Saturday, 5 January 2013

PC Game Review: Duke Nukem Forever

Platform: PC (Steam)
Released: 2011
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Buy on Steam

This review was originally posted at Accursed Farms Forums on June 26th 2011.

Duke is back after over 12 years in development. Is it worth the wait, or should this game never been released? Judge for yourself.

I grew up with Duke Nukem. In fact, the first Duke Nukem from 1991 is probably my earliest gaming memory. Already then it was clear that while Duke Nukem had no qualms about ripping off his contemporaries, in that case Turrican and Megaman, he did so with his own sense of style and personality. Duke Nukem was a blast to play, with spot-on controls, and graphics that blew my child mind and everything seemed possible. Though the game had no music and only PC speaker sound effects, those sound effects still evoke a sense of nostalgia in me if I boot up the game in DOSBox on my high end modern Windows 7 PC. I think I already then had the feeling Duke Nukem was here to stay.

Then in 1996, Duke Nukem 3D happened...
Playing Duke Nukem 3D was like having sex for the first time. It made you feel adult and dirty, even more so than Doom did. Because while Doom was a great shooter and a landmark title, Duke Nukem 3D had something Doom never had: Personality. And tons of it. Duke became an icon for PC gaming that still to this day remains unsurpassed. Sure we have Gordon Freeman and Master Chief, but those pale in comparison. Duke isn't just all action, he also talks. He quips one-liners like Bruce Campbell on steroids, which is probably a good description of the character himself, and a reason he stood out so much, and still does. In an age where shooters are dominated by silent protagonists, Duke comes forth with an attitude that makes him unique and so much fun to play. That's one of the reasons I was so hyped about Duke Nukem Forever. I knew it would be a special game that would make every other FPS seem passé and boring.

But the years went by, and while we were assured Duke Nukem Forever was in production, we saw nothing of it. Instead we had to settle with a Tomb Raider ripoff on PS1 and a back-to-the-sidescrolling-roots 3d platformer on PC in 2001 called Manhattan Project.

It's not hard to understand why people lost faith in Duke Nukem Forever after such a long development time. But I knew it was going to come out one day. I believed that one day, Duke Nukem would return and blow everyone away again. And I was about half right. In March 2011 I pre-ordered Duke Nukem Forever Balls of Steel edition at my local GameStop and I went home with a huge grin on my face. It was finally happening. I was finally going to be reunited with my childhood hero and icon. And on June 10th I picked it up, on a particurarily hot day. Going home in such heat was a hell and I had to sit down a few times during the walk. When I came home, I quickly showered myself with cold water and got ready to install the game. But while I was playing the game, I noticed reviews were popping up. People were SLAUGHTERING the game. What had happened? Why all of sudden did everyone hate Duke Nukem Forever? Was it the insanely high expectations or just because of how the game ended up?

Regardless, Duke Nukem Forever from the very beginning was special for me. Again I felt that thrill of excitement I had felt in my childhood when Duke quipped his one-liners and kicked the Cycloid Empereror's eye, render in real time nonetheless. My icon, my hero, the very personification of everything I loved about games, was back, and I was playing a game that no one thought would ever come out.

Sure, the graphics weren't as nice as other games, but I've never been too focused on graphics when I play games as long as I enjoy them. Sometimes I would experience textures taking a bit of time to load while playing, but I had experienced the same thing in Fallout 3 which was still a great game as well and it never bothered me. The level designs show great diversity and variation and especially the Alien Hive level give off an atmosphere not unlike a Lovecraftian nightmare or something out of Giger's alien artwork. The audio is also pretty good, featuring advanced effects which adds great realism to the game and makes you feel immersed. The music isn't as memorable sadly, but does the trick to create tension. Hearing Jon St Jon reprise his role as Duke Nukem is just awesome as always. The other voice actors are sadly not as memorable, but they do their respective roles pretty decently. I've heard worse voice acting in Deus Ex.

