Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Duke Nukem Forever Review

Duke Nukem Forever arriving in my mailbox in a retail released, legitimate, non-pirated or leaked form is something I never though I would see. Surely the code existed and would be spirited away from the now defunct 3D Realms to be released into the wild, but I never expected anyone to pick of the pieces and finish the game. Gearbox took up the challenge, and I don't know if the pieces that they had to work with were just way past their prime or if they changed the 'get it done' philosophy of its originator to a more modern 'get that thing our the door regardless of how close it is to being finished,' but Duke Nukem Forever is a lot like traveling into your past to revisit your first time having sex: sure, the boobs are nicer than they are now but everything else is more than a little embarrassing and you certainly have done it better since.

America, fuck yeah!
If you take the time and effort to separate Duke Nukem the 'game' from Duke Nukem the 'aesthetic,' one of two come out of this decade plus long drama looking pretty good. Here's a hint, it's not the one about if the game is fun to play or not. You would not think that making a game that is crass, sexist, gory and funny all at the same time would be difficult, but striking a balance between juvenile/funny and juvenile/annoying is a difficult thing. Duke is juvenile, hitting all the notes that a person who giggles at the mention of the word 'boobies' would hope for, but it is also funny in ways that betray a separate intention, that of parodying the jingoistic machismo that oozes from other shooters. It also manages to poke fun at a lot of little things that happened in the game world during its long development, my favorite being Duke quipping 'power armor is for pussies' after passing up an exact replica of the Master Chief's getup.

There is also the possibility that I have exaggerated much of the last paragraph up in an attempt to justify wasting several hours of my life on a game whose high point was exceptional breast physics, and low point was every other time that I touched the controller.

Dissecting a game into its various parts is a fun exercise, but what matters is how much fun it is to play when everything, all the bad and all the good, are mashed together. Duke, as the shooter it either is or is making fun of, just isn't any fun. It is an awkward mash up of new and old ideas that interfere with each other most of the time. For example, Duke no longer requires health packs. His ego (which can be bolstered by interacting with the environment, the one thing that was new and worked well) serves a his shield/magically rejuvenating health. Add that to old school enemies that can kill you in one or two hits regardless of the size of your ego and Duke finds himself jumping from cover to cover, shooting a few rockets and then running away in a manner exactly opposite to balls of steel. Oh, and sometimes there is no cover, in which case you just die often.

Then you wait for the level to load which can take longer than it will take you to die again.

I do worse than kill you, I waste your time.
All of the weapons from Duke Nukem 3D are back, but you can only carry two at a time. I ended up running through 90% of the game with a rocket launcher and machine gun because that would take care of most situations. Experimenting was not possible because other weapons just didn't have enough ammo (the sniper rifle) or you had to be able to smell the pig cop's breath before it would do any damage (the shotgun). Others just didn't work at all, like the shrink ray or freeze gun and the default pistol did laughable damage. Weapons being boring in a shooter is difficult to forgive, especially when that is all you see of yourself when playing the game.

Everything else is right out of the 'this is how you make an M rated FPS checklist. Bosses? Check, but you can only hurt them with one of your weapons, so make sure you have it on you at all times. Underwater level? Check, but it is quite difficult to control what is going on, there is precious little ammo to be had, and there is one of those bosses you can only hurt with one weapon at the end. False ending and loud voice acting? Check; the only person who sounds like he is having a good time here is Jon St. John, and who can blame him for relishing in the Duke-ness of things when one of his other gigs is a narration on Legoland theme parks. Nudity? Check, and excessive, but anyone who expects political correctly in a Duke Nukem game is really missing the point.

Duke is embarrassed for you. Really. 
It is difficult to find fault with Gearbox, in spite of how terrible the game is. No one knows what they had to work with. I get the feeling that this was done just so Gearbox could add 'released Duke Nukem Forever after over 11 years of development' to its resume. They have a keen sense of history, including previous E3 videos and screen shots of old versions to remind the player how far the game has come. Duke Nukem Forever did indeed come a long way, but so has the genre. So have videogames in general. Duke's time is past, his game is bad, and his attitude is no longer amusing.

The first achievement I unlocked was called 'turd burglar.'  I got it doing exactly what is sounds like, and it was definitely appropriate. 

No comments:

Post a Comment