Duke Nukem Forever PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 Review
Duke Nukem Forever is the notoriously delayed sequel to 1996's Duke Nukem 3D. Supposedly the game was in development for at least twelve years, some say even fifteen, but despite that record braking development cycle the game still lacks polish. The game is essentially a comedy shooter, although there are many driving, platforming and puzzle segments in the game as well. The phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none." rings true here, as many aspects of the game weren't implemented very well, or just aren't fun. There is still some value and good times to be had though like for instance in the multiplayer if you are willing to over look the games fault's.
After saving the world from aliens in Duke Nukem 3D, Duke is now a simi retired pop couture icon living in a Las Vegas penthouse with his two groupies the Holsom Twins. Then the aliens return to earth claiming peace, and although it's not clear who attacked first, war breaks out, most of the city is destroyed and the twins are kidnapped. These events anger Duke and he sets off to kill every last alien interloper. The story of Duke Nukem Forever is largely comical, and is sometimes laugh out load funny, but the whimsical tone seen early in the campaign is dampened by a dark plot twist in the Hive levels. There are also pacing problems caused by having several levels in a row without any real story development, so the player forgets their overall goal. Most of the story problems are probably caused by the presumably many rewrites over the game's checkered development history. The best moments in the campaign are when Duke has someone to play off of or mock, as some of his one liners are hilarious.
The biggest problem with Duke Nukem Forever's campaign is peoples own expectations coming into it. Clearly the developers goal was gameplay variety, and they succeeded. Most critics of the game expected the game to be one of three things: a run and gun old school style first person shooter like Doom 3 or Serious Sam, a comedy game filled with jokes like Conker's Bad Fur Day or a Sam and Max game, or a game loaded with naked women like some entries in the Leisure Suit Larry or God of War series. Anyone expecting the game to be like any of those games will be disappointed. For the record I fell into the first camp thinking that the game would have a endless barrage of enemies that I could kill in any number of ways, so I too was disappointed in the game's often slow pace.
I would say that about 40% of the game is shooting aliens, 30% driving largely deserted roads, 20% platform jumping as a shrunken mini Duke, with the last 10% being divided up between weird filler levels like late night, the stripe club or the two water levels where you have to constantly collect air bubbles to breath, Sonic style. So you can see how diverse the single player is, but at the same time see the hater's point.
Shooting in the game is largely good, and pretty well executed. Guns feel and sound powerful, and all have their uses. Besides obvious range and damage differences, any weapon can kill an enemy quickly and there are no useless guns. The problem I have with the shooting are two things; hit detection and the lack of ammo. Sniping with any weapon is very difficult in the game. Even at medium range it sometimes seems that only one out of three shots will hit your target. I'm not sure if it's small hit boxes, input lag, invincibility frames or whatever, but it sucks. I find the best way to kill enemies is to get in close with a shotgun, AT Laser, ripper, or pistol, and then circle strife and hope you don't die. Because of the poor hit detection you're going to be wasting a lot of ammo, which leads me to my next gripe, the lack of ammo. Every gun has very little ammo, even at full capacity most weapons can only hold 10 to 50 shots before running out. You might think "Well I just won't use the rail gun until I need it" But the problem is that like Halo and most other modern first person shooters Duke can only carry two weapons at once. So if you run out of ammo on both of your weapons while in cover you're pretty much screwed. Your only options are melee attacks, scavenge bodies for new weapons and ammo, or die and next time use less ammo. The developers must of noticed this problem too, but instead of letting you carry more weapons, or upping the capacity of the handgun, shotgun or rail gun, they just threw in some crates with a infinite supply of ammo refills at certain points in the game. This to me just seems lazy. Twice in the game you'll encounter a gunship that takes ten shots with the RPG launcher to kill, but the RPG launcher has a maximum ammo capacity of five, so they put a ammo crate right next to the gunship. Why not just up the RPG launcher's capacity to ten, or lower the gunships health so it only takes five hits to kill it. It's ridiculous. It's quick fix short cuts like these that make the game feel half finished. I also notice that there seems to be a ripper machine gun in the corner of nearly every room in the game, so there's no point in carrying it with you. Just switch to the ripper when you enter the room, kill everything, then switch back to your two preferred weapons and hope the next room has a ammo crate so that you can resupply.
