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Review: Duke Nukem Forever

Updated on April 14, 2015
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ANDR01D writes PC game reviews, comments on the video game industry, and sells video games for commission through Amazon.

Game Info

Developer: 3D Realms, Triptych Games, Gearbox Software, Piranha Games (console and multiplayer)

Publisher: 2K Games

Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Mac

Release date: June 10, 2011

Genre: FPS

June 25, 2011 – this marks the day that I played Duke Nukem Forever. It took me several hours to finish over a period of a few days. This was approximately fourteen years, two months, and several days less time than it took to make it. Hail to the King.

There. We got that out of the way.

This piece could delve into all facets of DNF, involving the long delays, the financial ruin, the porting of the project to different developers. It could be a long drawn out story about my own personal experiences waiting for the game to come out - but it's not going to be like that. I've read too much about it; I've written too much about it. You can look that up anywhere on the web, and you'll likely find a list that well... lists things that happened in less time than it took DNF to come out This is a review looking at Duke Nukem Forever, the released product.

When starting up DNF for the first time, I instantly got that feeling of cheesiness. From the screens showing off all the companies involved in its development, to the cartoony intro, to the not-the-best cover of Lee Jackson's famous Grabbag - I was almost ready to just drop all my expectations and turn my brain off so I could get through what I thought, at the time, was going to be a mess.

First impressions weren't all that good. DNF all ready looked to take itself a lot less seriously than its predecessor.

And yet, I liken Duke Nukem Forever to Doom 3. There are several similarities I notice between the two, such as the shotgun sharing the same sound when fired (one of the best shotgun blasts in any game), the screen filling up with red when Duke is injured and ego is low… and a lot of pitch black environments – having the same problem of switching to and from a light source: in this case “Duke Vision”. In fact, one gets the feeling that DNF was made to compete with the likes of this game – which was released long ago. Let’s put it this way: you can find Doom 3 in practically any bargain bin at a CNA countrywide, where I'm from.

Interactivity is one of the selling points of this game. It was present in Duke Nukem 3D – this game’s predecessor – 15 years ago. Back then it was revolutionary; practically never seen before. Here it’s old hat. The above-mentioned Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, released in the same year (2004) introduced interactivity and physics-based puzzles respectively in modern first person shooters long before DNF came limping along over the finish line.

Did you know?

There was originally a game called Duke Nukem Forever that existed before this game. Screenshots that were eventually found somewhere and uploaded to the internet depicted it as a 2D platformer, much in the same vein as Duke Nukem and Duke Nukem II. The game was scrapped and the title reused.

Another Duke Nukem platformer did arrive eventually though, in the form of Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project.

But I’ll say one thing: that while interactivity is nothing new here, the way that it ties in to the game and its health system is quite novel. You can look for things in game such as dumbbells or punching bags to some other things that I probably can't mention in this article. And all these add to your maximum ego – which is what DNF uses in place of regenerating health. It gives you an excuse to explore, and play around with the environment, adding to your total ego… and playtime. It’s not just for laughs like it was in Duke Nukem 3D. It serves more of a purpose - and it has to, with this generation of ADD-addled gamers who look for nothing more than instant gratification.

And a lot of this interactivity is adult-themed, or lewd to say the least. From the unusual picking up faeces, or taking a leak, to more mundane activities such as looking at erotic content on a PC or smoking a cigar, there’s no doubt the game is controversial. DN3D was, and that was partly why it was such a huge success. The sexual innuendo, whether coming from Duke or another in-game character, might seem to a bit cheesy or lame, and totally overdone in some cases. But you still smiled when you heard some of those lines, didn’t you? It’s nothing you wouldn’t have heard on a drunken night out at the local pub – albeit most of it would have come from across the way at the ladies’ table after a few chick drinks.

The game is drenched in it like cheap cologne. Practically round every corner you start noticing something that looks like a part of the human anatomy. It’s almost as bad as a Grand Theft Auto game, and yet nobody complains; nobody jeers when it comes to that series.

The dialogue would have to be one of the most embarrassing things about this game. You are forced to sit through a lot "all hail the king", and long live Duke" for pretty much the first few levels of the game. It's corny and yet it's sort of how you'd expect people to react to a celebrity when they meet them in real life. They're speechless; they fumble; they're nervous - one fella even faints in the game.

Another reason why DNF is to Duke 3D what Doom 3 was to the original Doom games is the pace. Back in the early to mid nineties, FPS could just as well have stood for “fast-paced shooter”. Think back to when you would run around more non-linear type levels, blasting aliens, or demons or whatever, all the while picking up weapons, ammo, and items; getting the keycards and getting to the exit. These games were made for speedruns, and people held informal competitions to see how fast they could get through a level - and they probably still do.

The truth is that DNF couldn’t hope to be anything close to this. It’s as linear as it gets, shunting you from location A to B, with not much of the excellent level design you would have seen in the game’s prequel at all. At times perhaps it’s a case of the levels being designed to fit the story, and not vice versa. They are occasionally interspersed with puzzles which are fairly easy to solve, in order to progress. The pace is slower, and while exploration is encouraged, opportunities are few and far between – and when you might find a hidden cache of weapons or something, it’s not as rewarding somehow.

