Having been months now since Duke Nukem Forever hit, I realize this is extraordinarily belated but various issues technical and IRL have kept me from hanging around on the internet as much as I once did (incase someone cared why I've been gone for a while...which no one does, sadly), and believe it or not I only just got around to playing through DNF. After all this though I think some people have gone overboard in describing the game's failings, so this is both kind of appologism for DNF and my level best attempt at an objective review.
Spoilers....not that anyone cares, since the game's been out almost a year I think.
I've read a lot of "internet rage" reviews of the game, including a short thread here, where people have really taken the ball and run with this "DNF is the worst game EVAR!" meme. I do think some people who know who they are (Jim Sterling!) just kind of wanted it to fail and were more than happy to see the game ship in such a deplorable fashion, I know the not-at-all famous or relavant Bob Chipman of The Game Overthinker "fame" (lol YouTube celebrities) certainly was, but some of what's been said is simply not factually, objectively real or true. Just an example, more than once, including the thread here for the demo, compared it to Daikatana. That's just absurd. Daikatana wasn't just poorly made or buggy it was UNPLAYABLE. I still have a copy here that I've yet to finish because it has game breaking glitches, graphical and otherwise; and it's not just me either, I've seen videoes online of people with the same glitches so others got Daikatana copies just as shitty. DNF was NOT that bad, not on that level where it was literally impossible to play.
Much hay has also been made of the alleged sexism or discrimination towards women in the game, but really these sections are little more than somewhat bad black comedy at worst, and overall the idea of "the aliens are raping our women" goes back as far as DN3D. That's kind of the whole point--the Rigelians (BTW, yes that's their real name) are a bunch of assholes who have come to kidnap and rape our women, it's been a major plot point since the Build engine, hell a whole game (Duke Nukem: Planet of the Babes) was built around the idea that if the aliens ever won, they'd kill off all men and turn the planet into a huge rape camp. This is in a way your motivation not to lose; you're basically the only thing between the human female population as the intergalactic equivalent of the Mongol Hordes. Also the same people who complain about this, in my experience, give free passes to Metroid Other M for WAY more offensive stuff in terms of sexism, so yeah...
Now, I'm not going to tell you this game was "good". It wasn't, but I think, as a fan of the series, I can tell you it wasn't a HUGE failure even. Some parts clearly did work, while others didn't and, really, those that didn't were unfortunately the most obvious.
First and foremost, let me prattle on about the successes, IMO, of Duke Nukem Forever.
I liked the new enemy designs, which looked great by the way, and really led to a distinction between the enemies that the older games lacked. A perfect example was when I noticed the difference between the Pig Cops and the Assault Troopers and Captains in the game--something that, short of firepower, didn't really exist in DN3D. The Pig Cops come in several types distinguished by appearance and weaponry who attack in mixed groups: unarmed melee soldiers ("Savage Pigs" my girlfriend called them, a reference to Gears 3 of all things) who are covered in scars and attack bare handed; then there are normal Pig Cops with shotguns or pistols, and heavier "captains" with RPG launchers and Rippers. A sizable group could actually be quite dangerous, but overall they were weaker somewhat than the actual aliens (Pig Cops are mutated humans not aliens).
The Rigelians themselves, the Troopers and Captains, are distinguished by armor in terms of ammount and appearance, with the Captains resembling Predators and you can actually see their armor come off due to damage as you shoot them. Quite a nice touch. The Troopers are somewhat stronger and more dangerous than the Pigs, and the Captains more so, thus making the actual aliens seen more powerful compared to the mutated porcine cannon fodder. The Enforcers are now instead of fast and agile slow and heavily armored, with a weapon that can kill with one or two goot shots, basically an RPG machine gun that fires homing rockets; and the Assault Commanders take huge damage to kill making them kind of like minibosses, and thus making it seem logical they'd be in charge of the others.
I loved the redesign for much of the bestiary and one of the side characters, a Marcus Fenix ripoff called Capt. Dylan, was quite funny. I actually thought the game overall was quite funny, really, though it DID wallow in it's jokes a bit too long and repeat them somewhat, dulling the impact. Finally I did think that the game played well, for some levels and sections, and some of the set pieces like a platforming section outside of the Duke Dome level (after you kill the Alien Queen) were nice touches.
Some of the jokes are actually quite funny too, on their own. There was one section where I genuinely LOLd when the two twins schoolgirls Duke pays to live with and blow him (Mary and Kate Holsem...yeah
) are cowering before an alien soldier and one says "Don't kill us, I promise we'll never do anything naughty again!" to which her sister replies "Shut up Kate, if Duke hears that he'll never rescue us!" and I did in fact LOL. Similarly I have to say I really like Capt. Dylan, he's supposed to be Marcus Fenix but he acts like a cross between Ted Nugent and someone with...that disease that makes you swear all the time, name escapes me. At one point, before you enter Hover Dam to shut off an alien wormhole (BTW, the plot is kind of ripped from Transformers 3, with the Rigelians making a deal with an Earthling to teleport their world here via wormhole, complete with the same look as the space bridge from TF3) anyway, before you go in there, his dialogue finally collapses into a string of meaningless cuss words with no rhyme or reason. It was a rather hilarious parody and a genuinely fun character, pitty you rarely see him.
