Duke Nukem Forever is awesome. Perfect. A straight 10. After more than 14 years of waiting, it comes out on top, steals the gold medal from all the other shooters and admires itself in the mirror. But before you call in the psychiatric wardens, no, I didn’t go haywire. DNF is perfect in only one regard: as a lesson on how NOT to make a game; how NOT to build up 14 years of hype and then push out something that’s held together by cheap glue.
And I’m talking about 3D Realms, not Gearbox, because these guys only took it upon themselves to release duke because the franchise landed in their lap. Gearbox isn’t to blame and Duke simply had to hit the shelves, regardless of his condition, simply because the series has to move on, so the maximum possible was done with whatever material was at hand. And DNF, besides being a history lesson, is just a mediocre shooter that we really want to forget, unless most of us already did, the obvious sign being the empty multiplayer mode.
Tonight we dine in Hell
As a descendant from a famous line, Duke always had a romantic aura about it, with many veterans dreaming about the comeback of the misogynistic, cigar in the corner of the mouth hero, grenade in one hand, shotgun in the other and a hot babe supporting his “morale” under the belt. But the reality is quite different. Yeah, there’s some humor, action, some trademarks, but the overall it looks like a 2005 game and the design fails at keeping pace with times.
As for the story, the ass kicked aliens have come back to Earth to take revenge on Duke and our hero can’t just lie back in his armchair. Well, it’s not really patriotism that motivates him, but the fact that the aliens are kidnapping all the hot women. Since we only wanted a good pretext to pull the trigger, mission accomplished here, with 23 levels, some of them further separated into other 2-3 subchapters. For a serious gamer, on the Normal difficulty level, 10-12 of plucking alien guts is enough to finish the campaign, or even less since I felt a huge urge to get it done as fast as possible.
Without much fuss you get into the action, classical FPS style, and start killing, from your Duke cave to the Hoover dam, with interludes in filthy caverns, vents, flooded areas and ruined high-rises. But that doesn’t mean it’s also pleasant, because besides shooting everything in sight, DNF includes dozens of scripted moments and the typical shortcomings: a wall breaks only when it wants to, a door will open only if needed and I don’t think I’ve seen so many crates in a game since I quit playing Tetris some good years ago. At least the barrels are useful, red ones with explosives and the blue ones used for certain puzzles.
And there’s the fatal word: puzzles. Annoying and not seamlessly integrated in the game, these involve buttons, pipes, demolition balls, barrels to lift/lower structures, plus some platforming levels where you jump around boxes, shelves, hot plates and huge wheels to get to the other end of the room. For me, the RC car bit was incredibly annoying and I had to use the gamepad to maneuver it properly, because of the control; it’s not bad, just too sensitive on the keyboard.
A little more interesting in the jump-shoot-oral sex-repeat circuit are the sections where Duke drives something and is shrunk to fit into otherwise inaccessible areas. These two come together at some point and he drives a toy buggy and it was fun in the beginning to realize that a rat is twice my size and I felt like its dinner. A little harder in the toy-status are the fights and it’s better to avoid the normal sized enemies (mini-Duke also comes with mini-damage). Yet regardless of how big you are, driving the monster truck is a pain in the keyboard and the levels in ghost town, highway and desert felt too long and forcibly prolonged. I got you the first time around guys, American cars have a really low mileage, you didn’t have to give me the “Out of Gas” message three times.
Aliens must die. That much I knew and there are 11 guns to choose from, out of which you can only carry around … two! This might go for realistic shooters, but Duke was never a real soldier, he was a parody of super-heroes; and if he can bench press so much, why can’t he carry all the weapons? At least the slaughter would have been better and maybe I would’ve been more willing to forgive some bad parts.
The arsenal isn’t surprising at all, from pistol and shotgun to alien weaponry, like the Enforcer or the Captain Laser. Then there’s the RPG (or the Devastator in the end) for bosses that can’t be killed otherwise. And you’ll spend quite some time searching for ammo for the launcher; fortunately, most of the boss battles take place near an ammo crate, so all you have to do is be efficient at dodging bullets. For a more “complex” gameplay, Duke also has Pipe Bombs and Trip Mines, for remote attacks, plus a distraction called Holoduke.
The Shrink Ray and Freeze Ray are special: the first one shrinks enemies so that you can crush them and avoid wasting ammo, while the second freezes them (totally unexpected, I know). Since the health (Ego) regenerates by itself, during the levels you get more Ego by doing trivial things: admire yourself in the mirror, watching sexy magazines and movies or making popcorn. As nutritional supplements not recommended by his doctor, Duke has beer and steroids at his disposal and I’m sure that the condom machines in the bathrooms have a purpose too, even though the game doesn’t live up to itself in those terms.
And that’s actually stupid when you have a hero that takes women for sexual dolls: there are, like, three “hot” scenes and they aren’t even good. I saw better virtual sex in The Witcher or even Mass Effect, plus I have a problem with the game’s attitude, as a woman. Yeah, I know, it’s Duke, that’s who he is, but I also know that the macho style went out of fashion some 10+ years ago, which leaves DNF as an unfitting exaggeration.