Man, where to start...
Normally we like to pull out a single outstanding or spectacularly bad point about a game and focus on that, before leaving that bombshell aside and going through the game’s other high and/or lowpoints, before triumphantly returning to our original point like a magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat.
However, that’s hard with Duke Nukem Forever. You see, it’s such a monumentally and intrinsically bad game that it’s almost impossible to know where to start. It’s embarrassment of riches – except the riches are all poo jokes, crappy textures and gameplay elements that where only exciting a decade ago.
In fact, let’s step back from the game for a moment, and look at how it’s actually come to market. When 3D Realms, the original developer of the game, collapsed under the weight of numerous vapourware of the year awards, it was assumed the game was dead, possibly never even properly started. However, a few years ago Randy Pitchford’s Gearbox Software announced that, like some Fedora-ed adventurer questing for gold, it had kicked over 3D Realms’ corpse and found it was hiding a near-complete Duke Nukem Forever. Calloo Callay!
Of course, this so-called great game still took years to come to market, accompanied all the while by claims of just how great it was going to be, and how awesome it would be to see Duke back amongst the gaming pantheon where he belonged. Up to launch, the hype became particularly intense – pole-dancers at preview events, trips to Las Vegas for hands-on sessions, endless trailers...
The thing with DNF is that it already had a lot to live up to. We’re talking a game with a decade-plus development cycle here, and a big name to live up to, to boot. You could have quietly released the game into stores and Steam with nary an ad, and people would still be quivering with excitement to see what the game was actually like. But add this level hype and you start to get people really revved up. It’s like Homefront, a game that actually suffered by comparison to the serious hype that THQ pumped into the market, by not being able to live up to the promise being made.
Except, at least with Homefront, there were something things that were actually good. Our only explanation for the sad mess that is DNF is that Randy Pitchford had a stealthy aneurism at some point in the last few years, and is now convinced that whatever the last thing he saw on his monitor would make a great game (see also: Brothers in Arms: Furious 4 and Aliens: Colonial Marines).
What a mess. It plays exactly like you might expect a game that effectively killed its parent company might play. It looks and sounds much the same. From the early levels which effectively set up Duke as the new God of a world saved by him back in the first game’s timeline, to the middle levels which contain some of the most horrifically misogynistic pap we’ve ever had the misfortune to play through to... well, we’re more than happy to be honest here, we simply quit the game at this point. There’s only so many exploding women and rape jokes we can handle.
In fact, none of the humour made us laugh. Most of it was toilet-grade, or so referential to pop and gaming culture as to be rendered dated almost immediately. And don’t get us started on the sad nature of the highly linear action, padded level design, and crawlingly... slow... loading... times...
In terms of graphics, things aren’t much better, and the game literally plays like something that is 13 years old in terms of ballistics and weapon mechanics. Note to Gearbox – there’s a reason no-one makes games like this anymore! Multiplayer might have had the most to gain from gamers yearning for kinder, simpler deathmatches, but it too is a buggy, ugly, boring morass of fail.
There’s an interesting lesson to be learnt here. Duke was a great character back in the day, but look at who he was competing with in other FPS games – no one. Most game antagonists back then were pretty faceless, so all Duke had to do was introduce working mirrors – so you could literally see yourself in the world – and a distinct and unique voice, and you had a memorable character. However, for those who remember the original, have a serious think back – Duke really didn’t talk all that much. His one-liners where well-timed zingers, not tired catchphrases.
He was an iconoclast, not an icon himself.
In a lot of fundamental ways, Duke Nukem Forever and the long string of developers who have helped keep it staggering toward release has forgotten what made the first game good in the first place.