The story of the game also actually takes an odd direction of making Duke something of an outlaw (thought they never go anywhere new with it), and showing the EDF kind of rebelling against the Earth president who is here a complete douche bag. He doesn't come off as any kind of parody of any specific president. He's not like Bush or Obama or something. He just comes off as this scummy asshole who is more than willing to sell out mankind for his own survival, kind of like Dr. McDreamy in Transformers 3, as mentioned the plots are quite similar in a way--hero becomes pariah, government turns on them, authorities in bed with the evil aliens, plans to bring their world here via wormhole, etc. Actually though the President comes off as the real villain here. The Rigelians are assholes but, in a way, this is just what they do--I won't bore you with what is laughably called Duke Nukem continuity, but basically the aliens act this way because it is how they live. How their race functions. Its like those birds who kill other birds' eggs then lay their eggs in their nest for the other bird mother to take care of, the Rigelians seem to use other races' women as incubators for their offspring, every so often birthing a female or Queen to lay more "impregnator" eggs. It's just their biological imparitive. The Earth President, however, has no excuse. He's human, he should be on our side, but instead he's willingly selling out mankind to save himself KNOWING that the aliens intend to rape our women to death and wipe out humanity. THAT is a whole new level of evil, almost shockingly evil in fact.
Finally while I agree with what someone else in the old DNF thread (I believe, Stark) said that John St. John, the voice of Duke, sounded weirdly monotone I think some of the lines still work and were quite funny ("Looks like you're fucked"). And when he get shrunk and all his catch phrases become sped up chipmunk talk its hilarious. Its nice to see that Duke Nukem managed to retain the older, black comedy elements of the original game, instead of trying for a darker or more realistic story. While ironically the subject matter--an alien race wants to turn Earth into a rape camp--would have probably worked for it, it chose to go a more comedic route. Some of the modern pop culture references, including two to Birdemic, of all things, work better than others but only a few of the jokes really fall flat. For example I thought the "power armor is for pussies" kind of sounded hallow when you have regenerating health (ugh, we'll talk about that in a sec) but then others really work well, including little self-aware moments lke one of the girls asking Duke if the game is any good and he says "After twelve fucking years it'd better be!"
So in some respects the game DID work.
This, however, is where the game goes off the rails...
The flaws in the game, as I said, weren't nearly as crippling as people like to pretend but they were quite glaring in some cases and for those who are actual fans of the series (like ME) some can be downright insulting.
First off: regenerating health.
NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. NO...and, uh, oh yeah, NO.
Duke Nukem does not have regenerating health. That spoils the entire game dynamic, part of which was exploring the game world and "messing with the set dressing" to find med kits and armor and building tension due to throwing you into firefights with low health. Likewise, there is no logical reason for Duke to have only TWO weapons, which also, again, spoils the entire game dynamic and thus makes it unduely hard on the player (and then unduely EASY, but wiat, I'll get back to this). Look, don't get me wrong, I'm the biggest Modern Warfare fanwhore of all time and I played the everliving fuck out of Halo back in the day, hell I had Halo the day it came out in America. I have no problem with the two weapons and regenerating health...in any other game. In a Duke game, an old school FPS like this, it's a complete debacle. That's one of my complaints with Bulletstorm--either do an old school FPS justice or don't do it. Also, frankly, it kind of clashes with the character, who previously carried a half-dozen types of antitank weapon on his person at all times--Duke is not "realistic" he didn't NEED updating into a MW clone.
But then again the weapons are fucking terrible
anyway. The pistol, while obviously never meant to be a mainstay, is shit in this game. The shotgun is BIZARRE in that it has a spread pattern that is very tight in close and extremely wide at range, so at long range enemies just step between pellets and in close it goes right over their shoulder or under an arm with no damage, meaning you have to keep them at a very specific range in the middle to do shit. The Srhink Ray can just go fuck itself and that's all I'll say about that lest I kill my computer with sheer, searing rage. The pipebombs and trip mines are still ok, but take way longer to fire off for some reason, and you can only carry a few. In fact throughout this game, I noticed many of the weapons had absurdly low ammunition counts--the RPG gets the worst being now effectively useless due to only ever carrying FIVE shots! Five. Shots. Wow. And the new guns are just complete shit. First off the Trooper Laser and Captain's Laser are so generic and piintless it's absurd, neither one worth a damn either. The railgun, equally generic, is completely worthless. The Enforcer gun is one of the best in the game despite ALSO having a generic name...but carries only five shots so, yeah, worthless. Never got around to using the freeze thrower, so I can't comment.
