Duke Nukem Forever (yes, you read correctly)
The King is back but it's not quite the game it was supposed to be. Duke Nukem Forever is neither revolutionary nor the best game ever. It's a game that should have been released years ago. As it is, Duke Nukem Forever is merely a pretty good shooter. In other words, Duke Nukem Forever is a disappointment.
Many seek that "oldskool" feel from DNF, the very thing that got them into PC gaming in the first place. But how oldskool can a shooter with health regen, two-weapon limit and no manual saving be? When the aliens attack Duke's "Cave", it's like you're playing the first level of Halo, a sterile hi-tech environment with narrow corridors, linear paths and ridiculous laser weapons. Even the screen FOV (field of view) is as if you're playing Halo.
But it gets better after this, until it gets worse, until it gets better again, etc. DNF is full of ups and downs and unfortunately, after several fun maps driving around in your "Mighty Boot" monster truck, you end up at the Hoover Dam, the most boring part of the game. It is here that the game also ends, leaving you with a "that's it?" kind of feeling. But while the game leaves you a tad disappointed, there's still a rather good game somewhere beneath all the hype and expectations. Let's see what it's like.
As for the game's weapons and enemies, all the classics are there. The weapons are fun for the most part, especially the heat-seeking RPG and quick pipe bombs, but it's hard to get past the 2-weapon limit. Then there's at least one thing the game should have learned from modern shooters: iron sights. The game's zoom feature is from the pre-Unreal Tournament era and for no good reason. Only the Rail Gun has a proper zoom mode. The Shrinker is fun (especially online!) but you hardly get to use it and the Freezer felt totally useless, losing its power unless the enemy is right in front of you.
The enemies look good, which is in stark contrast to the game's otherwise unimpressive NPC models. For example, the Octabrain is just as scary and detestable as it was back in 1996. Boss fights are, in general, the game's highlights but here the lack of manual saving causes the most problems. Still, these encounters are almost as much fun as they were in 1996 and they're certainly refreshing thanks to the almost complete lack of traditional boss encounters in shooters these days.
While fun most of the time, combat does have some problems. I've never really liked those types of situations where you get locked in some room and have to fight several waves of enemies until you get to move on. Once again the 2-weapon limit raises its ugly head; removing the limit would've made these situations more enjoyable. (It's quite ridiculous that Duke can carry only five rockets at a time.) Another thing DNF seems to have picked up from recent shooters are those boring turret scenes where you defeat a bunch of enemies wave after wave, always in the same fashion. Both these factors needlessly extend the game's duration.
Besides being just a traditional shooter, the game has a surprising number of puzzles, involving forklifts, cranes and so on. Sometimes you get shrunken which results in scenes some of which are memorable in a good kind of way, some in bad kind of way (those damn gear wheels!). The game doesn't hold your hand every step of the way, which is refreshing. I actually found DNF slightly more difficult than most games these days, which did remind me of oldskool action. Still, overall the game is not very challenging and the single-player campaign took me around 8.5 hours on normal, which is not that short actually if you consider that Call of Duty 4 took me only four hours.
What's important is that Duke is still Duke. The game bows to no one. There are breasts, asses (some good ones too!) and even indications of extraterrestrial rape. The Hive is a grotesque scene, even more so thanks to the fact that this time Duke fails to save his chicks. Jon St. John delivers tons of great one-liners, reminding you how fun it is to have a hero who's not just another boring you. There's plenty of things to interact with at the beginning of the game but this interactivity seems to decrease the farther you go.
Unfortunately the game looks dated and, at times, rushed, which is like a sick joke considering the long development time. I had all settings at max, including screen resolution (1680x1050), but throughout the game I actually had to check the video settings menu a few times just to make sure I hadn't missed something, because the game looked awfully low resolution. Even worse, there's an awful DOF (depth of field) effect that makes everything blurry when viewed from not-far-enough a distance. You can turn the effect off but not without disabling some other effects such as bloom that actually helps compensate for the game's low resolution. As said, many character models look severely dated, the most notable example being Duke himself when viewed in a mirror. This isn't to say the game looks bad overall, but it can't be helped that it looks like something that should've been released several years ago. Also, as mentioned before, the game has an awful FOV (field of view) and the "Duke Vision" (night vision goggles) only hurts your eyes (howabout simply giving us a flashlight?).
There's of course also a multiplayer mode and it's surprisingly entertaining. I haven't been a fan of deathmatch ever since Counter-Strike made deathmatch feel like a snoozefest but DNF's multiplayer is lots of fun in short bursts. It's fast, the weapons kick ass, the maps are small and the infamous Capture the Babe mode is hilarious; you've just gotta love the Twins! Most of all, the things that plagued the single-player campaign are either absent or irrelevant online. Still, we're not talking about something you can play for hours at a time. My guess is that there won't be many servers left by this time next year.
Conclusion: Comparisons to modern games and Duke3D, the game this site is all about, are not only inevitable but also justified. The sad fact is that Duke Nukem Forever doesn't really even enter the competition. It doesn't really succeed in simulating urban environments like Duke3D did. For the most part it's too linear with boring CoD-like turret scenes thrown it at specific intervals. While the game boasts some interesting and varied environments its dated graphics take away some of the impact this game could've had years ago. Combat, while fun for the most part, suffers from needless concession to console gamers such as the 2-weapon limit and health regen. These simply cannot be overlooked because they remind you every step of the way. The game has a plot but after your babes get killed the plot turns into an afterthought. The game has its moments, tons of them in fact, and Duke remains solidly politically incorrect through it all, but they can't turn a good game into a great game. But they do turn an average game into a good game and while Duke Nukem Forever is a good game it's not the game we dreamed of. They say the King is back but he's been here all along. Long live Duke Nukem 3D!