Look no further than when Duke is in an air vent or underground in a sewer. They are dull, grey walls and often there is no clear indication of where to go next. The game is linear so one will probably not get lost, but confusion that could be cleared up by better graphics is evidently present.
Truth be told, I probably do not need a huge heaping amount of detail on the piece of poo I just picked up to fling across the bathroom (actual achievement) but some would be nice. The game is certainly playable but I can not help to think that some of the rough edges could have been worked out during the development time. Even things like Duke Nukem’s face model or the rigid and wooden NPCs do not appear to be very streamlined.
Sound is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital and is mostly up to 360 standards. The first thing most happy Duke fans will notice is that the Duke one-liners are still here and in full effect. Dialog is clear and one should not have any trouble listening to the interaction of Duke and whoever is standing in the area with him (even if it is admiring himself in the mirror). If the game could only be scored on dialog, it might even be considered for game of the year.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. Music is not bad but like the graphics does sound of last generation a little bit. There are plenty of surround and environment effects to be had, so one’s speakers will get some use. They also do a good job of building up tension for certain scenes without having the music dominate everything that is going on. Sure, some of the effects will sound canned but it is the game’s best feature.
Some of us will probably remember how Duke Nukem 3d ended up. (I think the moratorium on spoilers for the original game is up by now) Duke kicked butt and beat the aliens into submission. As a result, Duke is now loved by millions and is a hero to all. He even has a video game named after him (irony of ironies) which he plays while twins take care of his every need.
However, the aliens are back and they actually seem peaceful for once. Even General Graves tells Duke to not go near the monsters and just let them live in peace. Duke agrees but he knows better. But before he can do anything, his own Duke cave is the subject of attack by aliens. It gets only worse when his two girlfriends are abducted. When women are being taken, it is time for Duke to spring into action.
The first thing one will probably notice while the game loads for our first section is that well, the loading times. Even when the game is installed to the hard drive, one will still find that the average time to wait whether it is loading from where you last died or a new section, you are waiting over a minute to play it again. Some might not think that to be a long time, but try dieing for the tenth time in a boss battle and see how ramped up one might be to wait that one minute to play the same screen again and again.
The game takes on many of the same shooter mechanics we see in other games of the present but with some disturbing modifications. First and foremost, we are only allowed two weapons on hand at any time (Pipe Bombs and Trip Mines do not count and are considered inventory items). If anybody remembers the old 3d game, we had the “bag of holding” experience where we could carry every weapon available.
Here we only get two which is simply not enough especially if you are trying for the Gunslinger achievement which requires one of them to be the golden guns that you receive near the beginning of the game. Three classes of weapons to choose from would be better (say Pistol, Shotgun/Turret Gun and a slot for a special weapon) but I would have really liked to see all weapons available once you acquire them.
This leads into the next area of issue, how most players will find themselves playing the game. Most people because of the limited weapon slots and difficulty are going to play a game of Hide and Shoot. See enemies, shoot a few shots, get hit, find a pillar or other object to hide behind while your Ego bar is replenished and then repeat the process until death occurs (yours or theirs). It does not help that the enemies are usually crack shots and only require a few shots to knock you into the red.
The Ego bar is what replaces a traditional energy or health bar. Since Duke has a gigantic ego, he can take shots at will until his Ego is grinded down. However, if he doesn’t get hit for a specific amount of time, his ego will regenerate. One of the really cool things about this game is that you can increase the maximum amount of Ego by doing really Duke-like things in game. Look at yourself in the mirror? Ego goes up. Pop some popcorn in the microwave? Ego goes up. Sit in your throne? You guessed it, ego goes up.
As one could guess, there is a lot of interactivity, especially early on in the game. It makes the game fun, at least for a while. As one progresses further, that interactivity is replaced with platforming and bizarre jumping puzzles. In fact, the game has bits and pieces of plenty of other types of games. Platforming where you jump around obstacles to get to the next area? Check. Driving games where you work a RC car or your own jeep? Check. Heck there are even parlor games like pinball and air hockey to fill up your time.
The problem is that they do none of these well but yet they are either requirements of achievements or to gain access to the next level. The controls for each of these experiences are usually very rigid and require a little bit of luck to navigate through. It is almost as if they wanted to squish as many games as they could inside Duke Nukem Forever. Instead, they should have focused on two things with this game. Guns and women. No driving, jumping (unless it is a simple obstacle), puzzles, or air hockey. Give me my shotgun, my stereotypical indecent women and let the pigs fly.
It should be noted that when the game actually does focus on this, it does it pretty well. The analog sticks are not perfect, but it provides enough shoot em up action to keep us interested. There is nothing better than being alone in a trailer with a cache of weapons and running back forth shooting pigs and other assorted creatures. I have little issue with a hard enemy beating me. I have every issue when a puzzle in a shoot em up beats me.
