Released: 10 June 2011
Developer: 3D Realms
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox One (Backwards Compatible)
Man, I was a big, big fan of Duke Nukem 3D (ibid, 1996) back in the day; I spent hours playing deathmatches on PC at a friend’s house and, so great was my love for the alien-blasting, ultra-macho first-person shooter (FPS) that I even bought the Nintendo 64 version in order to continue the carnage at home. Given that I didn’t really have a decent PC back then, I never really experienced Doom (id Software, 1993) and I got ribbed to hell and back for owning Quake 64 (ibid/Midway Games, 1998), Duke Nukem 3D basically was my exposure to the FPS genre…at least until GoldenEye 007 (Rare, 1997) dominated the majority of my social life.
So suffice it to say that I was eagerly awaiting the next instalment of the Duke’s ass-kicking series; yet, as we all know, Duke Nukem Forever had a…tumultuous history, to say the least. Originally announced in 1997 and targeting a release between then and 1998, the game was constantly delayed and reworked as the staff and developers came and went, jumped from game engine to game engine, and constantly found themselves lagging behind more recent FPS games and shooters like Doom 3 (id Software, 2004), Halo: Combat Evolved (Bungie, 2001), and Gears of War (Epic Games, 2006).
Rather than simply going back to Duke Nukem 3D, staying the course, and releasing an FPS title that harkened back to that classic style of gameplay, the developers scrambled to compete with modern shooters, cramming Duke Nukem Forever with a multitude of unnecessary additional gameplay mechanics and, ironically, rushing the game out to a release some fourteen years after its first announcement. Upon release, Duke Nukem Forever was pretty much universally lambasted; I originally, very briefly, played the demo version for PlayStation 3 and wasn’t exactly impressed and soon forgot about it once Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition (3D Realms, 2015) was released. Recently, however, I picked the game up (dirt cheap, obviously) and decided to rush through it to nab some easy Achievements and I would be remiss if I didn’t share my thoughts on the game as a whole.
Twelve years after the events of Duke Nukem 3D, Duke Nukem has become a worldwide icon and celebrity and, against the wishes of the President of the United States, returns to action when the rebuilt Cycloid Emperor leads an alien invasion upon the Earth in an attempt to extract a modicum of revenge against the Duke.
Ostensibly, Duke Nukem Forever is a first-person shooter that once again casts the player in the massive boots of Duke Nukem, a heavily-muscular, one-liner-spewing archetypal 1980s/1990s action hero modelled after the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Campbell, and Bruce Willis. Duke is a throwback to a far less politically correct time in the world, and in gaming, when games regularly featured an abundance of violence, tits, abusive and coarse language, and toilet humour…and, as a kid back ten, I loved it! Duke was the best parts of all your favourite action heroes rolled into one: charismatic, sharp-witted, and an all-action hero. Not for everyone, of course, and he probably doesn’t fly in today’s social and political climate, but I’ll always have a soft spot for this big, roided-up bastard.
Duke Nukem Forever starts off relatively promising as Duke recreates the ending of Duke Nukem 3D, allowing players to once again equip the Devastator (a rapid-firing rocket launcher) and blast the Cycloid Emperor to smithereens in a football stadium. The moment this is revealed to simply be a game within a game, Duke Nukem Forever begins its slow decline into mediocrity; the aliens are back, as is Duke’s trademark wit but, unfortunately, he didn’t exactly bring along his A-game for this instalment.
Initially, Duke is forced to make use of his fists but he soon acquires a firearm and this is one of the game’s first disappointments; unlike in the previous game, Duke can only hold two weapons at a time so, when you come across another weapon, you’re forced to drop one if you want to switch to it. With a press of the B button, you can execute a melee attack to save ammunition and you can also acquire trip mines and pipe bombs to blow aliens to pieces but it’s honestly quite boring to only be holding two weapons at any one time.
Luckily, when you come up against tougher enemies or bosses, the game usually leaves a fitting weapon and an infinitely-replenishing ammo crate nearby so you usually always have the right weapon for the right situation but it’s still a bit of a needless handicap. Thankfully, you can use your weapons to blow limbs off of the alien scum you’ll come up against and there’s plenty of blood and gore splattering all over the game’s otherwise bland environments. Additionally, you’ll often find enemies collapsing to their knees and leaving themselves a prime target for Duke to “execute” them with a stiff uppercut, which is a nice little touch.
