Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Duke Nukem Forever: A Long-Overdue Review

Obnoxious Catchphrase! Giant dudebro wannabe alpha male wank fest! Jones reviews DNF!

During the Christmas Steam sale, I decided to pull a prank on KGB. I bought a bunch of copies of Duke Nukem Forever, as the fact that it was selling for a tenth of its original retail price struck me as a hilarious indication of its lack of quality and I thought it a good way to spread around a little digital coal. After all, we had all read the reviews and had laughed quite a bit at the spectacle.

How I wish I had left it at that.

Deciding that it was rather ill-natured of me to criticize a game I hadn’t even played, one day I decided to boot up DNF to see for myself what the game was like. I will readily admit I went into this with preconceived notions of how the game would be, but I really hoped to be wrong. I hoped that all of the critical reviews were hyperbole, and that DNF would be like Duke Nukem 3D made for modern hardware. So, while some can claim bias, know that I really wanted this game to be good.

While I wasn’t expecting Battlefield 3 graphics, I was expecting something quite a bit more polished, given the way DNF was passed off as a AAA $50 title. To say the graphics are mediocre would be unwarranted: while the creatures look pretty good, the humans are all kinds of uncanny valley wrong. Walking animations are bad, especially anything female in the game; faces have a certain wrongness to them, especially the child faces; and I’ve seen bad foreign film dubs with more convincing lip synching. The intro cinematic recap of Duke 3D before the menu is the most stylish and entertaining part of DNF.


Duke Nukem 3D was a touchstone for first person shooters. Lots of weapons, lots of secrets, and lots of enemies; in addition, many objects were interactive, such as working lights one could shoot out, water faucets, toilets, and strippers. DNF attempts to capture this, but by rote imitation rather than innovation. As many other reviewers have noted, DNF reaches in too many different directions to excel in any:

There’s a working pool table!
And you can lift weights!
And you can punch a punching bag!
And there’s a pinball game!
And if you do well enough, we’ll add to Duke’s Ego(HP)!
And so on.

While the first time was cute (and I had more fun than I’m comfortable admitting attempting to polish the bathroom in the first level with a turd), none of the mini-games or interactive objects are particularly well designed or thought out. One cannot even shoot out the lights, which was possible in DN3D.

How corny

But beyond feeble attempts at recapturing the charm of its predecessor, DNF rather obviously ‘borrows’ elements from many other points in the evolution of the FPS genre which arose during its torturous development history. It’s readily apparent the developers would see a game do well and attempt to cull elements from that game which the developers thought made the game successful; such is how Duke went from carrying an entire arsenal to four weapons – and that’s double the original weapon capacity. Duke Nukem is not nor ever should be a tactical shooter, and when coupled with the low ammo pools, having so few weapon slots contributes to the wild swings in difficulty. Even on easy, it was one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had in games. It’s readily apparent that DNF would have greatly benefited from more extensive (or rather, existent) playtesting. Coupled with symptoms of consolitis (Checkpoints without any quick save?! Really?!) and bad level design, the game comes off as half-baked, which it is. Oh, and Duke runs like a 60 year old fat man with a bad hip.

Also, who riverdances?

Are you one of those people who misses “Mind of Mencia”? Did you think that “Meet the Spartans” was hilarious, and that references to the idea of jokes are enough? Have you suffered massive head trauma causing you to believe the year is currently 2008? Are you one of those people who sing “America, Fuck Yeah” without any sense of the irony of the song? Are you a misogynist?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you’re terrible and you would love this terrible game.
Like “Mind of Mencia”, DNF ‘borrows’ not only gameplay attributes from other games, but whole jokes and lines wholesale from better sources, particularly the character “Ash” from the Evil Dead series. While Duke has long been noted to have been very similar to Ash, lines are now lifted verbatim without even the paltry effort to jumble the words around.

Like “Meet the Spartans”, most of the ‘jokes’ in DNF are actually references to memes or movies. After the third time hearing “Porkchop Sandwiches” after dispatching a pig cop, I found myself missing silent protagonists. Additionally, if that example didn’t make it obvious enough, most of the reference-non-jokes reference material from 2008 or older, making the effort seem forced and dated.

Additionally, DNF is jingoistic and misogynist. In more capable hands, this could have been handled in a way that was clever and tongue in cheek – a satire of such concepts. This game, however, is nowhere near clever enough for that. The twins who are more or less associated with Duke in the start of the game (an aside: the ‘babes’ in this game have less sex appeal than the two week old corpse of a seventy year old hooker) are later found by Duke having been impregnated by aliens. Oh yeah, spoiler alert.

Anyway, the twins protest that they are too young to be pregnant, and then promise Duke that they’ll get back to a reasonable weight. At about that point the aliens burst through them, killing Duke’s…love interests, I guess? (Is there a better term for that? Fuck-buddies of the week? Incest pals? Help me out, editor) Duke’s response to this could best be termed as mild irritation, followed by indifference. From that point forward, it’s in the player’s best interest to off any such captured woman before she pops, which releases small enemy mobs at Duke. While a somewhat similar scenario occurred in DN3D, the way it’s handled in DNF, with the dialogue from the victims, brings DNF to a new low.

Ahahahaha haha ha hah.

Duke Nukem Forever was doomed from the start, and will go down as a case study in how the perfect is the enemy of the good (also a perfect example of why to avoid putting references with a brief shelf life in your video game). Had this game been released back in 2008 it would have been passable, if still priced too high. Had 3D Realms released a finished game within five years of having announced it they would not have become the defunct laughing stock they are now.

But for all its history, for all its faults, one stands above the others: Duke Nukem Forever commits the cardinal sin of gaming – it isn’t fun. I wanted this game to be good, to defy expectations, to even in the slightest way be a good throwback to Duke3d. Instead I found playing this to be a chore. Bad level design, bad gunplay, bad game design decisions, and bad writing make this game cringe-worthy. The king may be back, but he’s in the fat Elvis stage and it remains to be seen if Gearbox can salvage this character from his current ignominious state.


Jones should have played something else.


  1. Well said!

    That being said, I still haven't accepted your "gift" of DNF... not sure what to do with that. I fear it may infect my otherwise great steam library.

  2. I dont think this game deserves this good of a review.

  3. Coming from the author of 'OH GOD WHY', that's quite an honor, sir.


  4. thanks again for the christmas gift jones! *blows brains out*