“F*ck you George Broussard.” I’ve read this phrase several times. Is it justified? Broussard demanded everything short of perfection from this title, and despite promise and potential, it was released at the expense of several years of development among a number of companies, to incredibly lacklustre response. I understand the merit of wanting the best from one’s project, but in this particular instance, the cost was far too great.
Put simply, Duke Nukem Forever plays like a game that took 12 years to make. The entire affair feels like an evolution of game mechanics as they progressed through the ages. The awkward physics puzzles, such as rolling a ball down a ramp to unlock a door, are only mildly impressive when you consider that you could’ve experienced this kind of thing several years ago. The level design is rough-cut and plagued with odd design choices; one level features some bizarre pseudo-platforming that takes place around a skyscraper, reducing firefights to a glorified shooting gallery (since any extreme movements will send you plummeting over the edge). Graphics are patchy and the physics are rudimentary, and yet my video card still screams bloody murder whenever I run it. Apparently on consoles, there are loading times of around 45 seconds. A distinct lack of polish will also make the game’s frame rate stutter wildly, and the input lag may turn some shooter aficionados away.
Having said that, the shooting is sort of fun. The two weapon limit can be frustrating at times, but there are plenty of weapons and ammo caches in the world to collect. The game does not lend itself to camping behind cover and taking pot shots – I found myself circle strafing and rushing enemies like I was 13 years old again. The rail shooter segments are somehow even less fun than usual (not that they’re great to begin with).
The game can also be difficult in some areas – whether or not it’s intentional is another question altogether. Enemies strafe and sidestep your shots – a convincing illusion of an effective AI – but patterns start to appear and the act falls apart, like discovering the secret behind a magic trick. Other things like the RPG’s awkward auto-targeting easily frustrate. (The lack of Mighty Boot was also incredibly disappointing.)
But what really turned me off about this game was Duke himself. Duke Nukem 3D was a game with enjoyable, familiar mechanics, and Duke’s personality added to enhance and satorise the experience as an amalgamation of Hollywood muscle-men actors of that time. This game feels like the opposite – a smattering of game ideas papier-mached onto Duke’s ancient, awkward personality. And I say awkward, because Duke’s in-game speech suggests that we still care about him…but many gamers simply don’t. Games, and gamers, have matured and moved on from DN3D‘s interactive strip-club. (Well, some of us.) Don’t get me wrong, some of the one-liners in DNF did make me smile, but the whole affair just felt forced. Ever seen The Wrestler? Mickey Rourke portrays the painful journey of a washed up, once-successful pro wrestler. That’s the impression I get of ol’ Duke.
So no, Duke Nukem Forever was not quite what was promised to us after 12 years. But can we blame them? Most gamers have followed the painful timeline of delays upon delays that has been the DNF development cycle. If you thought that this game would be capable of reaching lofty expectations, shame on you.
This game serves more as a torturous lesson to future developers, producers and managers. This game should have been released at a lower price point for what it offers, and you’d be well advised to wait for the discounts to arrive if you’re at all keen on experiencing this broken title.