Hail To The King?
I'm not going to dwell on the 14 years of development here, but instead treat it like it had a normal development time. Infact, this build of Duke Nukem Forever is actually 3 years old. It began in 2006 from scratch by the now uncertain 3D-Realms, who closed office doors in early 2009 and was completed by Triptych games in late 2009. Triptych games was formed by a handful of dedicated ex 3D-Realms employees, they worked 9 months with no pay...just pure passion for the project.
I will touch a tad more on the history of Duke's development later on, but for now, as promised, i'm not going to dwell on it.
Duke Nukem is associated with "legendary". It began as a standard side scroller in 1991 on the PC, but 1996's third entry went fully 3D and singlehandedly changed the gaming world and became a popular culture icon almost over night. With the doors opened by ID Software for first person games with titles like Wolfenstein and Doom, Duke Nukem 3D built upon it in such a way that left the industry in awe. Jet packs, Shrink rays, Freeze rays, multiple floors, looking up and down, a character that talked and had a personality, bright colours and...strippers?!
Duke changed the game. A sequel was inevitable and in 1997 came the announcement of Duke Nukem Forever, a full sequel to Duke 3D.
It's finally here!
People are/were hyped, big time! One person had kept his receipt from his preorder at his local Gamestop since 2001 thus receiving news attention and a nice reward from Gearbox software as a thank you. Other Duke fans that stuck around the forums from way back in 1998 were also thanked.
The event is a big deal to some because of the era of gaming DNF represents. One member at Gearbox forums decided to dedicate his Balls of Steel special edition of the game to his father who he had such special memories with whilst playing Duke Nukem 3D together back in 1996. They both awaited DNF anxiously and hit up any news on DNF as it became available. His father passed away before DNF finally saw it's release.
For this review, i remove my Duke goggles and explore a monumental event.
Upon boot up and after a lengthy 4gig install to the HDD, i'm greeted by a brilliant introduction sequence that details Duke's legendary past escapades, all in a comic book fashion and complete with gore, strippers and the famous Grabbag theme. It's an adrenalin pumping intro and it just booms with an "I'm Back!" vibe. Brilliant stuff.
When i played the demo that was released for First Access club members (a club dedicated to the Duke dedicated), i was unsure about a few things and they were the in-game hints, linear gameplay and what was promised by developers actually being delivered.
Thankfully, i can turn off in-game hints in the options screen, so it'll be entirely up to me to figure the game out. I prefer this play method, but to those who do not, the option is there to ease the game a bit and highlight interactive objects etc.
As for linear gameplay and developer promises, well let's begin by looking at the gameplay itself and how fun it is...
DNF opens up fantastically. The first interaction i make is one that sums the experience of this game up well. I am looking down at a urinal being prompted to press Square to "piss"...This may seem silly or unnecessary, but that's exactly it, DNF just offers you many interactions that have nothing to do with anything, but instead are built out of FUN.
It doesn't stop at pissing either, merely seconds later...i'm labelled a "Turd Burglar" by my newly obtained trophy for...well, what do you think? That gave me a big laugh out loud.
Looking at my HUD, i can see an Ego bar which represents my health, an inventory represented by the D-pad and an ammo meter for my selected gun. In the inventory i have Duke Vision which is a fancy night vision, steroids which make you go berserk and have you one hit kill most enemies with one punch, and Beer which makes you more resistant to damage.
It controls fairly well. It can feel tanky at times, but you do get use to it. You can change control settings in the options.
Just moments after my turd burglar moment, i am offered to sketch a "plan" on a fully interactive white board that's supposed to detail an attack on an alien whilst having a member of the EDF (Earth Defence Force) give his always positive critique on whatever i draw. It's very fun stuff. I do believe this could of been fleshed out a bit by maybe having us take a screenshot and saving it to our HDD for personal use, but that's a minor request.
It becomes apparent not long in that i am replaying the conclusion to Duke Nukem 3D, the games legendary predecessor. I am in a football stadium, the aliens have taken over and the Cycloid Emperor is the pitch...and that is where i must go, just like before. Before taking that elevator up to the football pitch, i am given one of Duke's infamous weapons, the Devastator. A two handed weapon that fires mini rockets in quick succession dealing huge damage. Battling the Cycloid Emperor is easy and merely serves as a tutorial, but it represents something classic. Real boss battles in a FPS. DNF brings classic FPS boss battles back to the game and the majority of them are an absolute blast.
