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Duke Nukem Forever Review

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On 06/14/2011 at 09:50 PM by Nick DiMola

After well over a decade in development, this game has to be great. Right?

Everyone needs to play it, if only because of what it is. I don’t recommend a purchase, however, and it should only be bothered with if it can be experienced on the cheap.

Let’s hop right into it – rather than bestow upon you some longwinded story about the timeline of Duke Nukem Forever, I’ll start with a bold statement about the finished product. It’s a complete mess. After well over a decade of development, the game shows the absolute turmoil it lived in for a great many years. Rooted in old shooter design, but grafted to a modern shooter system, Duke Nukem Forever feels like the worst of both, with a hefty dose of potty humor thrown in that so often falls flat. Duke Nukem Forever has already been a joke for years, and even now that it’s finally released, a joke it will remain.

Set years after Duke Nukem 3D, Duke is truly a master of his universe. He lives in a hotel mansion, owns an inordinate amount of stuff, and has his name branded on just about everything. He’s living the high life – but all of it is about to end as the aliens have made their way back to ruin his day. They’re stealing the babes and killing people in droves. Thankfully, Duke is available to once again save the day.

The game starts off extremely well. It blends humor and old school shooter elements to make for the exact experience I was looking for out of Duke’s long-awaited adventure. The point where Duke’s adventure gets into full swing, it swiftly becomes the disaster alluded to earlier.

Its biggest issue is the seeming indecisiveness over whether it should maintain its old school roots or shed them for a more modern experience. The compromise is a recharging health system, lots of corridor shooting, a two-weapon carry restriction, and lots of overpowered, aggressive enemies.

Typically, if a game introduces recharging health and corridor shooting, a cover mechanic is put in place to make it possible to recover. Oddly, no such mechanic exists, and with rapidly depleting health, players are forced to retreat when things get a bit too hairy.

And things will get hairy. The enemies are extremely aggressive, which quite frankly is a nice change from the more blasé attitude of opponents in most modern shooters. However, the forced two-weapon carry restriction only serves to force a conservation of ammo, prompting players to only shoot if they can pull off an accurate shot.

It seems that every core mechanic works against a quickly paced experience, which is what this game so badly needed in order to remain interesting. Modern shooters have skirted the necessity of brisk pacing by making the level designs elaborate and exciting. The level designs found throughout the game are just barely passable, which could’ve been excused if the action was actually interesting.

Many areas don’t give players a clear path for progression and the blandly designed landscape doesn’t make it any easier to navigate. Even playing the game with a group of four, we often got stuck because it wasn’t clear where we were supposed to go or what we were supposed to do next.

The enemy designs are equally boring and extremely overused. Aside from the more elaborate bosses, the general baddies are simply a chore to plow through, requiring nothing more than a ton of bullets and a steady shot. The bosses are far more interesting, which is quite welcome, but in general, they take a bit too long to dispense with, wearing the endeavor thin.

Duke Nukem Forever is no one-trick pony, though. Rather than just offering up your standard shooting fare, players are able to interact with the world in unique ways. Tons of mini-games exist, including, but not limited to, lifting weights, hitting a punching bag, pinball, air hockey, driving a monster truck, and whack-a-mole. The problem with all of these activities is that they’re mostly awkward to control and when it comes down to it, not much fun in execution.

If anything, the game earns its only points on some of the more interesting weapons and accompanying gameplay during the quest. Shrink rays that turn you into a mini-Duke enabling some unique platforming, as well as for miniaturizing enemies, is a nice feature. Heavy weapons of all sorts, complete with alien weaponry, are fun to use when they become available, and the on-rails sections are occasionally interesting.

The humor, which could’ve really made up for all of the shortcomings, is nearly absent after the first hour or so. Slapping alien titty plants and throwing turds feels pretty lame, as the outlandishness of it is lost completely on the semi-serious tone that the game establishes. Playing up the super-ego of Duke and all of the potential potty humor would’ve made for a much better and enjoyable game.

Rounding out the poor overall experience are horrendous load times (on the Xbox 360, at least), unappealing graphics, and a variety of other issues that include texture pop in and slowed frame rate.

I’m glad they finally dropped this Duke, because the series can now finally be moved forward. It’s just too bad that the final product after all of these years of effort isn’t compelling in the least.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Jason Ross Senior Editor

06/14/2011 at 09:51 PM

My favorite part was when Duke got to draw.

Nick DiMola Director

06/14/2011 at 09:58 PM

My favorite part was shutting it off.

Matt McLennan Staff Alumnus

06/15/2011 at 01:01 PM



Took them fourteen (!) long years to make this, and it became a Call of Duty with Duke Nukem in the long run. I hope sales reflect my utter disgust for this game and Duke's coolness getting punch in the gut.

Lukasz Balicki Staff Alumnus

06/20/2011 at 08:35 AM

Is anybody surprised that this game ended up being horrible? Perhaps Duke Nukem: Forever In Limbo would have been a better fate for this title.

Nick DiMola Director

06/20/2011 at 09:44 AM

Yeah, no surprises here. I'm more disappointed than anything. I was hoping it would still turn out pretty good, but it's just a mess.

The thing that surprises me the most is that Gearbox has more or less admitted that they put very little effort into the game. They took the mess that 3D Realms had made and just cleaned it up for release. I guess that's a reasonable strategy if the game is actually good, but in its current state it would've only made sense to scrap what's there and start from scratch.

I guess we'll see where Gearbox takes the series in its next iteration, but this one doesn't imbue much confidence in me that Gearbox will do a good job.

Lukasz Balicki Staff Alumnus

06/20/2011 at 09:42 PM

I wouldn't count out Gearbox yet, if they are given the time then they can put out an awesome title such as Borderlands. With that in mind they are still very hit or miss since Samba De Amigo on Wii wasn't that great and quite frankly they haven't made many memorable titles (at least from my point of view).


06/21/2011 at 08:28 PM

I liked the game.

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