One minor problem I have with the game is the lack of a diverse mix of basic enemies. It seems like there are only five kinds or enemies Pig Cops, with three varieties, normal, berserk and heavy weapons, Enforcers, with three varieties normal, captain, and the one with the namesake enforcer gun, ockabrain with two varieties normal and baby, the floating fat guy assault commander sub-bosses and joke enemies like the impregnator or rats. A better variety of enemies certainly would have made the campaign more interesting. Boss fights are generally pretty satisfying, with a epic feel and a decent challenge, but there are three repeat bosses, which is kinda lazy.
I should mention the health system, which like most modern first person shooters regenerates after a short period of time without taking damage. Regenerating health is a little counter intuitive for a run and gun game, since it encourages you to leave the fire fight, and hide behind a box or a pillar for cover. This leads me to another problem, that there aren't many places to take cover so your health can regenerate. Most areas just have one token spot for cover, like behind a planter or a rock. The most difficult areas in the game are those where you have no or ineffective cover such as the fight in Ladykiller Part 2, gun turret segments, or the boss fight with the Octaking.
There are also powerups to make you harder to kill. Drinking beer seems to make you take half damage, but blurs the screen. Taking steroids allow you to take less damage and move faster, but limits you to only close range instant kill melee attacks, which sounds useful but is hard to connect with. A holo Duke generate a hologram of Duke Nukem to distract enemies, while the real Duke temporarily turns invisible. There are also three multiplayer exclusive power ups, double damage, invincibility and the jetpack. Double damage and invincibility are self explanatory but I must say that the inclusion of invincibility in death match and team death match seems pretty unfair to me. I also must say that the exclusion of the jet pack from the single player is questionable to say the least. Double jumping activates the jet pack, and you can fly as high or this or as low as you like. You have limited fuel, but it seems like more than enough, with about three minutes worth of flight time per pack. In the multiplayer maps that have a jet pack are; Highway Noon, Duke Burger, Hover Damned, Hive, and Hollywood which actually has two jet pack spawns. Players constantly fight over who has the jet pack, even in team games. A typical jet pack tactic is to grab some Pipe bombs, an RPG launcher, a rail gun, or the devastator and fly up to the very top level and then go to town with killing. This strategy it is of course absurdly cheap, the only way to counter it really is to distract the jet pack player with another person and then snipe the jet pack player. The one weakness of having a jet pack is that any shot to your back will explode the jet pack killing you or anyone else nearby.
At several points in the game you'll step on a shrink pad and turn into a six inch high mini Duke. As mini Duke most regular enemies can be avoided, the main challenge is navigating through the environment with tricky jumps and occasional puzzles. Long jumping and puzzle solving segments feel out of place in a Duke Nukem game, and are poorly executed. Jumping regardless of what size Duke you are is slow and clunky, so it's a mystery to me as to why they decided to have so many platforming sections and emphases this flaw in the game. Puzzles are either plainly obvious or incredibly vague and never find the right balance of tricky but fun. Most of the time it seems like puzzles are just there to waste your time and lengthen the short campaign that will take most players between four to ten hours to complete.
There are two driving sections in the game, both of which seem to go on and on. The first which has you driving a RC toy car as mini Duke is quite boring, since you can't kill any enemies, and because it's difficult to drive fast in the small cluttered environment. The second where Duke drives a monster truck in the desert is fairly amusing the first time you play through it, since now Duke can run over enemies. Unfortunately Duke can't shoot while driving and the only defense against enemy driven vehicles is to avoid or out run them. Although boosting over jumps is fun, the frequent repeated terrain and soundings in both driving sections make them tedious on repeated playthroughs of the campaign.
