Evis T Reviews Duke Nukem Forever. Clue- It's Crap.

When people ask me about FPS titles I usually say that I don’t like them. This is something of an oversimplification. I used to enjoy FPS games, but over the last six years or so the genre has become more and more unappealing. I think the FPS hit its peak with Perfect Dark on the N64 and after that it all started to go downhill. The idea of ‘realism’ was introduced and while that is not a bad thing in and of itself, devs suddenly seemed to think that the only way to get their games taken seriously was to adhere to this doctrine.

Realism can be fun. Operation Flashpoint for example offered a very different take on the genre and presented the player with a new set of challenges and obstacles to overcome- simply surviving a battle was hard enough- kicking ass required something more than running around and killing anything that twitched.

Sadly realism also tends to lean into other trends which make a game far less fun. For example, in Perfect Dark even crappy guns usually had an alternative fire mode which meant they were still useful up against opponents with better gear. The Laptop gun could deploy into a sentry and the Dragon could become an impromptu landmine. Most of all, weapons had character.

Call me crazy, but up against this sort of variety some assault rifles, a couple of shotguns and a pistol is just a joke.

Put simply, I was looking forward to the return of Duke. I’ve kept this longing under my hat though as- let’s face it- Duke Nukem has always been more known for its puerile, chauvinistic power trip presentation than its gameplay.

Why is all this relevant? Because everything I want is everything that Duke Nukem Forever is not.

The graphics are dire. Seriously dire. Modern ideas as to what constitutes good graphics have polluted the game (there is no colour that is not a shade of brown or black) and half of the game is played in the dark; meaning you need to use the crappy night vision which somehow makes the game look even worse- as well as giving you a headache. The draw distance and distance blur is extremely short, so much so that it is often shorter than the range of some fire fights. Even set to 'Ultra' this game looks like Doom III.

But hey- you can forgive poor graphics if the gameplay is fun right? It isn’t. It’s a horrible mishmash of ideas from the past and the present, and few of them play off well against each other. For some insane reason you can only carry two guns. Seriously Gearbox? You’ve got a game where aliens invade earth to steal our women, where Duke is bigger than Jesus, where one man is more potent than the entire army, where beer makes you invincible and you get a stat boost by admiring yourself in the mirror- yet carrying more than two guns was the point where the silliness went too far?

You have a health bar, but it regenerates and you can expand your maximum life by boosting Duke’s ego. It’s utterly redundant though as most enemies will cause enough damage to send you into recovery right away- that’s right, when you run out of health you just need to find some cover and wait a few seconds and all your health comes back. In short it’s the shield from Halo, and the game even describes it that way on the loading screen hints.

You fight about two different types of enemy with another two occasionally making an appearance as mini bosses. Towards the end of the game a third type is introduced, but it does little to mix up the combat or provide any variety. The AI is terrible. Enemies will try to shoot you through walls in entirely different rooms and regularly throw grenades at you when you’ve three times further than their maximum throwing range. Most of the time all they do is stand there and shoot, making no attempt at using cover or tactical movements.

The level design is a joke. Mediocre action sequences are separated by large tracts of first person platforming which is handled with all the grace and precision of a hippo making love to a ferret. Physics puzzles abound including such brilliant, fresh new ideas as ‘roll a battery into a door to advance’ or ‘pile shit up on one side of a see-saw until you can reach the higher platform’.

Oh yeah, and the devs sometimes make you play through the same level again backwards. This has to be the ultimate cheapshot in videogame design.

Now to be fair, there are some interesting sections which play with the idea of the shrink pads as puzzle elements. However this idea is never really expanded on, basically just resulting in a different type of mediocre platforming experience where a bookshelf becomes an almost insurmountable obstacle.

Button mashing quick time events abound. Can someone explain to me what the point of these is? Beyond fucking over those gamers among us who have problems with the joints in our hands?

It gets worse- much worse. The controls in general stink, and I mean totally reek of console port. I have nothing against porting in general, provided that it’s done well.

Do an experiment for me. Imagine you’re strafing diagonally back and to the left (A and S keys), and if you stop moving in this direction, you get fragged. Now try to press 2 (trip mine). Awkward isn’t it? You can sort of manage it with your little finger, but why, why not just select the pipe bombs with the mouse wheel? Most likely because this sort of setup works well on a controller and Gearbox couldn’t be bothered to change it.

By this point fans of the original will no doubt be asking how the humour and presentation holds up, desperately hoping that there is something that can be salvaged from this train wreck. Sadly this isn’t the case. Jokes are few and far between and the running gag is that Duke is everywhere, and everyone loves him. And this is funny... how? Seriously, the set up could have been funny but there are never any punch lines. It doesn’t even really work as farce- it’s just there. There are many pop/geek/internet culture references in the game, but they are just that- references without any jokes attached to them. Many of the lines are just toe curlingly embarrassing, hamfisted attempts to capitalize on internet memes that died months, sometimes years ago. Hell, my pop culture references are more in date than this.

Maybe it was intentional- a nod to the extreme development time. Given the rest of the incompetence on display here though I doubt it’s anything so deep or clever.

The only thing half decent aspect of the game is the boss fights. Even then half of Duke Nukem Forever’s boss fights are just shameless (and terrible) rip offs off the lighthouse fight with the gunship from Half Life 2.

As a final note I find the timing of the release unfortunate. At a point when gamers are starting to be taken seriously by mainstream culture, something like this (especially given the hype around it) does not help us to avoid appearing as a bunch of sad, sexually starved, trigger happy borderline psychopaths. The fact that it’s a poor game is bad enough. The fact it’s one many of us have been looking forward to only adds fuel to conservative elements who’d rather see videogames banned. In the case of Duke Nukem Forever, it’s hard to argue against that idea when the blatant exploitation in most cases doesn’t even manage to raise a grin. Exploitation is bad enough when it’s intentionally done for laughs, it’s even worse when it’s intentional AND unfunny.

I’m not a particularly politically correct person. I admit I make jokes about race, gender, disability and so on, but even I found Duke Nukem Forever’s attempts at humour to be extremely disquieting. Subjects such as rape and abortion exist beyond the bounds of taste, and are areas even I rarely go near for a cheap laugh. Duke Nukem Forever revels in them. You’re worse than one toke over the line Gearbox, you’re about to see goddamn bats.

At the end of the Day Duke Nukem Forever is just a poor game in virtually every regard. It isn’t terrible, but it’s certainly a subpar, uninspired mess. It wants to try and capture some of the old ideas, but is too terrified to let go of the modern perception of how a shooter should be made. The end result is a mass of half arsed ideas and lack of development in any direction. Instead it relies on horrible, uncomfortable jokes and references to try and save it, which only drive it further into the abyss. Do not waste your money on this game.

2 Response to "Evis T Reviews Duke Nukem Forever. Clue- It's Crap."

  1. Hugh says:

    "appearing as a bunch of sad, sexually starved, trigger happy borderline psychopaths." -- I am totally all these things!

    I'm not surprised that it's crap, but I am a little surprised that (from what you've said) it continues the modern trends of grey-brown visuals and a two-weapon carry limit. If there's one thing Duke Nukem should be, it's over the top. Garish visuals, a dozen guns at any one time, and maybe even a bit of space for some fun.

    I begin to suspect that once Gearbox took over the project they just wanted it on the shelves and out of their hair as quickly as possible.

    -Alan

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