ALWAYS BET ON DUKE. Also: Don’t forget to check this link for updated bits and pieces to this review.
All throughout this week I’ve been in a bit of a daze over DNF. Every day I’d go “This isn’t really happening.” Even when I had the game in my hands, I still didn’t think it was happening. My local retailer broke the street date by 8 hours (realistically speaking) so I rushed my PC copy home, only to sit here and stare at Steam steadfastly sticking to the official release date. So while the 360 and PS3 gamers played DNF, I sat there watching the clock. And after watching the clock, Steam decided to screw up and refused to download the additional 100MB that contained the binaries and other assorted bits and pieces. So finally, at 0045 on the 10th of June, 2011, I got to play Duke Nukem Forever. The biggest joke in the industry is finally over. Nobody thought this day would come. “It doesn’t exist!” they told us. “It’s never coming out!” They were wrong. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. DNF has come out. It’s a real game, with a box and gameplay and everything. What’s our next joke going to be? HL2 Episode 3? I don’t know!
Of course reviewing a game like DNF is challenging. The game has been in development for 12 years, which it freely acknowledges. On the one hand, expectations are high. We’ve waited 12 years for a true sequel to DN3D, so we’re expecting something big. On the other hand, nothing that’s been in development for 12 freakin’ years could possibly live up to the expectations. The fact is that no matter what happened with the game, you will be disappointed in some respects. That’s not to say that DNF is a bad game, just that no matter how hard Gearbox or 3D Realms or the legion of others tried to live up to your expectations, they can’t. There will be things that you don’t like. The game is going to cop a LOT of flak over the next few weeks simply because people (like with Doom 3) will pick apart every single aspect of it and run it into the ground, ignoring anything good about it. For a bit of perspective, I’ve been a fan of Duke Nukem since Duke Nukum, the sidescrolling platformer that started it all. I love Duke Nukem 3D. My friends and I used to play it ALL the time. I was in grade 3 when it came out (born in 1988 for those keeping track at home) and for a bunch of primary school kids, Duke was the shit. Once we’d played it from end to end, we started learning how to use BUILD and started making maps. They were all terrible, but that’s not the point. Point is that I’m a big fan of Duke Nukem, and I’ve played plenty of the console spin-offs like Time to Kill, and the PC spin-off Manhattan Project. They’re Duke games, but they’re still not successors to Duke Nukem 3D. DNF was the one we were waiting for. And now it’s here.
The storyline of DNF is pretty easy to wrap your head around. Duke’s been on vacation for 12 years, nowhere to be found. He’s a megastar, a huge celebrity. Everyone wants a piece of Duke. Duke’s face is on practically everything you can find. Duke is back now though, chilling in Vegas. There’s one problem: the aliens are back. The original aliens from DN3D that is. They’ve got a giant mothership floating over LA. The President warns Duke not to interfere, stating that the fight that happened 12 years ago should be avoided, and that he’s in talks with the Cycloid Emperor about cooperation. General Graves, the hard-bitten General who actually makes a brief appearance in DN3D’s Atomic Edition, warns Duke not to cause trouble but to be on alert. The aliens of course attack and start stealing our chicks, and Duke has to put the boot up a few asses to put things right. That’s pretty much all the story that Duke needs to start blowing things up. It’s not deep, it’s not meaningful, it’s not remotely plausible. But it does directly continue from DN3D and DNF references DN3D several times. It’s a true continuation of the story.
Right from the outset it’s worth mentioning that you’ll be playing with most of your friends from DN3D; Octabrains, Enforcers, Assault Troopers and Captains, Assault Commander, and of course the PigCops, who wear various bits and pieces of EDF uniforms. They all pretty much perform as they did in DN3D; Assault Troopers use their jetpacks, Captains teleport around, the Octabrain still has its mind blast attack, and Assault Commanders still shit out rockets and have their spinning blades. The Battlelord also returns as a boss encounter. There are some new tricks with the old enemies, but for the most part things are more or less as you remember them. There are a few new enemies, like baby octabrains, but for the most part you’ll be fighting the old cast. It’s the same guys as last time after all.
Gameplay is pretty much what you’d expect from a modern Duke Nukem shooter… more or less. The first few minutes of the game (which can take up to 20 minutes if you’re playing with everything in sight) are spent walking around and getting an idea of what’s been going on. Interactivity returns in DNF. Yes, you can turn on showers and taps, admire yourself in the mirror, and toss turds around. But there’s more than that – you can put popcorn in a microwave and cook it, then eat it. You can play pool. You can play pinball. Duke can lift weights and hit a punching bag. There are lots of things to just monkey around with. Some of this serves a purpose; they increase Duke’s Ego (read: health) by a tiny amount. For the most part they’re just fun to play with. Hearing Duke yell “Shit!” as he screws up a shot while playing pool made me smile, as did sticking the aforementioned popcorn into the microwave, or eating all the donuts backstage. If you were worried that there’d be nothing to play with outside of a few physics props, don’t be.
