It’s really hard to review this game, because it’s really just middling in every way except one: it’s just as misogynistic and artificially offensive as you’d expect a Duke Nukem game to be. There’s not a lot to call out, and there’s not a lot to get excited over. I’m not going to call-out the long development time, because you can read that in pretty much every other review of this game.
Before we get into the review proper, I should mention in all fairness that I’ve never played all of Duke Nukem 3D, except the free demo that was everywhere back in the late 90s. For this review, I played the Windows version of the game, distributed through Steam, using both Xbox 360 controller and a mouse/keyboard controls.
Duke Nukem Forever takes place in a strange alternate-reality version of Las Vegas, where Duke Nukem apparently owns every casino and restaurant in the entire city, having become rich and famous after the events of Duke Nukem 3D. The game opens, confusingly, with Duke Nukem playing, uh, Duke Nukem Forever, I guess? Playing a recreation of the end of Duke Nukem 3D? I’m not sure exactly what’s going on during that whole sequence, to be honest. The story kicks off when the aliens come back, and the President decides to begin peaceful negotiations with them, ordering Duke to stay well-away from the aliens. Meanwhile General Graves believes the aliens are up to no good again. Obviously the aliens attack again, because that’s basically the entire point of the game, and if you’ve ever played a sci-fi FPS game before, you already know exactly what happens.
The weapons include the standard FPS set (pistol, machine gun, shotgun, rocket launcher) along with a few more creative additions. There is a freeze gun, which encases an enemy in ice to smash with a melee attack. There is also the famous shrink ray. Bigger enemies become significantly less of a threat while shrunk, and smaller enemies can be stomped in their shrunken form. I generally went through the entire game with the shotgun and the rocket launcher, and found the alternate weapons weren’t particularly useful in most situations. There are also mounted weapons, which are constantly overheating.
Unfortunately, you can carry only two weapons at a time, so you frequently have to decide to drop the creative freeze ray to pick up a standard machine gun. The game shot itself in the foot with this one. Note that the two weapon limit is a game mechanic taken from Halo.
The game focuses on interacting with physics and the environment, but instead of it being part of gameplay it’s usually just in the form of “ego items” you can play with as you proceed through the game. The first of these you encounter is a turd, sitting in a toilet, which you can pick up and throw, or use to draw turd-messages on the walls. The second, and more dignified, of these toys is a whiteboard you can write whatever you want on, and erase. The best is a fully-functional pinball machine. These are a little inconsistent: if you see yourself in a mirror, you can “Admire” yourself, but if you find an action figure of yourself you can’t.
To give you a reason to play with these toys, Duke Nukem Forever ties your total hit points (called ego) to the number of toys you’ve played with. I think it’s kind of stupid for the game to tie something as pointless as dragging a turd around with something as important as your total hit points, and it’s definitely not a decision I would have made.
Your hit points/ego regenerate over time if you take cover. I mention this because it’s a game mechanic taken from Halo.
The best parts of the game are the two extended driving segments, one where you’re driving a remote control car, and another where you’re driving a monster truck. Both vehicles drive exactly how you’d expect them to, physics-wise. Blasting the remote control car over long gaps using fallen posters as ramps is great, and the four-wheel steering mode on the monster truck lets you pull off some fun stunts. The absolute best is ramming an alien with the remote control car, and watching them hop around holding their foot in pain.
Second to these are the segments where Duke is shrunken to action figure size. These generally take the form of Half-Life-esque jumping puzzles, where you have to figure out how to get tiny Duke to interact with normal-sized items like pushing an elevator button. Normally harmless enemies, like rats skittering around on the floor, are deadly threats when shrunk.
One of these segments involves a wet floor, electrified by a loose wire, where you have to determine how to loop around the room to get to the power box. I mention this because it’s basically identical to a room in Half-Life with the same premise.
Let’s talk about the humor. Duke Nukem Forever isn’t very funny. It tries. In fact it probably tries too hard. The funniest jokes are the somewhat subtle ones. For example, the physics puzzles in the game require the use of barrels to weigh-down physics objects. These barrels are labeled “F’ing Heavy, LLC”. That made me chuckle. Nothing Duke, or any of the other speaking characters, said was funny enough to note in my opinion.
The worst jokes are the jokes made at the expense of other, much better games. After seeing a discarded suit of SPARTAN armor, Duke says “armor is for pussies!” When encountering some planks covering a mine entrance, Duke snarks, “a crowbar would come in handy about now!” The problem with these jokes is not merely that they’re not particularly funny, but that they remind you of much better games. To quote Mystery Science Theater 3000, “never show a good movie in the middle of your crappy movie.” And as I mentioned above, these are games that Duke Nukem Forever took mechanics from wholesale.
Graphics: Other reviews have talked about the bad graphics, but the truth is that the game actually looks quite good with one exception: people are made from plastic. If the plastic-y look of the people only applied to the women, then I would assume it was intentional as a gag (Barbie dolls), but it applies to every character in the game, and is distracting. Landscapes and objects looked pretty good, and the frame rate remained steady.
Gameplay: The combat is unsatisfying, the levels uninspiring and sometimes annoying, and the end boss was particularly pathetic. Introduces almost no new ideas or game mechanics to the genre, which is lazy. There is a long “intermission” level in the middle of the combat levels where you have to find a stripper’s vibrator which really contributes nothing to the game, and I wonder why it was included.
Quality: I didn’t experience any game-breaking bugs, or any crashes. Additionally, this is one of the few games where alt-tab worked all the time and without any quirks. Surprisingly, I’d say Duke Nukem Forever is of significantly higher quality than most other Windows games.
Duke Nukem Forever is what it is I guess. It’s not terrible, but it’s not good. There’s definitely a place in the market for comedic first person shooters, but this just isn’t filling it.
If you’re the kind of person who thinks, “you can pick up a turd? Awesome!” then you’ll probably love this game. If you’re just a general first person shooter fan, buy it if you find it cheap or if you’re really bored. If you’re not a fan of first person shooters, give it a pass.