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An Hour with Duke Nukem Forever Means I Have to Write This Review

Duke Nukem in the original 1991 game

Image via Wikipedia

Duke Nukem Forever (DNF) is at currently at 48.13% on Game Rankings http://www.gamerankings.com/xbox360/944794-duke-nukem-forever/index.html.

On Game Rankings, I consider 75% a solid game, and 80% a good game. Games that get 48% are like movies that get 10% on Rotten Tomatoes – there is no amount of fandom that can excuse them. 25-35% movies can be dumb but entertaining, but 10% means you wasted not only the time of people who watched the movie, but also all of those who worked on the movie. Everyone can genuinely feel ashamed.

As Duke himself notes in the game, however, this game’s development took 12 years! That is a lot of shame going around, and yet, though I had seen the reviews, I thought I could ignore them. But they were right. And this is why:

  • DNF looks better in screenshots than it does in reality. The framerate sucks; it’s certainly not a stable 30 fps even in basic encounters.
  • It doesn’t control well, the shooting action isn’t smooth, and it’s not a game that’s easy to play. Aiming, even while standing, even with autoaim, is a tremendous chore. I thought that at worse, Forever would be an exaggerated version of Duke Nukem 3D with simple (old school mechanics) but straightforward gameplay and older graphics. Instead, DNF is incredibly slow to load (and expect loading screens for every 5 minutes of gameplay), hard to control, and filled with time wasting requirements. Why force the player to get 3 energy rods instead of 1 to move on? Why force the player to drive an RC car that’s stuck behind a room when Duke, in theory, should be able to blast it and break it open? Why force the player to press X to open doors (and there are a lot of them) instead of just opening them directly? Because that’s good gameplay, or is it just wasting a player’s time?
  • In Masters of Doom, a book about the start of ID Software and the guys who created Doom / Quake / Rage, one of the things I remember is that John Romero’s game design was based on “That’s cool! Wouldn’t it be great if we put it in the game?” Almost like that was his criteria – cool idea means put it in the game. I’ve wondered if this is why he was never able to replicate his Doom success. What worked for Doom came from 1) great technology 2) but also a simpler, less sophisticated gamer. You could put things in that were cool because the core gameplay was simple. But as gaming become more sophisticated, I think you needed better depth in design, and I wonder if that was Romero’s problem. He was stuck on his checklist of cool when he was doing games like Daikatana, and never had a clear overarching focus on the game. This is also what I feel about Duke Nukem Forever. “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if….Duke had a remote controlled car?” “OK, how do we get him to use it?” “Let’s make a useless and illogical puzzle within the context of the game so he needs to drive it” “Alright!” It doesn’t matter that the remote controller car section was no fun, or that it didn’t make sense in that part of the game, or that it ruined the pace of the action, it sounded cool at one point, so the designers decided to force it in to fit their checklist. (If you’ve played the game, I’m referring to when Duke has to drive the car inside the locked room, not when he’s shunken)
  • DNF suffers in the same way movie sequels (especially comedies) suffer. “Let’s take the parts that people liked in the original and then increase all of those parts so that they lose their charm and become annoying.” For DNF, that comes in:
    • Interacting with objects for no reason. Yes, I guess I can turn on every of faucet, but does it really add to the game to be able to do this? Vending machines, different types of drinks and candies, toilets, etc? What was unique for a game for 1996 doesn’t make it awesome when multiplied by 10 for 2011. I’m not saying that naked women are bad, or that interactive toilets are bad. You just cannot add them blindly without an actual purpose, they cannot serve as core gameplay features. They’re just extra touches that make the game unique, not reasons to play the game.
    • Duke likes to talk and talk and talk. He’s just a big caricature now, instead of the tough guy with witty attitude that he was originally. Quality > Quantity, please.

    Words of Wisdom: You will regret spending time with this game. Do not rent, borrow, or in an anyway insert the game disc into your 360.

    I would much rather have spent $60 to play Duke Nukem 3D than DNF. I got through about 20% of the game, and the unfortunate part is that I was enough of a Duke fan to have continued with the game if the loading had not been such a pain. Playing on the hardest difficulty, I was dying enough in which I just got tired of getting one hit killed or falling into a pit in an accidental death and then having to wait to reload the game.  Even if you’re not dying, loading screens come so often that you can’t get into a pace of steady action to enjoy the game.