Ten years ago, DNF was unveiled for the second time at E3 2001. It used the Unreal engine, and back then it practically blew everybody away. Minds were thrown right out of their brackets as they watched with mouths agape at the DNF trailer. The game was designed to be cutting edge – graphically and technologically. There’s no doubt in my mind that if that particular build had been released that year, or as late as 2003, it would likely have been hailed as a classic today; it would have been an innovator and wouldn’t have had to suffer the stigma of being little more than an imitator who came late to the party - sort of like all the Elvis impersonators who hang around in Las Vegas, even today, long after the death of the king himself.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

It’s ironic then that today DNF doesn’t quite know what it is. It has an identity crisis of massive proportions. On one hand it was marketed as a retro shooter, a throwback – some would say likely an excuse for outdated graphics and technology that -in its current state- belongs in 2007 at least.The previously unreleased 2006 DNF trailer will attest to this. It was pretty much all there save for some bad animations and clipping among other things - some of which even made it in to the final release.

And yet on the other hand it tries to keep up with modern shooters, using regenerating health and some other gimmicks. Think of it as an ageing celebrity with a lot of makeup on along with plastic surgery, trying to look fresh and be “with it” – trying desperately to appeal to the newer generation; a wider audience, which in this case consists partly of ungrateful, snot-nosed little kids who probably haven’t even heard of Duke Nukem 3D or any other Duke Nukem titles, let alone played them.

Among several complaints about the game include the lack of ironsights – which is when a player will look down the length of the weapon to increase accuracy, instead of firing from the hip, wildly. This also applies to scopes: not being able to view down the scope with a weapon such as the railgun. There’s only a zoom feature which comes standard with whatever weapon you’re carrying. There’s no alternate fire modes seeing as the zoom feature takes the place of the standard alt-fire dealer: the right mouse button. There’s a limit to how many weapons you can carry, as well as pipebombs. So the stockpiling of ammunition and weapons that we’re used to is gone – replaced by having to monitor ammo levels and swapping weapons and the like.

Somewhere along the line someone decided they wanted DNF to be realistic. Think about that for a second: Duke Nukem, who guzzles "medication" by the truck-load and hasn’t even lost a single hair follicle; can urinate like a racehorse with an endless stream of radioactive glowing urine; can take more than a hailstorm of bullets without wearing any body armour - but can’t carry more than a couple of peashooters at a time.

Even classic items and weapons from DN3D aren’t here. There’s no jetpack in the singleplayer campaign, or scuba gear – and this is near unforgivable in later levels, like “Underground” and especially “Blowin’ The Dam”. But I will say that the holoduke is actually more effective and useful (and funnier) than it was in DN3D.

You’ll notice that DNF didn’t do very well as far as review scores are concerned. Some might say the reception was mixed to say the least. I chalk a lot of this up to jaded critics and gaming journalists (as well as haters) jumping on the bandwagon. A lot of people were gunning for DNF years before it was ever released – tired of the delays, the drama behind the scenes. They couldn’t wait for the day to run it down and put it out of its misery. Expectations might well have been a bit too high, and there was practically no way that this game could possibly have delivered.

Final Score


+ It's finally done.

+ Great interactivity


- Outdated technologically, graphically

- Sucky dialogue, voice acting


DNF isn’t that bad a game. Sure, it has its flaws. It’s outdated, out-of-touch – like the president in-game says: “A relic from the past”. Plenty of reviewers out there gave it scores ranging from a lowly 2 to a mediocre 5, just for having the audacity to show its face after all these years. If you’re a teenager at the time of reading this, then don’t play this game. It won’t wow you, it won’t impress you; you’ll be wasting your money, and your breath telling everyone how horrid it is.

But for the fans of the series, who grew up playing the Duke Nukem games, and who’ve followed the long, twisted story of DNF’s development; how it went from being the undisputed king of vapourware titles to being on the shelves in a store for purchase – you need to buy this. You need to buy it to see what all the fuss was indeed about, and to finally get closure after fourteen long years of waiting. I am one of those guys. I was 12 when I first heard about DNF in 1999 while watching the E3 1998 video on a Cover DVD from some magazine. I’m 24 now. I’ve been waiting half my life for this game! It’s actually kind of sad.

It will be worth it just for the nostalgia alone. Hearing Jon St. John’s voice as you gib some pigcops, and some nice little references to Duke Nukem 3D and the games before it, such as music from said game (look out for Duke's own little "club"), and even levels like Duke Burger.

It’s the closest thing to actually getting out Duke Nukem 3D, firing it up, perhaps with the fan community-made HRP, and playing through it all over again. I just can’t wait to see how some other projects that are in the making will turn out, such as Duke Nukem 3D: Reloaded, or Gearbox’s own Duke Begins. Hell, I’ve even read that somewhere along the line, somebody might even release the original builds of DNF in some form or another, and then let the modding community take a crack at finishing them. But that could be like saying any day now they’re going to release the Blood source code. I doubt it, but we’ll see.

But as for 3D Realms developed Duke Nukem titles, DNF is the last. Win or lose, good or bad - it’s finally “done”.

Did you enjoy Duke Nukem Forever?

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4 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of Duke Nukem Forever

© 2011 ANDR01D


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