PS3 Review – Duke Nukem Forever

I can’t believe I’m writing this. Duke Nukem Forever is finally upon us. The game needs no introduction, unless you have been living under a rock in the most remote desert of the least inhabited portion of the world. Work began on this game in 1996, shortly after the mega blockbuster that was Duke Nukem 3D. After going through development hell and the loss of original developer 3D Realms, can Duke Nukem Forever possibly live up to the hype?

The game begins with essentially a redone version of one of the most memorable bosses of Duke Nukem 3D – a cyclops on a football field. You’re given the badass Devastator weapon, which is a dual rocket launcher. When the cyclops is down for the count, you have to rush over to him in order to kick his eye through one of the uprights on the field. It’s a fun fight, and feels a lot like the Duke Nukem we all have fond memories of. The game pans out to reveal you were actually playing a game within the game as Duke Nukem, while he is being…serviced…by two women in schoolgirl outfits. It’s easily the best part of the game, which is an unfortunate situation to find The King in.

One rather ironic line is uttered early on by the President of the United States when explaining that he does not want Duke to intervene with the aliens, since no shots have been fired yet: “Duke, you’re a relic from a different era.” This could not ring any truer when it comes to DNF. Most of this game really does not feel like a Duke Nukem game. For starters, you can only carry two weapons at any one time. I’m going to let that sink in for a bit. This is Duke Nukem we’re talking about! What happened to being able to pile on the weapons and ammo as in Duke Nukem 3D?? That decision is really perplexing.

Speaking of the weapons, most of them seem pretty paltry compared to the punch they packed back in the DN3D days. The shotgun definitely does major damage up close, but even the rocket launcher seems stifled. Whereas in DN3D you could decimate a large area with a single blast of the rocket launcher, here it only seems to cause moderate local damage. The pistol is nearly useless, and should not occupy one of your two precious weapons slots unless you are absolutely out of options. At least the pipe bombs and laser trip mines have made appearances, right? Well, you can only carry four of them at a time, which is another disappointment.

Another odd decision here is having a heavier emphasis on story in Duke Nukem Forever. DN3D had a very light story – alien bastards shot Duke’s ride out of the sky, and he went on a rampage, thus saving the planet in the process. There weren’t cutscenes, and Duke was mostly a passive character, with the occasional quip about his appearance or what a stripper should shake. Here, Duke is a bit more vocal, but most of what he says are single sentence catchphrases such as “I AM the backup!” or “Take your pills…er…vitamins every day and you might grow up to be as awesome as me.” Some of these are worth a chuckle, but for the most part you can see The Duke’s lines coming from a mile away. What’s far worse is the unskippable cutscenes. They mostly consist of you walking around and listening to some characters who you don’t care about give you orders. Yes, that’s right, apparently Duke Nukem takes orders now. At the same time, other characters will act like pansies and say things such as “now you made me sound like an ass in front of Duke Nukem!” It comes across a bit too corny as everyone worships you while at the same time telling you what to do.

Remember all the exploring you did in Duke Nukem 3D, finding all the hidden areas containing keycards or goodies/weapons? That is long gone here. Duke Nukem Forever is about as linear as you can get. The entire game can be summed up as: shoot group of enemies, move forward. Shoot another group of enemies, move forward. Use a turret to kill a group of enemies, move forward. Boss battle. The only exploration comes in the form of bathrooms, where you can earn some Ego points – the game’s rechargeable health system. While a move to the recharging health is acceptable, the weakness of Duke is not. Even on just normal difficulty, Duke Nukem cannot last very long in a firefight. After a few hits, your screen will flash red and you’ll be near death. Now, sure, Duke was not invincible in DN3D either, but at the same time he could take plenty of damage before dying. Oh, and about dying – you will be doing that a lot in DNF.  The enemies have a frustrating level of accuracy at some points, and since there is no cover system you have to rely on a pop-and-shoot method for most of the game. You can zoom in to try to pick off enemies from a distance, but that zoom is only really helpful when you have a railgun. The rest of the time the zoom seems ineffective.

So, when the inevitable occurs and you bite the big one, expect to be greeted with a loading screen for at least a minute as the game reloads the checkpoint. Thankfully, there are a lot of these checkpoints so you don’t have to redo an entire level. But when games such as inFamous 2 can respawn you almost instantaneously, this kind of loading is excruciating. DNF also occupies over 2 GB of space on your HDD, so the loading times could have been even more atrocious if that weren’t installed. All of this begs the question – just why is the loading so lengthy? The game does not boast amazing visuals – it wouldn’t look out of place as a launch title tech demo on the PS3. Some of this is excusable given how long the game has been in development, but it’s almost as if Gearbox just ignored the hilariously low-resolution textures in an effort to get the game out. This is particularly evident in another early segment of the game, where you mount a turret and are raised to the top of a building. The alien mothership slowly moves over you – and it looks ugly. Stretched textures are all over the ship, and it looks like it was ripped from DN3D.

Multiplayer makes an appearance here as well. It’s really oldschool, and can be surprisingly fun, if only for the unlocks. As you kill opponents or capture babes (DNF’s version of flags) you earn experience points, and level up. Level up enough and you receive various rewards for your apartment. The apartment is dubbed “My Digs” and is a penthouse suite that slowly fills with various statues and trophies as you level up. It may appease completionists out there, but it really is of no benefit for the average player. Ping is usually really high when playing online, which can result in some frustrating deaths. The exclusive “Hail To The King” mode reduces your weapons to, well, none. It’s just your fists and pipebombs/laser trip mines strewn throughout the level as you try to rack up points by holding a control point, which moves every few minutes. This mode is good for a few laughs, and is where a ton of the nostalgia in DNF can be found – the first level of DN3D has been redone for this mode, which can give any gamer an instant flashback of the good ol’ days.

Duke Nukem Forever is the result of what first began as perfectionism that slowly snowballed into mismanagement. Throughout the years, the game has no doubt seen multiple iterations, and a lot of 3D Realms’ original vision appears to be lost. The game seems trapped in the mid-90s with a lot of its jokes and humor, while the gameplay is so linear and your weapon choices so limited it just feels like another generic shooter from the middle of this past decade. There’s no doubt plenty of you are out there who are die-hard Duke Nukem fans and who have likely already bought the game just for pure nostalgia. That’s fine, and hopefully you will enjoy the game. But for the rest of us – those who aren’t such big fans of Duke Nukem 3D or who never even played it – this is a game that can easily be skipped. Rent it if you want to say that you played a game that took over 15 years to develop, because that is Duke Nukem Forever‘s biggest claim to fame – it exists, and was actually seen all the way through to the end.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ The Duke is back!

– …But he’s wimpier than ever, and with far less firepower.

– Dated graphics, linear gameplay, boring story, multiplayer lags.

5 out of 10