Sure, the gameplay borrowed heavily from Halo with the regenerating health and 2-weapons-only system, but it wasn't like Duke Nukem 1 or Duke Nukem 3D didn't borrow heavily from their contemporaries either. Duke Forever simply feels like a game that is very up-to-date because of this, in my opinion, and I got used to it fairly quickly and adapted to it. Weapons are always readily available anyway, so I never felt it was worthy of criticism. I was a bit afraid that the regenerating health would make the game too easy or make you duck and cover all the time, though my fears were unjustified as that's not the case. And Forever is actually one of the most difficult games I've played, even on Normal difficulty, but that made every time I overcame a boss or reached a new goal even more satisfying. Fighting for the goals really makes the game feel more satisfying in the end. Also, another criticism I hear a lot is the lack of quicksaves, though checkpoints are placed strategically and gave me the opportunity to give my best every time instead of ending up quicksaving in the middle of a boss fight where I'd just lose anyway. Certain levels contained puzzles, driving sections and some free roaming even, which gave welcome pauses to the action and added variation to the game. This is one of the most fun games I've played, to say the least, due to the shere amount of stuff you can do.

The multiplayer also got a lot of criticism, though at least on PC you can play through Steam which gives some decent connection. I never experienced many problems. I think most of the criticism is directed at the abysmal console ports of the game, where a different type of connection was used. The Duke trophy room adds a bit of added incentive to go into Dukematches online and collect stuff.

All in all, Duke Nukem Forever was what I had been waiting for and exactly what I expected. Why it gets so much criticism is beyond me as despite the slightly aged graphics plus some bugs and glitches, it's still a blast to play. It has tons of variety, great humor, excellent badguys, excellent babes, and all in all lots of what you'd expect in a Duke game. I recommend this to everyone who like me grew up with Duke and wants to see him back in his best game yet. Duke Nukem Forever just proves you can always bet on Duke...

Hail to the king that is forever.

Summary and score:
Graphics: 8/10
Nothing really breathtaking, though what can you expect from a game that's been in development for so long really. At times the graphics look slightly blurry, but the animations on the babes and the monster designs are superb. Seeing pigcops and octobrains in action again is really great and the atmosphere conveyed in some levels is incredible. Aside from slight glitches and pixelated shadows, at least on the PC Duke Nukem Forever is looking good.
Sound/Music: 7/10
The audio in the game is pretty good. It features realistic audio effects where the audio is mumbled if you're behind certain materials, which I thought was a nice little touch. As mentioned the voicework, aside from Jon St Jon is a bit on the cheesy side, but not nearly as bad as Deus Ex.
Gameplay: 9/10
Obviously some of the gameplay choices they made won't go right with some people, but I feel they are not worthy of criticism just because some people don't like them. I quickly adapted to the 2-weapon system and it felt very natural and realistic. The regenerating health made it easier to go through the game, removing the need to backtrack for health but none of that removed any of the difficulty of the game. I struggled a lot with some bosses and the feeling of satisfaction once a boss was beaten was immeasurrable... The game also gives you a huge reward for finishing it. I won't spoil it but there's a LOT of good stuff to unlock. Driving sections, puzzles and a level where you spend the time just looking around for stuff and interacting with the world makes the game feel varied and diverse and with a lot more to offer than the average FPS!
Multiplayer: 6/10
While nothing great, winning trophies from Dukematches gives some added incentive for multiplayer. I also like the customization options.
Presentation (packaging and setup): 10/10
Setup was painless as Duke Nukem Forever is 100% compatible with Steam. I never experienced any trouble installing the game or running it. The menus are great to use and give room for lots of tweaking. The packaging itself was great with the Balls of Steel edition which contained tons of extras.

I am not sure who I'd recommend this to, but definitely if you're an oldschool fan of Duke like I am and if you like games that dare to be different and original. Duke is nothing like any other shooter today, and if you can look past the graphics and the lack of story, you'll have more fun than ever. That's what I did at least.

Sure the game shamelessly rips off other shooters, especially Half-Life and Halo, but who cares? So did the other Duke Nukem games. The game has tons of personality and that's what I care about.

The only way I can describe the experience is like a mix between nostalgia and just having a good time.

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