So how bad is Duke Nukem Forever (2011)


For a good while, Duke Nukem Forever was the eternity project a lot of people were eagerly expecting to hit the market. It was a fabled project, which was always coming out sometime soon and when it would come out, it would show all the other FPS games what the genre really is about. At times things that take a long time to get completed can obtain a certain amount of mythical qualities. And for that same reason, I'm sure Valve will never release another Half-Life game, as nothing they'll do can live up to the expectations of the fanbase. But this ain't about Half-Life, this is about Duke Nukem Forever, which was finally released in 2011, mere 14 years after it was first announced. If you know anything about DNF, it's the thing it was met with the high amount of criticism, gaining mostly mediocre to negative reviews. Not that many people were happy about it, but how bad is it really. I think it's time to see for myself.

Originally DNF was announced in 1997, soon after it's predecessor Duke Nukem 3D had been released in 1996. After a long development period, during which DNF was at times demoed at conventions in some form or an another, the development of the game was finally given to Gearbox Software, as 3D Realms had run out of money. And so in 2011, Gearbox finally showed Duke back in the world. The gamers weren't falling head over heels for it though. But again, was it really that bad of a game?

The short answer is, I guess, yes and no. DNF it's not particularly great game, but at the same time, it's not as bad as, say,  Aliens: Colonial Marines. The biggest flaw of DNF really is, that it's too little too late. Many iterations passed before DNF came out and when it did, nothing about it feels particularly novel or exciting.

Some random EDF guy. These ones usually drop like flies, because they ain't the Duke.
The 14 years DNF was in production saw a lot of changes to the game itself. What started as a straight forwarded followup to a hit game turned into a project, which kept changing along the ride, as the developers noticed new advancements in the FPS genre. Not only did all this effect on the gameplay, it affected also on the game engine, which ended up changed multiple times, as well as the graphics, which were upgraded along with it.

This time around Duke can't haul along all the weapons of the game but at maximum only 4 at the time. There's also some amount of finisher moves, which insta heal Duke. Then there are boss battles, which require Duke to finish off gigantic monsters. Duke also talks more and in general DNF tries to convey more plot than the previous Duke 3D did, but it all still revolves around 80's and 90's action movie cliches, which generally speaking is the strongest aspect of the game: it's an unapologetic retro  throwback, albeit not as successful one as Blood Dragon is.

The plot is what you'd expect: Duke is the toughest son of a bitch around. He takes no flack from no aliens and after the president of U.S.A. is fooled into peace negotiations with the aliens, Duke quickly smells that something is rotten in the world. Sure enough, the alien bastards start kidnapping the women and sending in troops to clear out Duke, who's the only man between them and the world domination.  Quickly enough Duke grabs his gear again and heads out to save the day.

Graves is the biggest cheerleader of Duke's. 

The gameplay is the biggest disappointment of the game. To a game like DNF, it would have been better to let the player haul as many guns as needed and not restrict that. Also, the level design is very linear and as such, they aren't even very large maps. Duke has most of the time only one way to go and the exploration of levels is mostly about running to one end of a corridor to an another, while the route is clearly marked so that you could do it even with your monitor turned off.

DNF has some amount of extended interactivity within the levels though, as there are a couple of physics-based puzzles here and there. But all these are relatively heavily scripted and advancement from point A to B always happens in the same manner. While it's nice to see that kind of a touch in the game, nothing about the actual execution of those said puzzles is very clever nor challenging.

Combat is most of the time pretty bland and the weapons don't really feel that exciting. In all, DNF really feels more like a mediocre mess, that was hastily cobbled together by Gearbox after they got their hands on the assets and design work 3D Realms left behind. I'm not fully blaming Gearbox about that, albeit it needs to be acknowledged that they did similarly botch Aliens: Colonel Marines, which felt similarly bland and uninteresting concoction of bad gameplay and poorly done AI, topped with a horrible abortion of a script. Most of the blame is on 3D Realms I'd reckon, as DNF of today most likely is a completed version of what they were building before the money ran out. If it's not, then 3D Realms was working on the almost unparalleled level of incompetence, as I'd assume that after 14 years you'd have something to show for it, no matter what quality.

The president isn't the biggest fan of the Duke.
I do believe there might have been a good version of DNF in existence at some point. If it had been released in the early 2000's, it could have had a possibility to become as well recalled game as Duke 3D is, but in the end that didn't happen. Ultimately the lax handed project management ended up producing a game that seems to lack a vision of its own. Mostly it feels like a game that is trying desperately to compete with everything else instead of trying to create something new and trusting its own strengths. While DNF has its humour and attitude, it severally lacks in everything else. It does very little else but apes up tricks from other titles, but at the same time, it doesn't really dare to be an entity of its own like Duke 3D was in the midst of almost plotless FPS games with silent characters who did nothing else but kill.

Fully based on the trailers DNF has as its extras, I can't help but feel the game 3D Realms was developing in 2001-2003 would have been the best version of DNF. Of course, those trailers don't really tell how much of a game there was back then, but that version at least seemed to have more interesting level design and the action looked pretty sweet all in all.

So, how bad is Duke Nukem Forever? Well... it's not as bad as Aliens: Colonial Marines is, but it also isn't anything spectacular either. It's an FPS game that isn't particularly exciting nor does it do anything that stands out in comparison to other titles. In a word, it's pretty mediocre and forgettable. And that's pretty much it. In a sense, the game that ended up being published was a relic in the same way its main character is. But unlike the characters 80's aesthetics, those old game mechanics don't necessarily come out as fun. In the end, the style DNF tries to have or should have had, was done much better in Far Cry spin-off Blood Dragon, so go play that instead.

If you want DNF, you can get it from Steam. With some patience, you can get it fairly cheap during sales or through bundles, like Humble Bundle. You aren't missing much though.

Sadly that never happened.



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