Upon defeating the Cycloid Emperor, it is revealed that i was actually playing a game within a game...in other words, the Duke Nukem of today is playing his game about his world saving mission, 12 years ago and ironically, it took 12 years to make and release in his world too!
It's a fantastic opener that achieves two things, for Duke newbies, it tells them "Hey, i'm Duke Nukem and i'm awesome because..." and to Duke veterans, it tells them "I'm Back, Baby!". The proceeding opening chapters in the game continue to do just that, we see that Duke now owns a huge casino, he has women at his feet, including twins dressed in school uniform who are wonderfully named the Holsom Twins and he is the biggest man in the world. Interactivity goes up another level, here, allowing for vending machines and even picking up rats or microwaving popcorn...you can combine some actions...i'm sure you know what i mean. If you don't, let's just say PETA won't be too happy.
The interactions in DNF are part of what separates it from every other shooter. They always appear at good times to break up the gunplay and some might be harder to find than others. Included is Pinball, punching bags, weight lifting, Air Hocky, a Whack-A-Mole esq game called "Alien Abortion", dildos, vending machines and a host of others. Whilst they may just be there for fun, they also provide a permanent increase to your Ego bar which does prompt you to find them all. However, i did find that some interactions ended up repeating themselves towards the end and i found myself not caring about them as much, but instead wanting to push on.
Story wise, simply, the aliens from Duke Nukem 3D have returned and are angry. They first appear to arrive in peace and begin negotiations with a Duke-hating president who orders you not to attack them. Obviously, the aliens begin an attack before too long and begin taking the women...specifically the hot ones for breeding. And it's Duke's job to save the world again...again.
Not much to it, but what was you expecting? It's perfect for a Duke game!
It's after the first few chapters where my concerns began to arise. After some cool moments such as the shrunken Duke in the RC car, i was on the Vegas streets. It began to feel very familiar. It felt like standard gun play. I had experienced this all too much before with the flooding of FPS games we've had today. Sure, DNF still is Duke, but take away his one liners during these moments and you have a Resistance Fall Of Man. Not a bad thing, but we were promised an antidote to such games in DNF.
DNF wasn't promised to be an all out 90's blast, but it promised to bring old school back to a degree. I can say it does, however the choices made to make it more modern are questionable at times. Two of which have been hot debating topics among fans - the regenerating health and the two weapon limit.
Yes these are questionable when it comes to a Duke game, but in THIS Duke game...they fit. Another questionable design choice was the linear feel of the game which saddened me a tad. The game follows one cinematic path with few off tracks to explore, something the original didn't support. I'm not expecting nor wanting Duke 3D part 2, but scrapping such designs in favour of the popular Call Of Duty linear approach is perhaps one modern touch too far. I never imagined Duke to be that way, a scripted event is so Killzone, not Duke in my eyes. However, the game is designed to tailor these design choices and anything else wouldn't work. So then you have to ask, well, is this the right Duke game then? More on that later.
I did begin worrying about this sudden feeling of familiarity and it did out stay it's welcome, but it was occasionally broken up by either a brilliant boss battle with a Battlelord, in which i was given the option to humiliate him via punching him in the balls upon defeat, or a platforming section. Weapons in the game include the Ripper (3 barrel machine gun), Devastator, RPG, Freeze Ray (allows freezing of foes followed by execution), Duke's signature handgun and some new guns like the Rail Gun that acts as a sort of sniper. You also get your classic Tripmines and Pipebombs too. Enemies include the trademark Pig Cops, Assault Troopers, Enforcers, Pregnators and more. Enemy AI is fairly decent, they tend to move out of danger although at times seem to be randomly side stepping and can look odd. Pig Cops can get tough if you're not careful, they can occasionally go berserk, leading to tricky and intense combat.