I must also mention the minigames sprinkled throughout the game. Most of the time they are just side light amusement bonuses, and completing them might give you a ego boost. But sometimes they are mandatory, like the remote control monster truck power cell puzzle which has terrible controls. Playing pool is decent, but since you can't aim across the table, it's more luck than skill based. Alien Abortion, the whack a mole clone is ok, but quick aiming is difficult on the console versions. Pinball looks good, but doesn't feel right and is incredibly difficult. Both versions of basketball are lame since you can't control the power or angle of your throw, just where you're targeting. Air hockey is my most hated mini game, it's just broken. Firstly left, right and up, down moment should be assigned to separate control sticks, and secondly the camera should move with Duke's hand. Lastly there shouldn't be a blind spot where you can't see the puck. Also an overhead camera might make things easier. If all of that was fixed it might be playable, but the physics would still be screwed up. There are other side lights that I don't understand. Like you can eat food from vending machines, popcorn from microwaves, or doughnuts, but other than a ego boot nothing happens, I don't get it. Why not let me store doughnuts in my inventory and eat them when I'm low on health, wouldn't that be useful?
Multiplayer is certainly the highlight of Duke Nukem Forever, and will give you the most bang for your buck. There are four different game types, Duke match, team Duke match, capture the babe, and hail to the King, which using traditional game type terms are death match, team death match, capture the flag, king of the hill. The game supports up to eight players in a single match which equates to two teams of four players on each team. There are ten maps, nine of which are based off of locations in the single player, the tenth is a remake of the Hollywood level from Duke Nukem 3D. Most of the maps are pretty fun regardless of what game type you're playing although there are some problems. Like it's hard to find people to kill in a death match on Hive, Vegas in Ruin or Highway Noon. Or it's particularly hard to defend the hill on Duke Burger, or Morning Wood. Likewise some maps are particularly good with certain game types such as Vegas in Ruin or Casino for capture the babe or Hollywood, sausage factory, or Morning Wood for death match. Also for some reason three maps aren't playable for capture the babe, Hollywood, Erection Site and Duke Burger, which is disappointing. There is at least one spawn for each weapon on every map, but power up spawns such as steroids and the jet pack only appear on certain maps, and in some cases only when playing certain game types. For instance beer is only found when playing hail to the king matches.
There are also mutators in multiplayer to spice things up. Normal is of course the default setting. Infinite ammo as you would expect grants infinite ammo to all weapons, eliminating the need to reload. You can still only throw or use four trip mines or pipe bombs at once however. Oddly enough shotguns only, rail guns only and even on knuckle sandwich mutators game types pipe bombs and trip mines still appear, which I think is pretty annoying . Also annoying is that when you play rail guns only, rail guns logically have infinite ammo, but when you play shotguns only you have to reload and collect ammo, which is ridiculous when shotguns are the only guns in the match. Given how difficult it to get melee kills in the game, knuckle sandwich can be very frustrating. Matches often degrade into standoff fights where players circle enemy players trying to hopelessly punch and kill each other, sometimes for several minutes, until someone finally connects or gives up and throws a pipe bomb. In heavy weapons each player starts with the shotgun, and the only available weapons that spawn are enforcer guns, devastator's and RPG launchers. Unlike the other mutators it makes sense that pipe bombs and trip mines would still be available. For fun I decided to rate the mutators based on how fun they are to play; shotguns only, heavy weapons, infinite ammo, regular, bare-knuckle, and rail guns only.
The only playable character in multiplayer is Duke Nukem, so to better differentiate yourself from other Duke's online you can customize your particular Duke's title, hat, glasses, T-shirt logo and color. These customization features must be unlocked however by beating some of the games numerous multiplayer challenges, which there are nearly 300 of. Some challenges are simple, like kill someone while you're mini Duke, others are more tricky like freeze someone next to a barrel, and then kill them by blowing up the aforementioned barrel. Other challenges have multiple levels such as Tiny But Deadly 1 requires you to get 10 pistol kills, but Tiny But Deadly 4 requires you to get 1000 pistol kills.
