Do you remember in high school when you would go to your school’s football or basketball game and there were always those certain guys that would be there even though they graduated several years ago? I always sort of felt sorry for those guys. I was never really sure what they did with themselves after they graduated. I never really saw them during the day or at the store or anything like that but they would inevitably pop up at the local sporting event. They would sit there amongst people that were several years their junior; telling unfunny jokes while pathetically soaking up any and all attention that may be paid to them. It was a sad and depressing experience to watch them cling to their fleeting youth and popularity. You remember those guys? That’s kind of what it’s like playing Duke Nukem Forever.
I initially had high hopes for this game as I was a big Duke Nukem 3D fan growing up. I was well aware that this game had an unusually long development cycle and that it was basically an updated version of an older game but I was still looking forward to getting back to the Duke. Unfortunately, the actual experience didn’t come anywhere near my expectations.
The campaign is plagued with gameplay mechanics that went away years ago for a reason. I have a high tolerance for bad games but Duke Nukem Forever doesn’t come off to me as a typical “bad game” but more like a game that could have been a lot of fun but refused to take the steps necessary; preferring rather to stick with outdated ideas. These are the things that make playing through this game frustrating. There were moments during my eight hours with the game that I actually started to have fun in the midst of my frustration. These fleeting moments, however, inevitably came hand in hand with elements that quickly drug the experience back down. There were some entertaining boss battles that were a little more fun than they should have been but they typically ended up dragging out too long and carried frustrating spikes in difficulties. The sporadic monster truck segments offered up a nice break in the gameplay but after the truck ran out of gas for the twelfth time, leaving me on foot I was ready to drive off the side of a cliff and be done with it. These moments describe the whole of the Duke Nukem Forever experience but there were plenty of other annoying bells and whistles to adorn the Duke’s return to gaming.
I remember being mildly amused by Duke’s cheesy one-liners and borderline offensive comments when I was a youngster but I also remember at that time thinking that ‘A Kid in King Arthur’s Court’ was a good movie. The point is this: I have since grown up but it appears Duke is refusing to do the same. Most of the comments he makes and mannerisms he emotes are all things that seem like they would have been funny in 1996 but in this day and age it comes off more like the ramblings of someone who is unaware that fifteen years have gone by since he was last popular. It’s crude for crudeness sake, offensive just because it can be and sexist for no good reason. There are copious amounts of nudity in this game and not in the pretentious “The nudity is essential to the plot” kind of way but more of a “Hey, everyone, look! Naked girls!” kind of way. The charm of the whole package is worn out to the tenth degree to the point that any nostalgia that may have been derived from it is covered in a layer of eye rolling stupidity. It’s difficult to walk the fine line between being cheesy without sounding like a complete tool and Duke Nukem fails to straddle this line even remotely.
Aside from all of that, the gameplay is frustratingly ancient and uneven. Several boss fights throughout the game tested my patience nearly to the breaking point on numerous occasions mainly due to poor level design. I can handle a tough boss battle but when I die thirty-six times because of inept level design and frustrating mechanics, I get a bit peeved. On the other hand, the final boss battle was completed on my first try with no trouble whatsoever. It’s these uneven spikes in difficulty that made my playthrough frustrating. It just all seemed like a very old game with some newer mechanic shoehorned in and it didn’t fit like I was hoping.
There’s really not a whole lot more I can say about Duke Nukem Forever. I’m glad Gearbox finally got the game out of the way and I’m glad I got to play it but I took very little away from the experience other than contempt. I’d like to see Duke Nukem again someday in a game that takes advantage of what used to be an interesting character but I sincerely hope that the next time we see Duke he grows up little bit. Both in personality and gameplay.