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Duke Nukem Forever was in development hell for a very long time. Being a sequel to Duke Nukem 3D, people expected greatness and if you saw some of the trailers that released over the years, it was looking good. It was worked on by multiple developers but it’s Gearbox Software’s logo on the box and was published by 2K Games. Duke Nukem Forever was released for PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 in June, 2011. For this review, I played the PC version and I’ll also be covering The Doctor Who Cloned Me DLC. After multiple game engines, some conflict with Take-Two, and layoffs at 3D Realms, Gearbox got involved. Well according to what I read, they were approached by 3D Realms who requested they help Triptych Games finish up the game.
Years after saving the world from the alien invasion in Duke Nukem 3D, Duke is a celebrity with an ego that’s through the roof and he resides in Las Vegas. The aliens return but the President orders Duke not to engage them. Of course Duke doesn’t listen and is basically a one-man army. Although, he is assisted by EDF Soldiers from time to time. The plot is almost the same as it was in the previous game. Aliens invade, kidnap babes, and Duke sets out to stop them. The plot in The Doctor Who Cloned Me DLC takes place directly after the events of Forever. Duke awakens in a laboratory and after escaping, he discovers his old nemesis, Dr. Proton, is creating a robotic army of Duke clones. Duke Nukem Forever contains a lot of juvenile humor and it’s in your face constantly. The babes are literally treated as sex objects and the game isn’t shy about it, either. The voice acting fits the juvenile tone but most of the performances are pretty forgettable and many of the soldiers are portrayed as macho idiots. The best performance is from Jon St. John who reprises his role as Duke and many of Duke’s one-liners are humorous. Honestly, as juvenile and offensive as the game attempts to be, it doesn’t really bother me. Some of the jokes and dialogue did make me chuckle. I just want to kill aliens. But what does bother me is the gameplay. Killing aliens is not as fun as it should be.
Duke can run around, crouch, jump, perform melee attacks, execute downed enemies, utilize Duke Vision to see in dark areas, and carry up to four weapons at a time. His health is represented by the Ego meter on the HUD and it will regenerate after taking damage. Just like in Duke Nukem 3D, Forever encourages you to interact with things in the environments. You can pick up and throw objects, write or draw on things, piss in urinals, make photocopies of your ass, play games like air hockey, pinball, and alien abortion. Why would you want to do any of these things you might ask? Because interacting with certain things will permanently increase your Ego. There are items you can acquire and store that can prove to be useful during combat. Returning from Duke 3D are the steroids which temporarily increase your melee damage and Holoduke which can be used to distract enemies. Then there’s beer. Drinking beer temporarily increases your defense. There are numerous sequences where Duke will have to drive a vehicle and they do control pretty well. You can activate a boost, you’ll have to drive off ramps, and you can ram into foes.
Many of the weapons from Duke 3D make a return. You’ll get your hands on a pistol, shotgun, ripper, RPG, pipe bombs, laser trip wires, shrink ray, freeze ray, and devastator. The Doctor Who Cloned Me DLC adds in the Expander and Impregnator which fires what looks like green balls of goo that can inflict splash damage. New to the arsenal are the AT weapons like the Laser and Captain laser, Enforcer gun, and my favorite new weapon, the Railgun. The Enforcer Gun is pretty cool, though. It fires three rays that home in on enemies and it’s quite powerful. I do like the look, feel, and sound of the weapons and they do provide good feedback when firing. What I don’t like is some of the enemy reactions to shots. When I first played this around the time it came out, the lackluster reactions was one of the first things I noticed. Sometimes enemies will just fall after being killed and it’s not very satisfying. Although, it’s not as bad as I remember. Sometimes enemies will go flying back from shots and you’ll see pieces of their armor come flying off during a firefight. And it is cool when they explode into gibs. But, ultimately, I feel like the combat could have been better. It could have felt more intense and looked more flashy. More gore effects, cool death animations, just something more. When they just fall and ragdoll it feels underwhelming. This is supposed to be a sci-fi over-the-top, action-packed experience. It’s definitely sci-fi, it goes over-the-top with the sex jokes, and the action leaves a lot to be desired.
Enemies will usually be standing or patrolling around areas but sometimes they arrive by drop ship. Most of the foes from Duke 3D are present including the Assault Troopers, Captains, and Commanders, as well as Pig Cops, Octabrains, and Enforcers. There are some new types like alien ships you have to shoot down and small types like Octababies, rats, and Pregnators but none of the little types prove to be a significant threat. If anything, they’re are just annoying. Pig Cops will wield different types of weapons, they can throw pipe bombs, and when near death, they will go berserk and rush you. Enforcers are one of the more dangerous types and some of them carry shields. The Doctor Who Cloned Me DLC adds in a some new enemies like the Dukeinators, Duke clones, and Suicide Drones. I think the Dukeinators are cool because they kind of resemble Terminators. I really like the updated enemy designs. Many of the returning foes retain their behavior from Duke 3D. Octabrains can still fire some kind of orb, Assault Trooper’s can fly around using their jetpacks, Captains can teleport around, and a Commander will fire a rocket from its ass. But in general, enemies aren’t very bright. However, they can be aggressive and are more dangerous in groups. You’re usually always outnumbered, Octabrains can use what I guess is some kind of telekinetic power to pick up and catch objects, including your own rockets, and hurl them at you, and little types usually arrive in swarms. There are several boss battles peppered throughout the game and DLC. Some of the bosses from Duke 3D make a return but there are new ones introduced and for the most part, they are all pretty easy to take down.
