Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Duke Nukem Forever

Post-Launch Review
Duke Nukem Forever
Developer: 3D Realms / Gearbox / Triptych / Pirhana
Publisher: 2K Games
Released: June 14 2010

Duke Nukem Forever is the once-mythical continuation of the classic Duke Nukem series of the 90's. The game was announced in 1997 under development by 3D Realms, who every once in a while released screenshots and video but never a game. As the years rolled by, Duke Nukem Forever became a running joke in the industry — no one really believed or hoped that it would ever come out. But after the publisher took legal action for breach of contract and 3D Realms was taken off the project, Gearbox and others finally finished and released the game after fourteen years, to the excitement of Duke fans everywhere.
Twelve years after defeating the alien invaders in Duke Nukem 3D, Duke is a famous worldwide icon with product endorsements, talk show appearances, and yes, a video game. Then the aliens come back — but this time they're peaceful. The President orders Duke not to interfere in the hope of establishing diplomatic relations, so Duke retires to the Duke Cave. But of course, the aliens attack and steal our women, and Duke fights back.

At Launch
At first everyone was just ecstatic that the game was actually coming out... and then reviews hit. DNF's review scores averaged out around 50%, with the chief complaints being clunky controls on consoles, very long loading times, poor shooting mechanics, the player's inability to carry more than two guns, and overall dated design. The game was criticized for tastelessness and many gags going so far that they became uncomfortable and offensive rather than funny. In its first month, DNF only sold 376,300 units — pitifully few compared to other major releases that sell in the millions.

Post Launch
DNF has thus far received a big patch and will receive a multiplayer DLC pack in the fall. The patch increased weapon inventory to 4 slots and updated textures and blood effects, as well as some other minor tweaks, fixes, and improvements. The Parody Pack is a multiplayer DLC (which will be free for First Access members) that adds four maps and other items parodying genre giants Call of Duty and Team Fortress 2, as well as a tribute to the 16-bit days, and three new game modes: Hail to the King, Hot Potato, and Freeze Tag.

The Good
Duke doesn't have a health bar. He has an ego bar. It's the same thing as a health bar; it just has a different name — but it's a very clever name. When Duke gets hit his ego takes damage, and he can recover ego by not taking damage for a few seconds. It's as if Duke goes “What? How can this happen to ME?” when he gets hit, and if he doesn't take a hit for a while, he goes “No, he just got lucky, that's all, I can do this!”. Duke can also regain ego by executing stunned enemies or looking in mirrors, and he can increase his maximum ego by interacting with objects in the world — hitting a punching bag, lifting enough weights, setting a new high score at a pinball table, etc.

Old-School Shooter
There are no fancy mechanics here. There's no cover system, no fancy power armour, no experience system. The bad guys are fast and move around a lot. You need to move and aim quickly, and though your health regenerates, you don't have a lot of it. It makes the combat feel delightfully intense compared to games that offer 'rich tactical cover-based combat', often meaning slow and boring combat where you hide behind a rock and squeeze off a few shots while the enemy is reloading.

Where most games revolve around one or two unique mechanics, Duke has many. Duke and his enemies alike can be shrunk; there are truck-driving segments of jumping and running over enemies; turret battles; a freeze gun; and more neat stuff.
Yes, I did draw the Enterprise shooting the Death Star.

Environmental Interaction
Some levels are pretty barren, but others offer some great environmental interaction. You can microwave popcorn, lift weights, shoot some hoops, flip through calendars, urinate, draw on whiteboards... There are even full minigames like pinball, poker, slots, air hockey, and whack-a-mole (perhaps tastelessly called Alien Abortion) with achievements for high scores.

Loading Screen Tips
There are a few very funny tips, such as “When being shot at, try to avoid bullets” or “If you get stuck, don't forget you can cheat by looking at FAQs online”.
Duke: "Power armour is for pussies!"

The music of DNF is pretty good, especially the theme song: hard rock, heavy on the electric guitar. It's pretty badass and fits the game perfectly. I probably wouldn't listen to it on my own time, but while playing, I can't get enough of it.

After you beat the game you unlock some neat extras. There's the standard concept art, but there's also screenshots from the fourteen years of development, all the official trailers released over the years, a Duke sound board where you can play voice clips, and a development timeline.

Duke's multiplayer doesn't pretend to be innovative, and surprisingly, that works in its favor. The multiplayer has a few game modes: deathmatch (or Dukematch), team deathmatch, capture the flag (Capture the Babe), control points (Hail to the King). Most guns and mechanics are available on most maps; all guns have unlimited ammo and no need to reload. See? Simple. There's an absurd amount of stuff to unlock by earning experience: titles; customization options including hats, shirts, and accessories; items in your lair (where you can hang out, check out the cool props, and play minigames). Experience and unlocks are earned by completing each of the hundreds of challenges. So while Duke's multiplayer is simple to grasp, it's still fun and will keep you coming back for more.

The Neutral
The graphics aren't impressive by any means, but neither are they bad. Some of the environments feel a bit sparse, and some of the textures could be at a higher resolution, but for the most part things are stylized and unrealistic enough that it works well. The only time I really feel that the graphics drag the game down are almost all scenes with women: the models and textures are just bad enough that when the game tries to be sexy it ends up more uncomfortable than anything else.

The Bad
I don't want to be caught playing it
Sometimes DNF's jokes go... shall we say, over the top. The humour and sex are pushed too far sometimes, enough that I would be uncomfortable to have someone watch or listen to me play. Duke toes the line between satire and misogyny, sometimes crossing it. I understand that just because I don't think a joke is funny doesn't mean you won't think it's funny, but I think I can safely say that most people will probably be legitimately offended at least once.

Old-School Shooter
There are a few aspects of the game that feel dated. One example is the scripted dialogue sequences of non-player characters: you might get some funny, well-delivered dialogue, but after it finishes, the characters involved just stand still and stop doing anything.

Platforming and Puzzles
It's good to break up the combat from time to time to give the player a break from the intensity — exciting gameplay is great, but you don't want it to get monotonous. Duke's breaks are often too long and too frequent, sending you to find a battery or figure out how to scale a moveable display.

Steam says I've played DNF for 8 hours. That's the full campaign on normal mode, plus the credits and a decent chunk of messing around with the minigames, as well as a couple of solid multiplayer matches.

The Verdict
Recommendation: play it when no one else is around.
Duke Nukem Forever is a guilty pleasure: I played it, and I had fun, but I'll only play it when there's no one else around (the strippers and sexism can get awkward with spectators). There was a lot of good stuff and some moments of real greatness, but the game's faults drag it down a bit. On the other hand, some of the early criticisms were fixed — you can hold 4 guns and loading times are only a few seconds (at least on PC). I definitely don't think that DNF deserves the low 50% score it's been stuck with, but neither do I think it's worth the $40 price tag it currently has on Steam. If you can find it cheaper, pick it up and you'll get your money's worth, and don't play it in front of your girlfriend or mother.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed DNF - fun but flawed. If games were to be reviewed scientifically without bias and emotion then yes, this game deserves around 50%. But for those inclined to playing in unconventional styles, DNF is great and you can find many things to play around with. A solid 80% would be my personal, biased review score.