Summary: It's time to kick ass and chew bubblegum... and I'm all outta gum!
Duke must have been working through a whole damned carton of Stride or something, as it took him the better part of two decades to make a comeback, following the release of his last game all the way back in 1996. The long, long, long, long-awaited release of Duke Nukem Forever marks the end of the most drawn-out, dramatic, and publicized development process in video game history. That means we can no longer make jokes about the irony of the title or the likelihood of it coming out before the end of the century, the millennium, the world, etc. (Though we still have Half-Life [2: Episode] 3!)
The game itself has met with a very mixed reception among critics and fans alike, with many insisting that it did not come close to living up to its own legacy, or that of its now defunct creator, developer 3D Realms. Others are so offended that they'd rather gouge their own eyes out with sporks that play it all the way through... A more rational stance to take is to recognize that it never could have lived up to the hype and simply enjoy it for what it is. Find out whether or not you should expect "what it is" to be worth the price of admission in today's review!
Lo, what a long and winding road hath been tread! Duke Nukem Forever was finally released last month, which must be pretty surreal for anyone even remotely involved in the most drawn-out and convoluted development cycle of a game, ever. In case you donít know, or are unsure on the details, hereís the long and short of the tale (provided by the handy development timeline from the Extras menu in-game):
So, Iím sure those of you that were really looking forward to this have already played it; after all, itís been more than 15 years in the making. The rest of you have probably already seen and heard a lot of opinions of the game already, but Iím here to present you with one that is as fair and balanced as I could manage. And based on the PC version of course, which is actually not represented in the majority of the mainstream reviews. So read on, friends, and enjoy!
Being one of the people that had their first taste of Duke Nukem Forever at the beginning of June when the demo was released, I would say that those of you that werenít in the First Access Club and had to wait are actually better off. I talked about this at length in the most recent Firing Points, but the way that Gearbox handled this demo business was lazy and haphazard at best. Not only was it an old build of the game (the same one shown at PAX last year), the level choices were not good ones at all. I guess I can understand including the very first level of DNF, which is a remake of the final boss level in Duke 3D, but the second was one of the dullest and poorly designed in the entire game. Despite that somewhat souring my expectations going in, I found myself enjoying the real thing immediately after beating that Cycloid boss for the umpteenth time. My suspicions of the demo not offering a fair glimpse into the game were confirmed and I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.
Unlike previous Duke Nukem games that drop you straight into the action, thereís actually a rather lengthy introduction/tutorial sequence that you go through before you even receive your first weapon. Along the way, thereís a wide variety of things to play with, including light switches, food and drink, toilets, water coolers, eager fans and admirers, microwaves, rats, etc. Some of the more unique actions will serve to boost your Ego, which is a meter that represents how much damage you can take before actually being in danger of being injured and seeing blood haze on the screen. Basically, itís like a shield, so when your Ego is hurt, youíre supposed to take cover behind something and wait until it regenerates. If you do get injured, you will recover from that over time, too. There are no health packs in DNF.
There are a few mini-games of various depths throughout the game, such as a bona fide pinball machine and a dry erase whiteboard that you can draw on. Itís actually all of the random interactions sprinkled throughout the game that give DNF its unique flavor and really stick out in your mind when youíre done. Such attention to detail throughout the game and a plethora of easter eggs to stumble upon reward you for taking the time to explore the environment, which is definitely an element thatís missing from most games these days. Stopping to smell the roses may seem somewhat counter-intuitive for such a straightforward run-and-gun shooter, but thatís a part of the Duke charm.
The action itself is about what youíd expect from an old-school FPS: you run around, shoot bad guys that either stand around waiting for you or arrive in dropships and the like, and then kill a boss at the end of every level. Doing the latter automatically (and understandably) boosts your Ego, so you will become more durable over time, even if youíre not exploring. My favorite parts of the game are when Duke gets shrunken down to about the size of a G.I. Joe; one segment has you driving an R/C car through a ruined casino, then becoming full size and fighting your way back through the same area, but the best is when youíre tasked with traversing a fast-food kitchen above a flooded and electrified floor. Youíre having shoot-outs with shrunken pig cops among the jars of hilariously-branded condiments and canned goods, jumping across hamburger buns on a stove to avoid getting burnt, or even riding a waffle being ejected from a toaster like it was an elevator!
The two weapon limit has to be the most annoying thing about Duke Nukem Forever, especially with the low ammo limit on some guns. There are only rare occasions that you are in danger of running dry though, with ammo crates and weapons lying around all over the place. Even if you do find yourself short on traditional munitions, you still have a whole range of objects in the environment that you can pick up and toss at a bad guy to do some decent damage. Overall, combat is rendered to be much too easy when you have a Halo-esque recharging shield, even on the highest difficulty setting.
Honestly, I didnít spend any time playing the multiplayer, but itís there if you want it. You have classic game types like deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and king of the hill, which are playable on ten different maps with up to eight players. (By the way, you can use jetpacks in multiplayer, despite their absence from the campaign.) There is some persistent player progression, meaning you can gain experience and level up, either through regular play or by completing challenges such as ďGet 150 kills with the pistol.Ē
Fortunately, the rewards for leveling up are strictly cosmetic, serving to customize your Duke and differentiate him from all the rest of the clones online, or will help you deck out your personal club house. Notable unlockables for your ďdigsĒ include bronzed babe statues, unique art to hang on the wall, and a variety of interactive arcade games, like air hockey, pool, pinball, and video poker. It was just recently announced the first DLC for DNF will feature new maps that parody other popular multiplayer games (Call of Duke, 2Forts1Bridge, etc.), and it will be free for First Access Club members.
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