This review is a figment of your imagination. Duke Nukem Forever has not been released and you're still dreaming of the glory days. Until a copy of this game is physically in your hand, that's what you'll be thinking. In 1997, when development began on Duke Nukem Forever, the industry predicted something wonderful. In 2011, the industry predicted something of tremendous nostalgic value, and a lesson in the laws of traditional gameplay. And that's exactly what you're getting with Duke Nukem Forever, it's an old game with old rules, running on a new console. His presence has been sorely missed, his political incorrectness has become taboo, and his humour has become too crude for the public. But he doesn't care, and why should he? Mr. Nukem has risen up out of the ashes and into modern life, bringing with him almost fourteen years worth of development.
Duke Nukem Forever is a landmark moment for this industry. The fact that you can walk into a shop and buy this game is remarkable, and we have Gearbox Software to thank for saving what could have, once upon a time, been a great game. It's significant because Duke is a legendary figure, fondly remembered and adored by a legion of gamers. But that was over a decade ago, and our industry is now barely recognisable. Have you ever watched a movie where somebody goes to prison and emerges into society years later, feeling alienated and alone? Well, that's the impression you get from Duke Nukem Forever, a game that feels very out of place in the current generation. Duke mightn't care about what we think of him, but the public ought to know that his comeback isn't worth losing sleep over.
Two vital components in Duke Nukem Forever are simply outdated, and there's not much that Gearbox Software could have done to improve them. Graphics are the first victim, and there's no point beating around the bush here, this game looks bloody awful. The textures are terribly bland (sometimes not rendering properly), the animation is robotic and stiff, and all of the fancy effects look substandard. At best, Duke Nukem Forever looks like a launch title for the Xbox 360. Click on a screenshot, now multiply the muddiness by ten. You're getting closer. It's obvious why it looks so nasty, and Gearbox can't be blamed for inheriting a bucket full of withered Nukem, but it just doesn't hold up well. The frame rate can be shockingly bad too, and Duke Nukem Forever really doesn't have what it takes to compete with even the cheapest of shooters these days.
Although it's lacking several layers of polish, the reason for releasing Duke Nukem Forever has nothing to do with eye-catching visuals. What makes Duke so much fun is his personality, the man is genuinely hilarious. The humour is fantastic throughout, tongue in cheek, and he basically gives a big middle finger to the rest of the industry. Need a key to open a door? Hell no! Rip that thing open. Need a suit of special armour (identical to the one found in Halo)? HELL NO! Duke Nukem Forever could well be the most traditional game of this generation, and his no-nonsense antics are an absolute delight. The game is full of mature content: alcohol, drugs, sex, drugs, lesbians, alcohol, and lesbians. Yes it's offensive, yes it's crude, and yes you will laugh out loud. Not many games will do that anymore, but Duke Nukem Forever keeps on doing it. The attention to detail is non-existent in the visual department, instead all of the little details are found in references to the culture surrounding the Nukem franchise, and that's commendable.
You're not playing Duke Nukem Forever with a strong story in mind, despite the dialogue being fantastic; this is unadulterated, alien stomping fun. Well...that's what everyone was expecting. In reality, Duke Nukem Forever handles poorly. You control the lovable bastard just like any other shooter, with the added bonus of being able to urinate, get wasted, and throw poo at enemies. Otherwise, it's bog standard. All you have to do is follow the route and shoot anything that moves, primarily aliens. A few interesting set-pieces definitely help the pacing, but otherwise it's run-and-gun gameplay. The weapons here are one of Duke's better qualities, and they're all powerful. Shoot the enemy up close with a shotgun and they fall, there's no need to worry about unloading a full clip to kill something. That's a box ticked, but then for whatever stupid reason, Duke Nukem Forever copies the repetitive, button mashing garbage of this generation. Force open a door, mash the button. Get locked in by a warthog, mash the button. Duke didn't need to stoop so low.
Arguably the most saddening aspect of Duke Nukem Forever is the gameplay, and it's mostly weak. The guns might be effective, but using them is a far more clunky experience. Moving around the environment feels awkward, unnatural, and the enemies struggle too. Artificial intelligence is clumsy, not diabolical, but seeing enemies running into stationary objects is always concerning. We're willing to cut slack in certain areas, especially given the troubled history of Duke Nukem Forever and its legacy. But when that area is gameplay? You've got to approach Duke as you would any other shooter, it's only fair, and to be honest...Duke Nukem Forever is one of the most unpolished, unwieldy shooters in recent memory. Brutal executions are a nice touch, only to be ruined with flimsy mechanics. The banal shooting is broken up with vehicle sections, and they're not too shabby. But in all honesty, this is an extremely average game, masked by Duke's side-splitting humour.
The campaign in Duke Nukem Forever is considerably longer than your typical five hour shooter. Hidden easter eggs are scattered all over the place and exploration is rewarded with more laughter, and since that's the only true selling point, you may as well search for every joke. The single-player side of things is made longer with dreadful loading times, and you'll be forced to sit through them whenever you die. When the aliens have been flushed down the toilet, a horrendous multiplayer component is your final destination. Currently, it's a tad broken. You spawn, you die, you repeat the process. During a standard midget free-for-all, we were constantly spawned in the line of enemy fire. On the rare occasion when we caught a break and ran wild, environmental kills were the only saving grace. They're satisfying, whereas everything else is an ungraceful mess. And for a game that was supposed to deliver enjoyable, bare bones gameplay, that's a huge disappointment.
Duke Nukem Forever, after all this time, is not a success story. Nor is it a complete disaster. Gearbox had a difficult job of salvaging this game, and their efforts are appreciated, but the overall quality of the product was never in their hands. Do you know the Humpty Dumpty rhyme? Take away that name, and replace it with Duke Nukem. He had a great fall and Gearbox did everything in their power to put the pieces back together, but the cracks were too big and Duke Nukem Forever was never the same again. In the end, the Duke's return is bittersweet, serving as a great example of how much the industry has progressed. We still love him, but he deserves better.