The difficulty is very rough (even on Normal it packs quite the punch) but it does an echo a flavor of previous Duke games that always found themselves to be a challenge. However, the challenge should come from hard enemies and not restricted to sub-game controls which just make the player frustrated more than anything else. Instead, the difficulty really stems from the awkward platforming skills that I thought I left in the 8 and 16-bit era.
The single player experience will take most players about 15-20 hours to complete. There is actually quite a bit to go through and it actually doubles a lot of newer first person shooters which seem to be in the 8-10 area. One of the nice things about the game is that in addition to autosaving at various checkpoints in each level, one can use the chapter select (after the level is completed) to go back and play stages over or complete achievements they might have missed.
It is a bit of shame that this did not have the save anytime feature or a checkpoint select since some levels can take a good long time. The chapter select will also allow one to adjust the difficulty if one wishes. I guess I am spoiled, but when the Xbox Live version of Duke 3d came out a while back, it had a save anytime and a rewind feature. Of course, I do not expect a rewind but save anytime does not seem that unreasonable.
Moving on to Multiplayer, the game has an assortment of typical first person shooter caveats. There is Duke Match and Team Duke Match which serve as the typical Deathmatch scenarios. Also, we have Hail to the King which is a “King of the Hill” scenario where a team scores points based on their control areas. Then there is Capture the Flag…I mean Babe. Yep, grab a chic and run back to your base. Oh, you can also slap her on the butt if you would like. They went there. It’s glorious.
All of this multiplayer combat is not without the rewards. For each kill or challenge completed, one gains experience and levels. Completing certain challenges will grant the player additional clothing like a shirt, glasses or hat. Moving up in levels is a little more important because one has to furnish their lavish apartment. There is a section called Digs and the player will be placed in their apartment where they can walk around and look at their rewards.
Rewards can range from a few photos of Duke to games (like air hockey) to hot chicks who will walk around the apartment for you to literally ogle and make obscene comments at. I like the idea but I do wish there was a way to customize it to some degree. There are plenty of games with this apartment idea that will at least allow some flexibility in picking where your rewards end up.
One of the areas where I think the best work is done in the game is the creation of the achievements. There are fifty achievements and they equal the usual 1000 points. However, there is almost nothing in here that one would consider tedious or rigged to where you will have to grind needlessly. I say almost. Ignoring the difficulty achievements (beating the game on Insane is going to be insane for a reason), the most difficult achievements involve two of the parlor games. Air hockey and Pinball.
The Air Hockey achievement (Air-Duke / 30 points) requires you to blank your opponent 7-0 in the game. Once one works out a pattern however (there are youtube videos), it can be completed. However, the pinball achievement (Balls of Steel / 25 points), wants the player to score a million points. For 25 points, at most this should be 100,000. I am sure there are videos out on this as well, but for completists this will still eat up a lot of time.
Most of the achievements are just plain fun. Punch out a talk show guest? Achievement. Doodle on a whiteboard? Achievement. Drink Beer, Eat Food, Listen to your Messages, even pick up a piece of poo and you will get some points. There are plenty of story and statistic based achievements to have fun with as one progresses through the game. Heck, if all one ends up doing is killing some aliens, there will be plenty of points to earn.
Duke Nukem Forever is not the most amazing game ever. As a result of the seemingly endless anticipation and recognized as the vaporware poster boy of the past decade, this game in particular has received a ton of bad press. There are many gamers and reviewers who have used their voice to express out of a ton of hatred, some of which goes a little far. The most popular expression I have seen is that the game is “Balls of Fail” or broken.
Truth be told, when I played the demo (since I purchased Borderlands GOTY), I was worried. The game did not seem to flow at all and there were issues from the onset. But, after playing the game, I realized the game was not broken. I have played plenty of broken games in my time like Aquaman on the Xbox or the latest Leisure Suit Larry game on 360. Duke Nukem Forever is simply an old school shooter that tries too hard. It spends more time trying to cram in content or genres that have no place being there.
However in its old school methodology, it restricts the player by giving them only two weapon slots or enemies that will knock down your ego bar in one or two shots. Loading times are horrendous. But something happens when one kills their first alien or spew something completely inappropriate (and you laugh out loud) at a random female, we feel a twinge of enjoyment. That is what we really get out of this game, twinges and moments of joy.
There are times when I did not want to turn it off but there were also times when I was afraid to boot it up in this last week. It really falls in the middle for me. I have not wanted to play a multiplayer mode in a FPS since Rainbow Six Vegas 2, but I actually did here and enjoyed it. This game gets a modest budget recommendation. There are issues (some of which I hope can be fixed in patches) but there is some old school goodness here too. Give it a shot once it drops in price a bit and I think most gamers (especially older ones) will enjoy it.