Challenges might seem pointless at first but are really the only way to level up efficiently in game. Winning a match will give you 50 XP, and with some kills you might get as high as 450 XP in a match, but most challenges will give you at least 1000 or 2000 XP upon completion. Some challenges that require a greater commitment of time to complete such as win 200 Duke matches are worth 20,000 XP. In multiplayer you of course first start at level one, with a maximum experience level being 42. Every time you level up one or more pieces of furniture is unlocked in Duke's multiplayer penthouse referred to as his Diggs. Think of it as a trophy room. Most items in the Diggs can also be found in the single player, but there are some exclusive items like the pig cop rug or the enemy head plaques. Surely the biggest draw are the babe's exclusive to the Diggs. Unlocking babes is staggered to incentivize the player to keep playing multiplayer. New babes are unlocked at level 10, 20, 30, 40, 41, and 42. The babes don't really do much, they'll wander around in a circle, shake, and you can exchange double entendre pick up lines with them. Considering it takes at least 50 hours to get to level 42 in multiplayer, but for most people probably 100, it hardly seems worth the effort to unlock everything in the Diggs. That is unless of course you just love playing multiplayer so much that it's just icing on the cake. Leveling up multiplayer does become easier when you reach level 40 and enter XP overdrive mode where experience points are doubled and shooting someone even if you don't kill them, grants you 10 XP per hit.
Like the single player, hit detection in multiplayer is sporadic and finicky. Making the hit detection worse is the constant lag multiplayer is plagued by. This makes getting kills both difficult and frustrating. Generally you should only join other people's games if they have a ping below 200. But what's quite peculiar is I notice in matches where I have around 40, 150, or even 250 ping it seems pretty easy to get a kill, but in matches where I have around 80, 120 or 200 ping it is incredibly difficult to kill anything without an explosive weapon. Any match with was over 300 ping will soon disconnect because network conditions are so poor, so they're not worth joining at all or. The only way around this lag is to host a match yourself since then you should have no problem killing anyone, unless of course you suck at the game. You'll often have a 1 to 10 second advantage in reaction time when hosting a match. A player in the game your hosting will have turned a corner and just spotted you, while on your side of things, you'll have already emptied half a clip into the enemy player, likely killing them. There is no question that this game has a massive host advantage. Melee kills are particularly hard to get when not hosting the match. Since everyone knows it's best to be the host, everyone tries to hosts games themselves, and are reluctant to join other people's games. It sometimes can take up to a half hour before enough people join a game you're hosting to have a decent match. Once there are five or six people in a match, games usually fill up quickly. But once there are 6 or 8 people in a match most people's Internet connection can't handle it, and the game lags out and disconnects. So the whole process is frustrating to say the least.
All that being said, if you are the host or the game isn't lagging that much, the multiplayer can be very fun. In fact I would go as far to say that it can be as fun as a 8/10 at times, the only problems being that it's hard to counter certain weapons, and certain map's areas are easily exploitable to get cheap kills. Since the game runs on the Unreal 2.5 Engine it is reminiscent of Unreal Tournament, and another game on that engine like Postal 2 Share the Pain. So fans of those games, such as myself should enjoy the multiplayer. Although multiplayer can be very fun at times the constant lag, and though very entertaining, small number of maps make the multiplayer grow stale perhaps too quickly. I doubt most players will put in more than 20 hours into the multiplayer, but maybe you'll get addicted like me and play it for 110 hours, it' hard to say.
One thing I have to mention about the game is a great discrepancy between the load times in the different versions the game. Depending on your RAM and the speed of your processor the PC version has load times between 5 to 30 seconds, which is about normal for most games. But the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions have load times of over one minute in some cases, which is entirely unacceptable. Even if you install the game to the hard drive the 360 version is still at least 40 seconds. Super long load times wouldn't be such a problem if the game didn't have so many cheap deaths, that require the entire level to reload which wastes a minute of your life. If you die in a game and then a few seconds later the level reloads and you can keep playing, you probably won't think about it too much and continue on. But If you die and have a solid minute to reflect about how unfair your death was and how ridiculous the one minute load time is it can make you incredibly angry. This is why I recommend playing the 360 and PS3 versions the first time through on easy mode despite whatever gamer pride you might have, since the frustration of the one minute load times will suck all the fun out of the game. After you know what to do, where all the cheap instant death spots are and you've found all the ego boosts so your health bar is a lot bigger, higher difficulties will be manageable. One thing I don't understand is that in multiplayer when you die you respawn right away, had they just put respawn points in the single player campaign there wouldn't have to be one minute load times except when beginning levels.
