Duke Nukem Forever


Written by Chris Price
20 Monday 20th June 2011

In 1994, ID Software’s Doom revolutionised the 3D shoot ‘em up across the board. But on its native home PC format, it was still jostling for retailer shelf space with spreadsheets and word processors. By the time Duke Nukem went 3D, the PC – with its scalable open source graphical technology became the serious choice for the gamer who wanted to keep ahead of the digital curve. Home consoles were in limbo with the lukewarm reception of the first next-gen CD based consoles, so there was gap in the market.

When the original 1991 Apogee platform game Duke Nukem (think Mario with guns) was immortalised in 3D, PC gamers were finally given a figurehead arcade game. Duke Nukem’s organic growth in the episodic ‘try-before-you-buy’ market of shareware ensured it had the structural integrity to float. It harvested the most successful elements from the first generation of FPS titles, and proceeded to add the crucial ingredient of personality. At a time when attitude was paramount in video gaming, Duke Nukem’s mix of violence, profanity and titties encapsulated everything that was anti-establishment about home consoles. It just translated them to Dad’s office PC.

For the next three years, the Duke would be translated to almost every format available. Developers 3D Realms announced Duke Nukem Forever was in production on April 28th, 1997. Then they decided to change graphics engines, pushing back the game to 1999. And then to 2000. Then, in 2001 this arrived:

2004 saw statements that ‘95% had been completed’, along with DNF 5th graphics engine change (now the Quake 3 engine). 2008 launched new DNF footage via a rather defeatist interview with the development team admitting ‘There's been a lot of mistakes and a lot of lessons we had to learn”. May 6th, 2009 rumours circulated that 3D Realms had folded. 2010, 2K purchased the license, handed the reigns to Gearbox Software, and last Friday (a month overdue) Duke Nukem Forever appeared on retailers shelves.

With regards to the game, it’s pretty clear that Duke came first, and the game came second – he’s the lynchpin to everything within the game. His brutish nature and the fumbling NPC he’s surrounded by propagate an uneasy irony-lite variation of parody, which regularly veers rather heavily towards misogyny. His disassociated gruff quips haven’t softened one iota in the interim decade, which initially raises a nostalgic smirk on first croon (such as “Aww…did you get sand in your vagina?”). It’s lightweight humour, most at home on urinals poster advertising stag weekends in Poland.

But behind all political incorrectnesslies a ropey single player game jostling for your money. Supremely inconsistent levels, suffering from textbook errors such as confusing directional layouts and ambiguous advance triggers. There’s a surprising amount of puzzling for such a gung-ho franchise and not as much machine-gunning alien scum as you might imagine. Even though the classic pump action shotgun and triple-barrel machine gun return, retaining the majority of their power in close quarters, Duke’s arsenal is pretty flaccid at best – and using it is spread between various tired scavenger hunts.

Mutliplayer fares a little better; Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture The Babe (flag) are the only options, with a selection of fairly small capsular levels, abundant with jump pads and hiding places, but relatively little else. Again, aiming issues resurface, but with a quick pace, allowing mindless run and gun enjoyment to be had at least in the short-term. Additionally, the Ego-boosting mini games throughout are a nice aside from the single player slog.

There is uneasy balance between intentionally retro and lazy. Are the aesthetics intentionally retrofitted? Where’s the original multiple weapon inventory? Is aiming intentionally poor to encourage only shooting from the hip? The game structure has suffered multiple developers, each adding ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ junctions with ambling interconnecting journeys to pad out the investment? With the game leaving so many unanswered questions, your often left wondering if the games biggest joke is at the player’s expense.

The series has always been one to revel in political incorrectness, and inflame the spleens of the moral majority and concerned parent groups alike. DNF carries the baton with aplomb, but in twelve years that have seen the rise of near photo-realistic war games which dabble in real-world terrorism, a few f-bombs, some awkward lapdancing and inferred blowjobs from cheerleaders just doesn’t quite shock like it used to. Like the Duke is told early on in the game -  he’s a “relic from another age”. DNF will certainly appeal to those who actively shun the original Duke Nukem 3D (available on Live Marketplace and PSN) with its pixellated faux-3D animations. There is a generation of gamers who will have grown up accustomed to HD, and in that respect DNF is certainly an in-road to sample.

2K should certainly be commended for having finally put the elephant in the room to sleep, and the marketing certainly been skewed to ‘doing this for the fans’ – and to its credit, it holds together providing a playable game which at times raises a smile and the pulse-rate. But DNF certainly isn’t the blaze of glory that you’d have envisaged closing out the series playing DN3D back in 1995. Like a secluded tree under which teenage lovers meet, four separate developers have giddily chiselled their names into it’s trunk, grown tired of the environment and moved on; and the game has suffered. It’s a flawed and inconsistent patchwork of ideas past their prime, and would have a tough time competing with Playstation 2 titles.

But it’s here, and that counts for something.  The tale spun by DNF will cement the Duke’s place in gaming history rather than the reception of the finished product. Every epic tale needs a conclusion. Duke Nukem Forever is a conclusion which befits the story - in context, but not in quality.

Duke Nukem Forever is out now on PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

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