But really, that's all pointless anyway, because the game's two-weapon limit means you only get two options at any given time. *headdesk* And even THAT is pointless because once you get the Ripper (a three-barrled gatling gun basically) and Devastator (a SAW that fires rockets instead of bullets) everything is insultingly easy. Both are insanely accurate and powerful, the Devastator kills bosses pretty damn quick, they can hit enemies at extreme range with great accuracy, both have unsually (for this game) HUGE magazines and ammo for them is abundant due to convinent EDF ammo caches thus you'll never run dry. Once you have the Ripper and Devastator enemies die before you as if they were children attacking a dragon with water pistols. You basically become what Jesus imagines when he pictures his father, an unstoppable Old Testament god reaping the forces of evil like so much hapless wheat before your scythe. And it gets BOOORRRING doing so. I've never felt so invulnerable and yet so bored, mowing down enemies with impunity as they died before my Ripper's bottomless magazines and my Devastator's hail of rockets. Yawn.
Speaking of boring there were some sections that were shockingly slow and tedious. Not as many or as long as some have implied, but I got tired of driving the monster truck with shitty gas milage about the second time it ran out and I ALREADY hated Valve games for their ridiculous physics engine puzzles (which are so infamous as to be kind of a meme online) so I have no idea why Gearbox thought people, let alone Duke fans, would want their nostaglic FPS game broken up by shitty puzzles. Now don't think it's as bad as many say--it's not, but the fact it exists AT ALL in the game is a major problem. It's not like there are whole levels made up of nothing but physics engine puzzles, but the ones that do exist here and there are quite tedious and somehow even MORE meaningless than when Gordon Freeman does it. At least he has the excuse of being the method by which Valve's porcine ownder exercises by proxy, Duke has no such excuse.
Another thing, a minor issue perhaps, was how bloodless it was. Very little violence and gore in a series that, like Mortal Kombat, was basically built on violence and gore. Yeah people lose limbs and such in this game, heads explode and so on, but no actual blood or anything. I walked through one battlefield covered in limbs and dead bodies...side note, it does do a good job in THAT respect, because a lot of times after a big fight you look around a see a shitton of limbs and enemy corpses and pieces of enemy corpses and you nod and say "Yeah, we went to war here"...and yet despite that, there was still very little blood, taking you out of the game considerably. I'm not asking for a Dhamer Simulator or something here. But what I am saying is that when I shoot an alien with a railgun and his head explodes like a balloon, something should be INSIDE of it besides air yes? If I shoot off an enemy's arm, he should react with more than just going ragdoll physics and falling over. Compare this to the original Duke Nulem 3D which was INFAMOUS for it's gory death animations, like enemies sometimes grabbing their stomachs as their guts hang out, then collapsing. It looks like crap by today's standards but at the time it was incredibly violent. Well...hope you liked it, because now it's fucking gone.
Most glaring of all the graphics are shit, and I saved this one for last because, WOW, did someone fuck up. From the looks of it I'd assume this is the same engine used to make stuff like Gears three but I've never seen it this shitty. Textures pop in, character models look wet and glossy half the time, so does the rock making me think at one point I was walking on ice...come to find out, no, it's rock. And I have to agree with something Stark said in the old DNF thread: the worst thing about the depiction of women in this game is how poorly they were rendered. Because, let me tell you, when everyone in a room suddenly turns into Mystique with blue shimmering scales, it's quite unnerving. This was during the dream sequence at first and I had at the time writen it off as "oh, because he's dreaming" but then it happened again later, and I was like "oh...oh, well, glitch then".
And the ending was shit. Forget the seemingly tacked on "I'M RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT! :V" line, the ending cinematic looked like PS1 movies. I mean, maybe PS2, but not what I'd expect from a game today. I literally have never seen modern graphical engines run so poorly, and I played it on the 360 so it's not just because my computer is really shit or something, no I played this on a console and man. Wow. Just wow.
That being said...
Look, like I said it's not an absolutely terrible game. I've played worse games than this, frankly I've SEEN worse games than this, mostly in past generations but still. It is not the new Daikatana by any objective stretch of the imagination. It's not even close. Hell it's not even as bad as Haze and that game was so bad it's been known to give people cancer.
That doesn't mean it's good either though.
What DNF is, is mediocre. It's a game that was simply ill-concieved on several levels, and probably should never have been released in the state it was. I understand that, I think PC only, some people got a patch for it where you could carry more guns and put the blood back in but that's just silly: this is 2011, I shouldn't have to enter a god damn BLOOD CODE like this is 1993 and I'm still fearful of Jack Thompson and Sen. Liberman busting into my house and confiscating my computer. Duke Nukem Forever isn't the worst game I ever played, or ever saw or ever heard of, in fact it's not even one of the worst, nor is it even in my top one hundred. Until you've played some really shitty games, you really don't know shit. And anyone who compares it to Daikatana for any reason other than sarcasm can just go straight to hell because, really, Daikatana was unplayable.
DNF is just poorly built. At worst it's a bland and average FPS with some graphical glitches. Like I said the main problem is not so much that it's shit as that its mediocre and looks bad. It's playable, but not much fun, but not frustrating or bad either just...meh. And in a way that's the worst part. If after all these years Duke Nukem Forever had been extremely bad or extremely good, then you could at least get some milage out of it, but in the state I played it in it was just kind of...there.
If you asked me, I'd say it was a 3 out of 5. Right in the middle, neither below nor above average, which is in a way the best thing I can say about it.