Unlike in the last game, Duke’s health is represented by an “Ego” bar; the bar drains as Duke takes damage but will automatically refill when Duke escapes from incoming fire, as is the style in many shooters these days. You can duck or hide behind cover scattered throughout the environment but most of these are highly destructible so you won’t be hiding behind pillars for too long before you’re forced to come out all guns blazing. Executing aliens will instantly fill your Ego bar and you can extend its length by interacting with certain parts of the environment and defeating bosses.
These intractable elements are a fun distraction fitting of Duke Nukem; you can drink beer, eat chocolate bars, admire your reflection, play arcade and pub games, take a piss, and interact with strippers. All of these, and more, will reward you with an Ego boost so you can take more damage but, even with an extended Ego bar, you’ll still find Duke far more fragile than in previous games; get caught in a crossfire or run head-first into the game’s more formidable enemies and you’ll find your health drained in seconds, forcing you to sit through a good two minutes of load screens as the game struggles to reload your last checkpoint.
These loading times really drag the game down; the game’s missions see you exploring a variety of locations and environments, ranging from alien nests clearing inspired by the Alien (Various, 1979 to present) franchise to stretches of desert and alien-infested cities. These maps are broken up into sections and, when you clear one, the game fades out to a loading screen to load up the next map; then, when you die, you have to sit through another round of loading screens, which makes dying far more frustrating than it needs to be as it takes forever (pun intended) to jump back into the action and try different tactics.
You’ll also find yourself shrunken down to a tiny form, as in Duke Nukem 3D but, while the platforming sections were brief and cursory in that game, the shrunken sections extended in Duke Nukem Forever. Entire sections of missions will see you reduced to the size of a mouse, which is a exasperating experience and, if you’re really lucky, you’ll find yourself faced with the prospect of being tiny and jumping across platforms above an electrified floor that will kill you in seconds. This is not my idea of fun; it’s more like torture as these sections drag on and on with seemingly no end.
At various times, you’ll also hop into a monster truck or a radio-controlled car and take part in some of the most janky driving sections I’ve ever experienced. Duke barrels ahead at full-speed, using rocket-powered jumps to clear gaps and flattening enemies beneath the massive tyres of his truck…that is until you happen to collide with the environment. It doesn’t take much to get Duke stuck against buildings and other obstacles, forcing you to try and back up and go around the obstruction in a wide arc, and just clipping walls and objects can send Duke spinning end over end, either ejecting you from the vehicle or forcing you to flip it around to carry on.
Luckily, the auto-firing sections are a lot more fun; quite often, you can jump behind a gun turret and blast away at enemies, bosses, and enemy ships. You can’t hold the trigger down for too long, though, as the turret with overheat but it’s still quite enjoyable to gun down waves of enemies and blow them to pieces by targeting explosive barrels. Duke can also grab and throw a multitude of objects at his enemies (including barrels (normal and explosive), rats, turds, weights, and priceless vases); all of these, and others can help stem the tide against your enemies and you’re often encouraged to make use of the environment to keep your enemies at bay.
Also helpful is the fact that Duke spends very little time underwater this time around; the final mission of the game is where you’ll find yourself submerged for large periods of time, forced to find air bubbles to replenish your oxygen supply before you drown and struggling to blast the aliens that join you in the dark depths. Unfortunately, though, Duke Nukem Forever not only lacks a map (even a basic wireframe map would have been helpful!), it also has a large number of puzzles scattered throughout its locations. In Duke Nukem 3D, the most you really had to contend with was flipping certain switches or finding coloured keys to progress further but, here, you’ll be jamming large fans with tool boxes, driving forklifts, ripping open doors, and desperately trying to navigate the maze-like environments without a map or a clear indication where you’re supposed to go or what you’re meant to do.
