Duke Nukem Forever Review

By Jason D'Aprile - Posted Jun 21, 2011

After 14 years, the icon of PC shooters returns… in the most pathetically lackluster, immature, and uninspired shooters you're likely to see for years to come.

The Pros
  • Shrink Ray is still fun...
The Cons
  • Offensive, banal, and boring all at the same time
  • Terrible level design and pacing
  • Sluggish controls
  • Bad multiplayer

Duke Nukem Forever Review:

There are few games in the gaming history with as long and sordid a past as Duke Nukem Forever. The follow up to Duke Nukem 3D, a truly innovative and advanced shooter from 1996, this sequel has been in development limbo ever since. In the intervening years, shooter technology has greatly advanced, but apparently no one told Duke...or his developers. The game can be summed up by the fact that Duke can grab a turd out of a nasty toilet bowl and turn on faucets, but not actually wash his hands. And you’ll really want to wash your hands of this game after playing it.


It’s Got History, but No Character

Duke Nukem 3D was released amidst an endless sea of terrible Doom clones, the game added a level of interactivity to shooters that has seldom been matched even today. Duke himself was a throwback to the sexist, nearly-superhuman action heroes of 80's cinema. He was funny for the time, but ultimately a cardboard-thin caricature. It didn't matter back then, simply because the level design and gameplay were terrific.

Duke Nukem Forever portrays Duke as little more than a psychopathic, violently misogynistic, witless thug. He's a personality-less, outdated savant of violence who speaks only through quotes from movies two decades old and is only capable of interacting with others by either killing or screwing them. In some cases, both.

That the character of Duke Nukem is so utterly reprehensible is only one problem with Forever. Video games should be a cathartic release, and, when done skillfully, a bit of the old ultra violence and tawdry sexism is definitely fun. When done badly however, this sort of content becomes an immature, offensive, and tasteless mess. Duke Nukem Forever is easily one of the most inanely written games out there, with appalling dialogue and shoddy paper-thin stereotypes instead of actual characters.

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Destructive Behavior

Duke Nukem 3D was a wonderland of destructible walls, all kinds of interaction with the environment, and tons of hidden things to find. Duke Nukem Forever lets you urinate in toilets, pick up feces, and press buttons. The sole focus of the game is on bottom-of-the-barrel immaturity and crudeness. Sadly this also extends to the actual game design. The pacing right from the start is broken and uneven. Most of the levels are uninspired, linear, and uninteresting. Late in the game, a few sparks of hope appear, but given Forever’s surprising length (about 10 hours) it's too little too late.

The map design is mostly plodding from one wave of brainless bad guys to another. Occasionally, the combat is broken up by puzzles that usually involve pressing buttons and then struggling with the strangely sluggish controls to move across annoyingly precarious platforms. Of course, there are massive boss fights as well.

In all fairness, some of the boss designs are entertaining, but the mechanisms for defeating them are tired. The most advanced strategy used in Duke Nukem Forever is circle strafing. Bosses are only susceptible to rockets and other heavy weapons, and while they look decent, the fights are almost all as uninspired and lackluster as the rest of the game.


Braindead on Arrival

It doesn't help that there's virtually no real AI in the game. Enemy pig cop, octabrains, teleporting jetpack guards, and other variations on all the same aliens from the original game make appearances here. Unfortunately, the creatures also use the same bare bones tactics from the first game. Occasionally, there are allied characters, but they’re merely scripted, brainless cannon fodder to move the pointless story along.

Most of the guns from the original game are back as well. The shrink ray is still entertaining, but all of the new guns are forgettable. One concept that Duke Nukem Forever did take from modern games is the two-gun limit, so you're always switching weapons or just focusing on the same two through most of the game. Duke is constantly running out of ammo as well, forcing you to either pick up dropped weapons, or continually run back to infinitely-supplied ammo boxes.


The visuals are another major problem. Simply put, the game is ugly. Most character models are primitive and blocky, textures are blotchy, and the overall look of the level architecture makes the game seem almost ten years old. Worse, textures and scenery in general are used repetitively through each segment, which combines with the awful pacing—frequently involving bouts of nothing to do—to make the game amazingly boring.

Multiplayer was another high mark for the original Duke, but here it almost feels like an afterthought. There’s the usual array of deathmatches and team variations, including Capture the Babe—an inanely misogynist CTF variant. On par with the rest of the game, the multiplayer is borderline broken. Terrible lag, unresponsive controls, and a frame rate that just drops through the floor ruin what might have otherwise been an at least serviceably nostalgic deathmatch.


If Only Forever Had Never Come

All the flaws mentioned here are only the tip of the iceberg, really. Duke Nukem Forever is a game that does virtually nothing right. It’s the sort of bottom-feeding game you’d expect to come from some no-name publisher for $20. Yet, it’s a major, full-priced release, with mainstream awareness, which is perhaps the game’s worst crime. This is a game so offensive and poorly done that it single-handedly manages to concrete every negative stereotype that mainstream press and prejudiced non-gamers accuse our industry of suffering from. Whatever you do, don’t buy this game.