The gunplay is fairly decent with a few issues. Firstly anyone who was hoping that the two weapon limit wasn’t set in stone should cut their throat now. It’s in the game, like the rest of us knew it would be. Duke can carry two weapons only, pipebombs and tripmines not included. And yes, it’s a pain in the ass. If they absolutely had to set a limit, it should have been 3; the pistol, something else, and an explosive or special weapon. There are LOTS of times where I’ve wanted to carry the RPG along with the shotgun and pistol, but I can’t. And this is a pain in the ass because bosses are only hurt by explosives or turrets, and sometimes there are other enemies hanging around that need to be dispatched. You’ve lost one weapon to the RPG, which you absolutely NEED to kill the boss. That leaves you with one other weapon. To get an achievement I kept the pistol. I also did it out of a sense of nostalgia, and the pistol is actually fairly decent. This just made the 2 weapon limit much, much worse though. I don’t think it can be modded, but then again I’m not certain either. Some weapons work like they did in DN3D; the shotgun and Ripper are back and work like they did 12 years ago. Some others, like the Shrink Ray, are borderline useless. The biggest problem with the Shrink Ray is that to squish the enemy, you have to look down at them and run over them. It’s a pain in the ass, especially when they’re still combat effective when shrunk! DN3D didn’t do that! Once the enemy was shrunk they had to scurry around ineffectually. In DNF, they can still hurt you. What a shame, I loved the Shrink Ray in DN3D. The new weapon is the Railgun, a stock-standard sniper rifle.
The environments are fantastic. They are exactly what you’d want from a Duke game. They’re filled with little details, many of which you can play with, which makes the place seem like a real, living city. Gearbox/3D Realms/whoever did this had a good idea of what made DN3D’s environments so special; they look like real places, not just a bunch of rooms. Even modern games sometimes fall into this trap; there are lots of places in Half Life 2 for example which are completely bare, just a load of brushes with an occasional console or chair or table hanging around. DNF’s environments have lots of clutter kicking around, lots of details plastered on the walls, and good skyboxes. Some areas are a tad bit uninspired (The Hive area in particular seems a bit off and doesn’t match up too closely with what we saw in DN3D) but the city areas are absolutely spot on. There’s a lot of bitching about graphics and environments, but I’m just not seeing the problem. I think everyone’s crying because it’s not Crysis with Duke (it wasn’t meant to be) and they’ve seen these environments before in previews. News flash guys, we’ve known for 12 years that DNF will be in Vegas, and it will also be in a desert. If you didn’t know that and you watched all the trailers, you’re blind.
Textures range from good to passable. There are some textures which seem to lack definition. It’s probably the product of a game that’s been in production for 12 years with some assets that have slipped through the cracks and just weren’t updated in time for the release. There’s nothing that sticks out as being absolutely terrible, and there aren’t any instances where these slightly blurry textures seriously detract from the game. Character models have good detail and for the most part are very well animated. There are a few bugs with Pigcop jumping animations though. The Octabrain in particular looks awesome. It’s great seeing all the old enemies come back in a modern game. DNF won’t stand out as the next Crysis, but nothing ever does these days except Crysis (even Crysis 2 was a bit of a step backwards in some respects). Performance was fantastic on my PC, but I’ve got a reasonably high end machine (i7 920, 6GB RAM, GTX570, Win7 x64) so I’d expect it to run well. Reports from around the internet seem to suggest that performance is good across the board. I didn’t encounter any annoying mouse acceleration or smoothing issues, no weird performance glitches, or anything else that suggests that the PC version is a dodgy console port. There’s no auto-aim for the mouse either, only 360 controllers that you’ve plugged into your PC. I don’t know for certain, but I’ve heard tell that the 360 port is the inferior one of the lot. At least I hear more bitching from that camp than any other. In any case, DNF works extremely well on the PC, to the point where it only looks like elements of the menu were ported from the console, if a port was done at all.
There are a few issues with the graphical effects though. Firstly, the mirrors (the unshattered ones) look terrible. They’re very low resolution and very blurry. Shattered mirrors look awesome. Intact ones? Not so much. Also the depth of field effect is friggin’ horrible. Distant objects can be blurred to shit, as if Duke’s a camera with a fixed focal point a few meters ahead. Sometimes they game focuses in on something entirely different from what you intended to look at. I’d love to turn it off, but there’s no option to turn of only DoF effects. I hope there’s a way to turn it off because it ruins the game’s visuals a lot of the time and serves no real purpose. It should only be triggered for the zoom-aim thing, not always on!