Graphics and Sound:
Considering its troublesome development history, Duke Nukem Forever doesn’t actually look that bad; weapons and enemies are rendered in big, bombastic glory and environments are generally quite detailed and large in scope (even though the maps are split into separately-loading sections). The game also runs relatively well; it can stutter at times, generally when large numbers of enemies are on screen or the game is preparing to load into the next section, but it was smooth sailing, for the most part.
Where the game fails, however, is in the rendering of its human characters, who all look like lifeless plastic toys. I guess this is actually quite fitting as the game (and the Duke Nukem franchise) is literally akin to a boy smashing his best toys into one another and it’s not unexpected considering the time the game was created and the troubles the developers went through just to produce the title. Duke Nukem Forever doesn’t feature any cutscenes or cinematics; all of the story (such as it is) is told using the in-game engine while the game loads up the next wave of enemies, boss battle, or section to play through. The game is also punctuated by a fitting heavy metal, hard rocking soundtrack that remixes many of the classic tunes from Duke Nukem 3D and adds to the fast-paced, hard hitting action of the game’s inconsistent high points.
Enemies and Bosses:
Duke Nukem Forever brings pretty much every enemy from Duke Nukem 3D back in all their disgusting glory and gives them a nice gloss of paint, updating their designs for a more modern audience, Duke will battle the likes of teleporting, jetpack-wearing alien scum, shotgun-toting Pigcops, and missile-firing Enforcers, each of which takes the time to reload their weapons, can toss pipe bombs at Duke’s head when he’s out of firing range, and include a melee attack for close quarters combat.
Duke will also come up against alien eggs, which spew face-hugging Pregnators, and other smaller enemies that are best crushed under Duke’s mighty boot. Easily the game’s most annoying enemy, though, are the Octabrains; these floating, octopus-like aliens hover around your head sucking up items and spitting them back at you and can blast Duke when an energy shot that will kill him in one or two hits. To make matters worse, these bastards also suck up your missiles and pipe bombs, meaning its best to detonate a pipe bomb right as the aliens swallow them and pepper them with the Ripper.
Duke will also come up against some familiar bosses during his adventure; the rocket-spewing Battlelord goes on a rampage on top of the Hoover Dam, the Octaking slowly destroys the small platform you’re standing on as it tries to fry your brains, and the Enforcer poses a significant threat when Duke is shrunk to a small size. Each of the game’s bosses are gigantic, with different phases and attack patterns, and a high point of the game’s action; as bosses are only damaged by explosives and turrets, you’ll generally have to employ different strategies to taking them down while also having to fend off swarms of regular enemies at the same time.
Easily the game’s most annoying boss battle is against the three-tittied Alien Queen; this bitch shields herself with her huge arms, forcing you to toss pipe bombs at bouncy pads to get her to lower her guard so you can blast her with rockets. This alone is an annoying aspect of this boss battle but it’s made even more maddening as the Queen not only blasts you on your ass, slams into you with its claws, and spits Pregnators onto the field, she also protects itself with Octobrains for her final stage, which can reduce your health to nothing in seconds. Additionally, if you take too long to initiate the quick-time events needed to humiliate and finish off this boss (and others), she’ll regenerate a portion of her health and the battle will continue on until you get it right.
The game’s big bad is, of course, the Cycloid Emperor; in the recreation of the finale of Duke Nukem 3D, all you really have to do is strafe circles around the Emperor, blasting away at it with rockets until it goes down and, while this strategy continues to work wonders in the game’s final battle, it’s made far more tiresome by the presence of regular enemies on the field. You’ll need to kill these to grab the RPG, Enforcer Gun, Devastator, and pipe bombs in order to damage the Emperor but, compared to some of the game’s previous bosses, this gigantic monstrosity looks far more threatening than it actually is.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Duke has access to a small, but effective, variety of familiar weaponry in Duke Nukem Forever; he can use his fists to pound enemies into bloody mush, grab a simple pistol, or load up with a shotgun. As the shotgun takes time to reload, you might want to grab the Ripper to cut through enemies with a spray of bullets, though you’ll run the clip out quite quickly, or the Railgun to blow enemies away in one targeted hit.
