Author Topic: Duke Nukem Forever - June 2011 [Score: 7.6]  (Read 1549 times)

Offline bobdog

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Duke Nukem Forever - June 2011 [Score: 7.6]
« on: June 15, 2011, 11:53:18 AM »
I have been wanting to play Duke Nukem Forever for 14 years, since I first played Duke Nukem 3D and its myriad of add-ons and extra levels in 1996. By turns in these very forums, I have been excited, berated as an idiot fan-boy, disappointed, and then cautiously optimistic. For a game that has undergone no less than four different engines in its decade-plus development, an almost release in 1998, 2001 and 2007 (of these, the 2001 game looked close to completion and would have been pretty awesome), and the death of gaming studio 3D Realms, this has not been a pleasant road.

So for me to finally sit at a computer, play the game and give you a report... I’m actually a bit giddy and mystified. It’s so surreal that we’ve finally gotten here. And here’s the kicker: DNF is not a world-changer, and it has some legacy issues tied to its lengthy development cycle, but the final result is a rather enjoyable adventure that gamers should definitely give a chance, reviews be damned. (SPOILER WARNING: Interestingly, the final game almost exactly mirrors the 2009 plot leak – see the charts at bottom – minus a major character and the later levels.)

If you play DNF expecting Call of Duty, you will be woefully disappointed. DNF is almost a direct sequel to D3D, with a shinier coat of paint, only it feels like it has been stuck in a time warp for a decade. While the rest of its FPS brothers went the gritty, realistic route, DNF is still stuck in its goofy glory days, which is both blessing and curse: blessing in that Duke can be a little more over-the-top in its craziness and generally get away with it, but curse in that most of D3D’s gamers have grown up and it doesn’t feel like DNF has matured appropriately. I mean, what other FPS has you picking up poo from toilets and throwing it around? Or thinks that boob jokes and porno mags in levels is cool? That's for 12-year-old boys -- not for the 18+ audience this has to be sold to. But similarly, what other FPS game COULD have the audacity to do these juvenile actions than Duke?

Graphic design bounces back and forth between sharp textures and slightly lower-fidelity, offering a weird syncopation within levels. In the graphics, it is readily apparent how Gearbox merely put a new veneer on the work that 3D Realms completed years ago. In fact, Gearbox stated that they simply finalized the game that 3D Realms built. For the most part, this is not a detraction, but I point it out because it becomes obvious quickly, especially with some of the human character models.

Levels themselves are primarily a continuing series of set-pieces that vary from shooters to rail segments to motorized transit to shrunken-Duke versions. I will say this: I never got bored – there was always something new around the bend, or interactive elements to play with, or new puzzles or environments. DNF is not a corridor crawl from point A to point B, and for that the designers should be congratulated. Some highlights include climbing around the outside of a tentacle-encased skyscraper with a view of sunny Las Vegas surrounding you; jumping your 4x4 truck across canyons; a boss fight on top of Hoover Dam; a boss fight when you’re shrunk to action figure size; and a pretty awesome underwater battle and boss fight. Come to think of it, most of the boss fights were pretty good. And yes, they are all arena boss fights, just like old skool FPS games.

However, DNF definitely could have been much tighter in its construction, because it feels like there are too many “empty” situations that serve no purpose other than filler. Take the opening set of maps, which take a full 60-90 minutes to really get into the game proper: after a fairly quick arena boss fight, you come into Duke’s reality, whereby you learn that aliens are attacking earth, and they are now interrupting your next TV appearance. You dither around with various interactive items (toilet, microwave, etc.), then you get shrunk and must drive around a remote-control car through a destroyed Las Vegas casino, before you finally make your way to the basement, shoot a few aliens and turn on the power. It just feels like a lengthy amount of time to not be doing much of consequence. In a way, it is reminiscent of Daikatana, whose earliest levels were blah, and then actually improved the farther into the game you got.

A needlessly gratuitous strip club dream sequence only amplifies this feeling – I can tell you that Valve would have cut out many of these “extra” content areas as filler, getting you right to the meat of the game. Is the filler there just as an homage to Duke? Or to provide some breathing downtime between all the battles? Or is it there because the actual gameplay is short? Could be a little of each, I suppose. For the record, I played the normal difficulty, died quite a bit and ended up with gameplay in the 10-12 hour range.

There are a few gaming innovations, including the shrinking ray and freeze ray, which are used to good effect in various levels, certainly making DNF unique from all other FPS games out there on the market. But most of the gameplay you’ve seen done before in various FPS, including the limit to two guns, and a recharging “Ego” meter in place of a health meter. And I died – a lot. DNF is one of the toughest FPS’ I’ve played in a while, with tons of teleporting/spawning enemies coming from all angles, and some really tough boss fights, all requiring various methods of dispersal. For example, one has a shield so you must bounce explosives past it; all can only be harmed by explosives; and several require you to take them out multiple times after recharging their power.

The voicework, perhaps the only game element to actually provide giggles, is prevalent throughout, and Duke spouts a variety of one-liners depending on the situation. However, both the sound propagation and the one-liners themselves sound 5-6 years old, which is probably when they were recorded. Duke’s voice sounds shallow, like you’re listening to him on a cell phone, rather than a booming, omnipresent voice that should be coming out of your own mouth. Likewise, the dialogue is pretty dated, even going back as far as 10 years ago. More of that archive I was talking about.

I think what is getting most reviewers up in arms is the expectation that after 12 years in development hell, DNF should be better than this. I don't think anyone expected the 2nd coming, but I think they felt that time was thoroughly wasted. And they would be right. Duke feels like an anachronism and 3D Realms didn't grow along with the rest of the FPS scene, like they just hunkered down in their bunker for a decade and made Duke 3D but with shinier graphics. Sadly, Gearbox didn't scrap everything and start fresh ... but then we'd be waiting ANOTHER 3-4 years for release. No, this is the game that 3D Realms made, for good or ill, and now that it is released, perhaps Gearbox can take the Duke franchise in a more modern direction.

Duke Nukem Forever is fun, and I will actually play it again, so it definitely struck a chord in me as a gamer. I understand, however, that the console versions are not nearly as polished as the PC version (and probably those gamers just don’t understand “who” Duke is and what he is all about). It’s no Half-Life 2 or Call of Duty, but it’s also good to be different in a world of same-y shooters. If you enjoyed Duke Nukem 3D when it came out eons ago, I think you’ll also enjoy Duke Nukem Forever; but for those who aren’t Duke fans, I don’t know if they’ll get the joke. 7.6 out of 10