One of the things I like about Duke Nukem Forever and its DLC is the locations. You’ll battle your way through a casino, hive, ghost town, highway, Duke Burger, and Hoover Dam. In the DLC, you’ll fight your way through Area 51 and the Moon. When swimming underwater, you have to rely on bubble streams for oxygen and when on the Moon, you have to rely on alien oxygen streams. Several missions have you mounting turrets to shoot down alien ships and foes and there are explosive canisters and barrels scattered all over the environments. There also a limited amount of environmental destruction. Things will often break apart during a firefight which is pretty cool. Like Duke 3D, Duke Nukem Forever includes numerous environmental puzzles and platforming sequences but the environments are a bit more linear here and I didn’t get stuck or lost nearly as often. There’s puzzles you’ll need to solve, tasks you’ll have to complete, and there are multiple sequences where Duke is shrunken down which means you’ll have to do a bit of platforming. You’ll have to avoid electricity and lasers among other hazards and, ultimately, the game proves to be very boring when you’re not shooting aliens.
It seems like developers attempted to recreate the puzzle solving and platforming from Duke 3D but they’re just not fun here. In fact, it feels like the game is trying to be an updated version of Duke 3D instead of a new game or sequel. To be fair, I didn’t care for some of the puzzles in Duke 3D, either, but it was a common trend in shooters at the time. In Forever, they just mess with the pacing. Even the driving sequences here aren’t that great. There’s multiple vehicles you’ll have to drive in both campaigns and it’s kind of cool ramming into enemies but there’s not much else to really say. You just drive and follow the path until it’s time to get out. You will get to use things like cranes and forklifts to move things around the environments but these sequences, too, are not very exciting. They feel more like chores. Duke 3D was amazing for its time and I would say one of the reasons why is because of how interactive it was. Duke Nukem Forever released in 2011. Times have changed and interactive elements have been widespread in games for quite some time so nothing here is really new. The level of interactivity isn’t a problem, it’s fine. But what is problematic is when the game takes you away from the arguably more enjoyable aspects to complete a mundane task or solve an unsatisfying puzzle. There are actual missions that force you to run around and look for items. Fetch quests. They are literally fetch quests. They’re not very difficult and there’s all kinds of things you can interact with like arcade games but that’s not really why I’m playing this.
The visual presentation in Duke Nukem Forever is okay at best. The game looks a bit washed out and with post special effects enabled, I found a lot of things to appear blurry so I eventually disabled it. I really like the character and weapon models but some of the environments look a bit bland. The wall boobs are certainly something, though. The gore effects are pretty good. Enemies can explode into blood and gibs, leaving some body parts behind. But if you’re not blowing them to bits, you risk witnessing lackluster reactions to gunfire as mentioned earlier. There are some neat details like smoke from destroyed buildings and structures rising into the sky, alien ships flying around above your head, and alien tentacles wrapped around parts of the environments. On the audio side, the game’s version of the Duke Nukem theme sounds excellent but most of the soundtrack didn’t do anything for me. There’s a lot of dramatic sounding tunes but nothing special. The sound effects, on the other hand, are great. The weapons and explosions sound loud and powerful and the enemies make all kinds of noises during combat. On the technical side, I experienced no major issues.
Duke Nukem Forever is a very underwhelming game. It’s boring. Beating the campaign unlocks extras including movies, screen shots, concept art, and some other stuff and the movies make me sad because they show the trailers for the game, including the ones from 1998 and 2001 which. in my opinion, show more exciting stuff than what we ended up with here. Believe it or not, the gameplay is better than I remember. I played this when it came out and really hated it. I was so disappointed in the gunplay which still isn’t great but not as bad as I remember. But the biggest problem with Forever is that it’s a very generic first-person shooter. I didn’t expect it to be as legendary as Duke 3D but I did expect it to be at least competent. But it’s not. The pacing sucks, the platforming and puzzle solving are boring, the gunplay often feels lackluster, and the entire experience feels stuck in the past. I think the best thing about the game is the updated weapon and enemy models. The DLC doesn’t really do much improve anything. It’s basically just more of the same.
Despite the game being better than I remember, I still question how this got out the door. I really want to know who played this and said “yes, this is good”. I understand the game was in development hell but there’s no reason it should have came out like this in 2011. I hold Gearbox responsible since it’s their logo on the box. I seriously want to know how many people involved with the development actually played the final product and gave the green light. I’m guessing the release was more of a business/financial decision because anyone with eyes can see this game is lacking in several areas and needed more time. They had to know players had high expectations and I’m not saying the developers had to meet those expectations but it doesn’t even meet quality standards of shooters of the time in my opinion. It feels like they took a game that went through years of troubled development and polished up the presentation, made sure it didn’t crash, and then shipped it out the door. It’s like they didn’t even try to improve anything or make sure it was up to par. I think if the developers took the time to rework the game, it would have done wonders.
I would only recommend Duke Nukem Forever if you can get it for under ten dollars. It’s not the worst game ever made but it might just be the one of the worst sequels ever made. It’s not even the worst shooter ever made but it’s not a very good one either. It’s just average. It doesn’t reach the highs of Duke 3D or even come close. It’s generic. If you’re looking for an explosive action-packed game that lets you save the world and babes from an alien invasion then you’re better off sticking with Duke Nukem 3D.