You can also grab the RPG, Enforcer Gun, and Devastator to fire rockets at enemies; these are best saved for bosses, as they’re the only weapons besides turrets that’ll do any damage, but you’ll find aiming and directing these weapons troublesome, at best. You can also grab a Shrink Ray and a Freeze Ray to reduce enemies in size or encase them in ice, respectively, leaving them wide open for an execution, and even acquire alien lasers from down Assualt Troopers to mix things up a bit.
Duke can also acquire a few helpful items to tip the balance in his favour; he can see in the dark with his trademark night vision sunglasses, distract enemies with a hologram of himself, swallow some steroid pills to go on a super-powered melee rampage, and drink beer to increase his resistance to injury. Unfortunately, however, you can’t use a jetpack this time around (at least, not in the single player story), and Duke Nukem Forever also, inexplicably, mixes up its FPS gameplay with a variety of different playstyles. The first, and most frustrating, is the abundance of platforming sections in the game; Duke could jump and fly around levels in Duke Nukem 3D but Duke Nukem Forever takes the piss with the platforming sometimes, asking players to awkwardly jump to small platforms or pipes and navigate narrow platforms with the game’s janky, slippery controls.
Honestly, there’s not a lot on offer in the base game of Duke Nukem Forever; you can play the game on four different difficulty modes for an increased challenge and revisit each chapter to find any Ego boosts or secrets you missed in order to earn every Achievement in the game but, beyond that, there’s not much reason to go back to the game. Once you complete it (on “Let’s Rock” at the very least), you’ll gain access to some additional options that let you turn on helpful cheats like invincibility and infinite ammo; however, you won’t earn any Achievements with these activated, which renders them largely pointless.
At one point in the game, you visit a strip club and are tasked with tracking down some popcorn, a vibrator, and a condom for a stripper; this little side quest also gives you the option of playing a few mini games, including a pinball machine, air hockey, whack-a-mole, mini basketball, and pool. While you’ll get an Ego boost for winning at each of these and there are even some Achievements tied to some of them, the game’s controls don’t really make playing these mini games fun or interesting in any way. Just potting all the balls on the pool table took me about half an hour as there’s no way to judge the power, direction, or spin of your shot and, while I was able to win at air hockey, the janky, floaty, slippery controls mean winning seven to nothing and earning that coveted Achievement is more likely to see you tearing your damn hair out than anything else.
There is a multiplayer component included with the game but my Xbox Live subscription has lapsed so I never explored the options available here. Considering how poorly the game was received, and sold, there is also some downloadable content (DLC) on offer for the game that adds extra modes, Avatar costumes, additional multiplayer maps and modes, and a whole new mission to the single-player campaign. Unfortunately, this DLC costs more than I played for the base game and that, in addition to how dreadful my experience with Duke Nukem Forever was, means I won’t be shelling out to play this DLC any time soon.
There’s a word to describe Duke Nukem Forever and that word is: disappointment. Honestly, though, it’s nowhere near as bad as reviews and word of mouth had me believe; the basic aspects that made Duke Nukem 3D are still there and, when the game is focused on mowing down alien scumbags and indulging in is crude, crass sense of humour, it really excels and you get the faint glimmer that the game could have lived up to the hype of its predecessor.
Unfortunately, it’s just too bogged down with unnecessarily long and difficult platforming and driving sections, annoying puzzles, and frustratingly long loading times. Limiting Duke’s arsenal also hurts the game as you’re constantly having to drop weapons and switch to different ones; enemies are way too tough at times as well, soaking up entire clips and blasting your health to shreds as you frantically try to reload or find tenuous cover, and the levels are largely bland, uninspired, or too cliché to really stand out. It’s a shame because there is clearly a lot of potential in Duke Nukem Forever’s concept and, had it released in more like the early-to-mid-2000s and been more like Doom 3 than this hodgepodge of disconnected ideas, it might have actually been really good rather than just disappointingly mediocre.
What did you think about Duke Nukem Forever? Do you think it fails to lives up to its hype or did you find it to be an inoffensive distraction? What do you think of Duke Nukem as a character, especially in our current political and social climate? Do you think he’s a relic from the past or is there room for his brand of humour and action in today’s world? Would you like to see a new Duke Nukem game or do you think it’s best to pull the plug on this once-fruitful FPS franchise? What is your favourite FPS game? Whatever you think, drop a comment below.