Duke’s smart-mouth is back. Some of the jokes fall a little flat but for the most part it’s exactly as it was in DN3D. If you liked it in DN3D you’ll like it in DNF. If it doesn’t float your boat, then this won’t convince you. DNF abounds with plenty of pop-culture references, both from the 90s and more recent times. There’s nothing new or smart or intelligent or thought-provoking in DNF; it’s a stock-standard shooter with an arrogant asshole in jeans and a red tank top for a hero. It doesn’t take itself seriously. It makes no attempt to be the best game ever. It’s just Duke shooting aliens, and at the end of the day, that’s all it was ever going to be about. All of the high-society “Games are art” people who stroke each other over shadow-puppet indie platformers won’t be interested and will continue to call the game childish and outdated. But they’re not the target audience. The target audience are fans of Duke. Which makes the decision for 2 weapons all the more curious. But that’s not entirely Gearbox’s fault. It’s quite obvious that DNF follows the original 3D Realms plan (such as it is) and didn’t undergo drastic changes during development. Gearbox seems mostly concerned with ensuring the game got finished and was brought to all platforms (no, Mac and Linux don’t count, neither does the Wii), so if you’re pissed about decisions like it, it might be best to verify who actually came up with the idea first.
I didn’t try out the multiplayer mode, because… well, I’m not expecting it to be anything special. Let’s also briefly talk about mods and DLC. Yes, there’s going to be an explosion of DLC for DNF. You can guarantee that. Is that a bad thing? Maybe. Is the game moddable? Most probably yes, but to what extent though I’m not certain. There is a DLL in the game’s folder called EDITOR.DLL and given that it’s an Unreal engine game you’d expect it to be moddable, but I don’t know for certain how far it can go. One thing I will point out is that anybody who expected an updated BUILD to ship with the game is kidding themselves; BUILD was entirely different, the BUILD engine was sector based just like Doom, and there is no way the simplicity of BUILD could be put into a modern game. If you think Hammer is too hard, then you won’t be able to cope with making maps for DNF, if such an option exists. Fair warning, troopers.
It’s classic Duke, with a few new twists. It matches up fairly well with DN3D. Points off for the two weapon limit though, that’s just total bullshit and extremely frustrating, but I’m not sure who to blame for that one just yet. There wasn’t a time I thought to myself that I wasn’t playing a Duke game. Yes, it’s different, but most of the changes are good.
It’s been in development hell for a long time so parts will look dated. Hell, STALKER only had decent lighting, the rest of it looked like shit on release (and ran like shit too). There are some dodgy textures, and the DoF effect is insane, but on the whole it’s graphically competent, at least on par with current games.
Duke’s voice acting is great. The audio is fine. I can’t think of any complaints at all.
I’m tentatively giving it a 1 because the game is of pretty decent length, there are 50 achievements to work your way through, and there are at least 15 new SP maps coming in as DLC. Whether this one deserves to keep its score of 1 will depend on whether or not the community can map for it, and if they can, whether or not they actually will. Traditionally SP mapping boomed on sector-based engines and in the early days of 3D games, but since Doom 3/HL2 SP mapping has dropped off almost entirely, mostly because people expect mods these days, and modifications are slowly being dropped in favour of making your own game in Unity or something. I honestly don’t expect the DNF mapping scene to be big (or to even exist, to be honest).
OVERALL: 8/10 GOOD!
Duke Nukem Forever can best be described as a highly competent shooter with fun gameplay and classic Duke action. It is not revolutionary. It is nothing new. It has suffered for its 12 years in development. There are people who will bitch about every single aspect of it. There are people who will tell you that it’s the worst game ever. This was going to happen regardless of whether DNF had better graphics, 10 weapons, or sent high class prostitutes around to your house as a pre-order bonus. It was NEVER going to live up to the hype. But it does play good, it is a fun game, and there is a lot to like here. So long as you sit back and enjoy the ride, you’ll have fun. And that’s all this is about; having fun. It’s like Bulletstorm with a 90s hero. My 23 year old oh-so-serious grim persona shakes his head at the childish jokes, but that primary school kid who grew up with Doom and Duke doesn’t give a shit and just plays through the game without caring.
Whether or not it’s worth the asking price is up to you, but I will say that the demo doesn’t do the game justice. It’s not even close. About the closest it comes is that very first opening segment. Personally, I like DNF. I’d given up hope after all these years, but I’m pleased with DNF. It’s not flawless, but it’s good. And really if you’re out to hate it from the get-go, there’s no hope of you liking it anyway.
Don’t forget to check this link for updated bits and pieces to this review.