Posted: November 16
I wanted to like Duke Nukem Forever. I really did.
When early reviews criticized the game for poor graphics, crude/outdated humour, dumb AI, and linear levels, I gave the game the benefit of the doubt and hoped that the bad reviews stemmed from unrealistic expectations - expectations that were inflated to reflect the 10+ years that the game was supposedly in development for.
Having spent many, many hours with DNF, I regret to say that the game is indeed a disappointment. It isn't all bad. Aside from inexplicably playing too much like a Halo/COD clone for my liking, I find the game's biggest issue to be the technical problems that have put me in a position to constantly replay the beginning of vehicle-based levels because something about those levels significantly ramps up the extent to which the game locks up/freezes on my computer.
Here is an analysis of the major factors that comprise this game:
PLOT: There is a plot, but it's pretty weak and uninspired. If anything, it gets in the way of the action that this game revolves around since there are instances where you're foreced to wait for NPCs who are blocking your path to stop talking until you can proceed to your next objective. Listening to these NPCs should be optional!
GRAPHICS: For the most part, they look fine for what they are. Duke Forever never aspired to be the graphical successor to Crysis, so it's silly to compare it to such graphically astounding titles. Although the enemies look cool and much more menacing than they did in Duke Nukem 3D, some of the backgrounds seem very bland (i.e. Duke's Hotel) or feature details that stand out as very, very pixelated (i.e. Sunshine reflecting off of the wall of a large barn in the 'Ghost Town' map). The game looks a little too dark and gritty for my liking.
SOUND: The reworked theme song notwithstanding, the game's music is nothing to write home about. The sound effects, on the other hand, are very well done. Jon St. John's voice acting for Duke Nukem is superb, and lends the game personality cracks me up because it is just as buffoonishly over the top and anachronistic as it was when Duke first started speaking in 1996. Critics who whine about how dated Duke Nukem comes across in DNF need to get their heads checked: Telling anonymous women to "Shake it, baby!" wasn't politically correct in the mid- to late-90s, but most of those who criticized Duke for continuning to objectify women in a similar fashion in 2011 incorrectly imply that Duke's behaviour was excusable then because it was in-line with the times. It wasn't. Duke was and remains a parodic embodiment of sex, drugs, violence, and machismo taken to absurd extremes.
My favourite element of Duke Nukem Forever is the re-worked Holoduke accessory: Whereas it was conceptually cool but not very practical in Duke Nukem 3D, using it Dukem Nukem Forever cloaks you in a Predator-style skin and produces a holographic replica of Duke that messes up his catchphrases. These botched lines ALWAYS crack me up! An added bonus is that the holographic image of Duke is genuinely distracting, as it now moves around and appears to shoot as an actual multiplayer opponent would.
GAME DESIGN: The maps are super linear, which sucks. Whereas Duke Nukem 3D's maps could be navigated a multitude of ways and were chock full of secrets that encouraged and rewarded exploration and taking chances, navigation in Duke Nukem Forever usually comes down to moving to one corridor, eliminating all of its enemies, moving on to the next corridor, rinse and repeat.
One of Duke Nukem 3D's very best levels - Hollywood Holocaust - was recycled into Duke Nukem Forever as a multiplayer-only map. The redone map gives away all of original's secret areas; you literally need do little more than walk or fly around to discover virtually every inch of this map - no switches to trigger, no walls to blow up, and practically no skill is involved. This remade level is a miniature representation of what what you'll see if you compare the spirit of Duke Nukem 3D's level design to that of Duke Nukem Forever's.
The game's shooting mechanics are solid, but the weapon, ammunition, and health systems they are closely linked to really detract from my enjoyment of the game. Because the game arbitrarily imposes a low weapon limit, most enemies will become sources of ammo or new weapons once they're slain. Players feel no incentive to fight carefully, conserve ammo, or seek it out in hidden places, because they're practically guaranteed to have an ample arsenal whenever the dust of a skirmish settles. The health system is even worse; Duke's health regenerates over time. You can be completely careless about the way you fight and have the confidence of knowing that you'll come out with 100% health so long as you're patient enough to wait a few seconds before advancing to take on the next batch of enemies.
To the credit of DNF's developers, they found a creative way of excusing the shift from a traditional health system to one aping that of Halo/COD: It's not Duke's health that gets hurt in battle, but rather, his ego. So long as Duke's over-confident, over-inflated sense of self worth remains above a set threshold, he keeps on going. He doesn't need to pick up health packs; he just needs a few seconds to clear whatever abuse he just withstood from his mind to feel as good as new. I don't like this new system, but I like the logic that went into implementing it into Duke Nukem Forever.
CONTROL: For the most part, the game controls fine. I really only have two gripes about it. First, in-game VoIP Chat is spotty. Whereas I can count on Left 4 Dead to always broadcast my voice when I'm wearing a headset and I have the game configured to read any input from it, I have had mixed results getting others to hear me in DNF. On a more serious note, I recently gave up on playing the game because of a long-standing conflict between some of 2K's titles and Steam: a bug triggered by the Steam Overlay prohibits you from moving around. I have spent considerable time trying to un-do this bug, and have given up - mainly because I have already spent tons and tons of time struggling with a problem that has plagued me since I first started playing the game: Intermittent freezing.
TECHNICAL QUALITY: DNF freezes on me. A LOT. Every time it freezes, the game's window locks up, the sound stutters, and I have to manually launch the task bar and force DNF to abort its operations for my system to be useful again. The freezing symptoms seem to happen at random, but occur a HELL of a lot more frequently when I have to get around by monster truck rather than on foot. Because players are forced to spend the first half of "Ghost Town" zooming around in a truck, I spent way more time loading, aborting, and restarting that section of the game than I would like to admit. It would almost always freeze within 3 seconds of playing the stage, and fiddling with the game's graphical and sound options didn't make a damned bit of difference in terms of reducing the problem.
My computer's hardware is more than capable of handling DNF on max settings, yet no game I've attempted to play has handled anywhere as poorly as DNF. My drivers are all up to date. I've tried compatibility modes. I even reluctantly made the switch from Windows 7 to Windows 8, yet not even that resolved the freezing issue.
CONCLUSION: Duke Nukem Forever is not a great game in its own right, but I still enjoyed it enough to want to reach its climax. However, the crippling bugs I outlined not only soured my impression of the game, but convinced me to never, ever spend money on another PC port by publisher 2K Games (The freezing bug also affects Bioshock).
QUICK RECAP: Mostly good graphics. Superb sound. Mediocre music. Lame level design. Servicable plot. Decent AI. Tarnished by regenerating health and low weapon limits. Crippling bugs. Skip it unless you are a die-hard Duke Nukem fan.