“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 there are loading times of around 45 seconds on consoles. The game’s frame rate stutters wildly, and the input lag made the shooting barely tolerable.
The shooting, at first, is somewhat 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 cowering behind cover and taking pot shots at aliens; I found myself circle strafing and rushing enemies like I was 13 years old again. Then the glitches appear, like the RPG’s frustrating “auto-targeting” system. I realise there’s no Mighty Boot. The rail shooter segments that follow are just awful, like a cheap carnival ride.
The difficulty spikes are not well managed, and whether or not they’re 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.
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 (most) gamers, have matured and moved on from DN3D‘s interactive strip-club and the fact that he has “balls of steel”. The initial silliness of the one-liners wore off when I couldn’t figure out if the game was actually trying to be ironic or not with Duke’s personality. By the time I finished, 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, I’ve got a great bridge for sale if you’re interested.
This game serves more as a torturous lesson to future developers, producers and managers. If you wouldn’t think twice about throwing a handful of $20 bills into a paper shredder, you might get slightly more enjoyment out of this broken title.
Reviewed for PC.