The guns are a mixed bag. Whilst the shotgun is a return to old school form with it's intense power, guns like the Ripper lack a feel of power. The Shrink ray is as fun as ever, nothing beats shrinking a Pig Cop, have it run in horror and then having you squish it!
The guns were unique enough to prevent a total feel of standard gun play, but Shrink Ray or not, i get bored with run of the mill shooting and it was becoming apparent...but it wasn't long before something brilliant happened....Duke Burger.
This chapter was through and through - brilliant with the occasional moment of sheer genius! Without having to spoil, i was shrunk and so was most of the enemies. It made for hilarious gun play and battling, but most of all, platforming.
A platforming section in the Duke Burger kitchen was that moment of sheer genius for me. It brought back some sort of essence i have missed in modern gaming and took my memory back to some moments of sheer magic. I was cast back to my imagination being captured by such creative games of old. Most notably, believe it or not, my mind was cast back to the game World Of Illusion Starring Micky Mouse and Donald Duck on the Mega Drive/Genesis. Playing 2 player with my older brother on that level where you're both shrunk and scaling book shelves and table tops...an absolute magical time.
DNF brought those feelings back for this section, i hadn't smiled like that during a game in a long while. Scaling cookers, hot stoves, food storage shelves (and a pantry), bouncing on cutlery or putting myself in a toaster to be popped out so i can reach higher ground...just utter brilliance. Seeing all the joke branding on food jars etc only added to it.
There are a few other sections similar to this that really hit high, one other being Titty City, a kind of "chill out" chapter in which your only task is to find some pop corn, a dildo and a condom at the request of a friendly lady! Don't be fooled, it isn't just a perverse level for kicks if you enjoy the virtual ladies, it's what's underneath that shines in this level.
There are many mini games to play here and a lot of interactions to be had too. Some of which are hidden deeper in the level and to get deeper, you have to fully explore this rare non-linear section and it can prove engrossing. Another highlight here is the easter eggs and nods to other media...
DNF is loaded on easter eggs, perhaps the most i have ever seen for one game. I have seen ones for Dead Space, Borderlands, Halo, Portal, Call Of Duty, Shadow Warrior and many other games. Movies include They Live, Die Hard, Commando, Anchorman, Aliens, Team America and more. It even references general popular culture such as the Christian Bale rant. They will be littered everywhere, on walls, toys, tills, signs, you name it. It's a lot of fun looking for them.
When DNF wasn't showing glimpses of genius like the sections listed above, it was doing standard gun play...and this is my main gripe. I'm not a big fan of today's shooters, i think they can get tedious. Unfortunately, much of Duke's quest is his own take on that aspect of a modern shooter. One liners, some cool enemies and guns can't hide that. On the flip, Duke does break it up a bit more with some well placed, Half Life 2 esq physics puzzles, usually involving barrels (which leads to a good Portal joke later on). It's a good breather from the standard action at times. Some offer no challenge at all, whilst others may require some thought, especially if game hints are off.
There was one such attempt to offer variety in gameplay about half way through that is hit and miss and this is the Mighty Foot driving sections. Turbo speeding over some Pig Cops playing in mud (a fantastic, humorous touch in itself) can prove fun, but i found myself zoning out during much of it and perking up when the truck ran out of gas, leaving me on foot to find more. In one of these moments, this leads to a brilliant section in a place called "MorningWood" (ha!) in which i have a fun cowboy esq shoot out with some aliens followed by a puzzle to obtain my fuel.
It was in these driving sections that i longed for the Duke 3D non-linear approach as i would try to explore these more open environments for secrets, all to no avail...well, i did find a movie easter egg. It's another primary gripe i have with DNF, i'm itching to go off and approach the level as i please as enforced in Duke 3D, but it's scrapped in favour of that cinematic linear feel as i have previously said and it's such a shame.
Throughout my new Duke adventure, i fought many fun bosses that are totally old school. A couple of which put up a great challenge.
Speaking of difficulty, the game puts up a decent fight. You might find yourself dying plenty of times if you're not careful. Trial and error may be had. Whilst this could be seen as a negative, it's a big plus in my book.
Dying takes you back to the level loading screen, where it'll load up your last checkpoint (which are frequent), however i did find some of the loading screens a tad too long. It's not too bad, but if you die on the regular (if you're not familiar with old school difficulty, this might be the case) this could prove annoying.