A lot of people complain about the graphics in the game being really bad, but I think they are decent though dated looking. The game supposedly uses the Unreal Engine 2.5, and of course most games use the Unreal Engine 3 nowadays, so you can see where the problem is. I think that the graphics in the game would have looked impressive in 2005 through 2007, now it's just a bit underwhelming. Character models are well done and have a nice level of detail, but I did notice some head and body sharing amongst less important characters so that they all look alike. The weapons also look really good. The problem is the varying quality of the textures in the game's levels. Textures and lighting in the hive and casino levels look great, up to modern standers but in levels like the construction site or the dam some textures look like PlayStation 2 or even N64 quality. Levels like the Desert or Duke Burger fall somewhere in between. The PC and Xbox 360 versions look very similar graphically, with the PC version having a much better frame rate and lighting. The PlayStation 3 version is plagued by horrendous aliasing and slow down, but it does have pretty good lighting, which I think is actually better than the 360 version's lighting.
Most levels in the game are pretty quiet, but when music does play it's usually pretty awesome. I especially like the game's main theme. Sound effects in the game are pretty good, although I'm not crazy about the grunt Duke makes every time he jumps. Voice acting is top notch in both performance and sound quality, which makes the game's humorous dialogue even funnier. Often you'll eagerly anticipate what humorous one liner Duke will say next, due to John St John's grate delivery.
On the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 the left analog stick controls movement and the right stick controls aiming. Push the left stick to run, and push the right stick to crouch. The directional pad on both systems activates powerups, Right for beer, Left for steroids, Down for holo Duke, and Up for Duke vision [like night vision only less useful], or to taunt. On the 360 A is jump, X is action, B is your melee attack, Y switches between your two weapons, R Trigger fires your weapon, L Trigger is precision aim, RB throws pipe bombs, LB throws Trip mines. On the PlayStation 3 X is jump, square is action, Circle is your melee attack, Triangle switches between your two weapons, R1 fires your weapon, L1 is precision aim, R2 throws pipe bombs, L2 throws trip mines.
On the PC version the controls are completely customable, but the default layout is W,A,S,D is for movement, Spacebar is Jump, E is use, C is crouch, holding shift makes you run, F is Duke vision, eight yeah oh yeah goodbye and a recent movie or old when I saw a letter today I G is taunt, 1 switches weapons, 2 throws trip mines, 3 throws pipe bombs, 4 is holo duke, 5 is steroids, and 6 is beer. The left mouse button fires, the right button is precision aim, and pushing the mouse wheel does your melee attack. You can also use a game pad on the PC version, like the Xbox 360's controller and the controls will be the same as the 360 version.
There's no denying that Duke Nukem Forever doesn't meet the expectations a person would have for games that was in development for at least 12 years. Ironically it seems like the game was somehow rushed, and desperately needs more polish, optimization and especially play testing to remove annoying parts from the game. The main failings are the excessive puzzle, platforming, and driving segments in the single player game, the constant lag in the multiplayer, the spotty hit detection and the insane load times in the console versions. The best parts of the game are the few firefight segments during the single player, the powerful weapons, multiplayer can be very fun, and the humor found throughout the experience. Ultimately Duke Nukem Forever is a lackluster game, and that's disappointing to say the least. If you're a hardcore Duke Nukem fan or you're really curious about the game I would say that's worth buying for $20 or less but everyone else will likely be appalled by some of the archaic design choices made in the single player and stick to other games with far less lag in their multiplayer. I give the PC version 5/10 due to its short load times, but the lack of conventional dedicated servers result in the multiplayer being even more laggy than the Xbox version. I give the Xbox 360 version a 5/10 as well because it is the best version of the multiplayer, but has hellish load times. I give the PlayStation 3 version a 4/10 since in addition to the hellish load times it also has a terrible frame rate that is constantly dropping, and has a tremendous amount of graphical aliasing.
Most of the problems with Duke Nukum Forever could be solved by a patch, and I might change my mind and improve the score if there is a significant enough patch.
In this first of two bonus features I'll review the various weapons in the game and reveal my personal tier list.
AT Captain Laser
The Enforcer Gun
The RPG Launcher
The Freeze Ray
The Shrink Ray
Weapon Tier List
In this second bonus feature I'll review the multiplayer maps, and later list my favorites.
Vegas in Ruins
Stage tier list