Duke Nukem Forever
No game is ever going to suffer more under the weight of expectations that Duke Nukem Forever. Given that we've been waiting forever for it to arrive and there will be teenagers trying to play it who weren't even born when development began the return of King Duke is never going to be half as good as we really want it to be.
In playing Duke Nukem Forever it would be all too easy to get sucked into an argument about whether it is indeed a worthy return for the series or not. In many ways it is everything a Duke Nukem game should be: brash, trashy, brimming with arrogance and intensely puerile and misogynistic imagery.
The sense of humour is there, as it always was, with more dick and fart jokes than you can shake your proverbial stick at. The run-and-gun philosophy of the old-school FPS games that made Duke 3D so addictive is branded into the heart of Forever too almost as if in some kind of macho test of bravado as much as it is a nod to the game's heritage.
The game's story is pretty simple. The aliens that messed up Duke's ride in Duke 3D are back for revenge and they interrupt Duke's comedicly narcissistic daily routine and attack his massive casino complex on the Vegas Strip. In true Duke fashion he shoots down their gargantuan mothership with a cannon mounted on the roof of his casino and proceeds to thwart their plans for world domination with some large guns an smart-ass one-liners.
The story's nothing special but Duke Nukem has never been about intricate storytelling. At the core the series has always been about shooting increasingly gargantuan enemies with equally massive guns and there's a sufficient amount of this in DNF, perhaps not enough to make up for the lengthy development time, but still: hooray for big guns and explosions right?
Well, not always. Sadly, it's all too easy to run out of good things to say about DNF and all the toilet humour cannot save a game from its flaws. Duke Nukem's flaws are fairly significant. Everything about the game outside of the humour smacks of a rush job. Gearbox enlisted the help of a handful of other studios in order to help them finish the game and it has contributed to the patchwork feel of a game which has changes engines so many times in its development cycle that it rarely go past the prototype stage.
The level design is never overly exciting or ambitious but it does vary wildly from passable to just plain dull. The lag in textures loading, which is characteristic of a lot of early games that use the Unreal Engine in this generation is there and is fairly prominent at a time when most developers now have issues like this under control.
This moves on nicely to the art itself, which is inspired by previous Duke Nukem games but it seems quite uninspired. The iconic enemies like the Pigcops are drab imitations of themselves and not even the bosses are particularly memorable. The initial rush of finally being able to load up and play Duke Nukem Forever fades quickly away as it becomes quickly apparent just how rushed the game actually feels.
Gearbox has always been competent but we have come to expect more from them in recent years due to the Brothers in Arms series and Borderlands but for some reason they have not managed to find the magic necessary to really give Duke the return he deserves.
Duke Nukem Forever is not a terrible game by any means. The controls work as you would expect. And there are no glaring bugs that make the game unplayable. It just feels that, in the rush to make sure that the game was finished they forgot to polish it up. Granted, any more delays and the game would probably never have seen the light of day at all so there's not much that can be argued for giving Gearbox more time to give Duke the love and attention he needed.
As someone who grew up playing Duke Nukem in various 2D and 3D incarnations this game fills me with a load of conflicting emotions. I always knew that it would never live up to expectations but I had hoped for something that would have a bit more character than just being an average shooter with Duke's face and humour plastered over it. Still, I can't bring myself to hate it or bash it vociferously. It could never be anything other than what it has been and actually, that's fine.
The important thing to think about is not what the game is just now but what the series can be in the future. Duke Nukem Forever marks the return of a series which added a wonderful level of crass silliness to the games industry that we need now in a world of uber-serious military shooters that take themselves far too seriously. Duke Nukem may be far from perfect but he's back and now Gearbox have torn down the mythical status of Duke Nukem Forever they can go on to give Duke a proper future and I think we can rest assured that the next game will arrive on time and be everything we hoped for from DNF.