There is a lot to be said about a series that is bought back to life after years in hibernation, some are successful like the revival of sci-fi grand-daddy Doctor Who after a 16 year gap and some are middle of the road like what we have with 90s gaming god, Duke Nukem. After a 15 year development cycle, from what can only be described as, hell; we finally have a new Duke Nukem game but was almost two decades of waiting really worth it?
The truth here is probably not. Duke is an artifact of a time gone by, gaming has moved on from the heyday of ‘balls to the wall’ shooters, where all you needed was guns, guts, loads of ammo and the odd topless woman. We, as gamers, expect more from our games than blowing stuff up, something that Duke Nukem Forever does try to live up to with puzzles that range from platform jumping to navigate a room, to collecting objects to open locked doors, but these never really seem to work within what is effectively a run and gun style game.
Duke’s story starts off in a spectacular fashion with the aliens that Duke beat over a decade and a half ago back looking for trouble. But the problem is the US is in a bad state after the last battle Duke had and is trying to recover, thus the President orders Duke to not get involved and let a peace treaty that the US is trying to broker continue. Of course, the aliens are not looking for peace they want revenge. Thus after an attack on Duke’s base, he is dragged into the fight to save the planet once again; but that is after he saves the Earth’s women who are being kidnapped.
It seems for a game that has been in development for as long as Duke Nukem has been the first impressions would be more positive, but alas no. The graphical design, while is nowhere near the terror of some titles in recent history, is distinctly lacking. There are some terrible pop-ups as you enter new areas, the game suffers from the most annoying slowdown when there are more than five enemies on the screen at once or if you get up-close and personal (which is the most annoying of all the game’s problems). The combat is chunky and feels heavy to use, close-quarters-combat is almost unbearable with the melee attacks constantly missing their target or hitting but the game not detecting it. In addition, the enemies seem to have been based on the 2D sprites from the first Duke games, thus for the most point they are predictable and extremely stilted. But without a doubt the most damning thing about the game is the load times. You’re looking at around about a minute for a level to load and at least 45 seconds to reload after a death, there is even a press X (for PS3) to continue screen after loading in case you wandered off during.
One thing that the game does get right is the script; it feels like classic Duke with some great quips and truly excellent references to other games. For instance, there is one section near the beginning of the game which acts as a clever finger to games of old, where Duke’s computer tells him that he needs a keycard to open a door, to which Duke replies “I don’t need no f***ing keycard” and promptly rips open the door with his bare hands.
After being able to rip open a door and bench press a small elephant something jars with Duke, he is only able to carry two weapons at a time. But that limitation doesn’t stem the follow of destruction, each weapon that Duke has access to offers power and death with each shot. The array contains grenade launchers, laser rifles, shotguns and Duke’s ultimate weapon, the golden pistol; if you’re not happy just shooting your enemies there is the option of some explosive fun with pipe bombs and trip mines.
In a massive change to the previous titles in the series, the health bar has been updated to a rechargeable ‘Ego’ bar, this, as the game proudly tells you in the loading screen, is a shield that if it gets depleted it’s game over. But of course it can’t just be a life bar in Duke Nukem, no it is also something that can be added to by interacting with certain objects within the world. These objects are various from playing a bench pressing or to slapping alien breast, that are all egotistical and very non-PC. However, like some of the puzzles mentioned before, the recharging life bar doesn’t quite work in the world of shoot first ask questions later that Duke inhabits. This is made worst by the lack of a cover system that would have made the recharging seem less unnatural and continued the carnage.
Progression through the game itself is a hit and miss affair, at points, your path is linear and obvious whereas others you are locked in a room with no clear exit. This is followed throughout the game as there are points in the game you are literally locked in a large room and forced to fight waves of enemies to progress. Added to that, you are not offered any form of back tracking beyond certain points, the game feels like it is pushing you off in directions it wants to go yet you might not. This claustrophobic viewpoint is compounded by the inclusion of collectables within the game, which require exploration to find.
The redeeming of Duke Nukem Forever is helped by the long campaign mode, when compared to most modern shooters you’re looking at a good 10 hours of gameplay here. But after that you do have a multiplayer component added on. This mode is basic to say the least, not offering you anywhere near the options of Call of Duty and the like, but what it does offer is a solid experience. With EXP traded for customisable accessories for your Duke. The unfortunate thing is that my experience of the game’s multiplayer was pretty poor due to the lack of players on servers, and the times I got a game lag that hampered game sessions.
Duke Nukem Forever has got one thing up its sleeve that will make you forget everything that is wrong with it, after all the poorly designed levels and annoying problems you hit a set piece that makes your face crack a smile. The unfortunate thing is that these moments are few and far between thus you do need to take a lot of crap before you get the goodies.
Rating: Below Average Review policy
Duke Nukem Forever, is out now on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. Order your copy here.