Some glitches are also present and can cause problems at times. The biggest one i encountered involved water flooding a certain place and me not being able to see the water and preventing me from judging accordingly. Another involved an in game cutscene involving Duke falling, but he froze mid air. The rest i saw were minor such as slow texture loading or vibrating plants under water.
Upon completion of the game, i found myself feeling completely mixed feelings about the experience. I was happy that 3D-Realms got their happy ending, happy that Duke is back and is surely going to get another sequel, i was even wondering at how much didn't make it into the final game, sad to see some features spoken about by George Broussard (one of the co-creators of Duke Nukem) not being there such as the ability to send real emails in game, slightly disappointed it doesn't live up to it's predecessor and reminiscing at a blast i had at times with it. It was emotional to see such a project come to an end, but yet also mark a return of the king.
Trying to make sense of the experience, i went into multiplayer with low expectations.
Multiplayer offers me Duke Match (Deathmatch), Capture The Babe (Capture The Flag), Hail To The King (King Of The Hill) and Team Duke Match. Aside from that, i had a few surprises.
There's a wardrobe where you can earn new items of clothing by completing multiplayer challenges and a My Digs mode which allows you to roam your own penthouse and unlock things for it such as interactive objects, decorative items or even your own...close personal lady friend...a number of them!
The biggest surprise came from the multiplayer games them self. I had an utter blast playing online with DNF. You level up by gaining experience via killing or completing challenges. I spent a lot of time online and i'm currently ranked in the hundreds world-wide. It's incredibly old school with it's 8 player max games allowing for strategic killing i.e. Tripmine kills. Jet Packs can also be had in Multiplayer and some of the Jet Pack fights can become intense!
There are also secret areas in each Multiplayer map making it feel just like a beefed up Duke 3D.
The multiplayer adds a total new layer to the game and keeps the replay value quite high.
Overall, DNF is both a triumph and a let down. A triumph because, well, Duke is back for one, he succeeds in a lot of what he set out to do.
A let down because he also fails in other things he set out to do.
I did look at this game a certain way though. in 1991, Duke took an existing formula in 2D side scrolling and added his own thing. In 1996, Duke took the Doom formula and, again, did the same, this time to astounding success. In 2006/2011, Duke is once again taking the popular formula in Halo esq FPS and adding his own thing...but it might be too late for the latter as many are becoming bored of it. This is probably due to that nasty development cycle though. Also, some of the game is executed slightly poorly. So i do think to a degree that DNF should probably of been something else...perhaps something a little bit more closer to the original release the build shown at E3 2001 that went down as one of the best ever shown.
Back to the current build, the graphics are not as bad as you hear. They are a mixed bag and inconsistent, for example, in one place, the graphics look on par with anything else and in another look dated. Sometimes texturing can be bad or fail to load fast enough, but it's not a big problem. It's on par with a 2009 shooter in terms of graphics.
The treatment from mainstream media towards Duke is mostly completely unjustified and unprofessional. I read recently a post by a game journalist that wished to remain anonymous who talked about the DNF fiasco and he offered the theory that If something is hated by mainstream media, most outlets in the same radius will echo it to avoid being labelled the source that likes the products you're told to hate.
And then he began to talk about sponsorship effecting scores...but we won't go there. This is not making excuses or anything of the sort, it's just that spitting such venom at DNF is unjustifiable. No other way to it. It is a decent, FUN game with a few flaws. In no way is it a 2, 3 or 4.
This same point is beginning to be echoed around now by more independent sources, one such example being DSP on Youtube which was passed around at 3D-Realms.
To sign off this review, i'd like to point out that i am greatfull to have been apart of gaming history and that DNF and 3D-Realms got their happy ending.
I cannot wait for the next Duke as it will have a fresh slate and no dodgy management. DNF is a representation of an era...a golden era. It has been a monumental event and one that had personal meaning to many who have followed this game at one point.
It may not have been the game we was promised or what we expected, but it was damn fun at times!
So yes, Hail to the king!
"Ahhh, much better".
J. W. M.