Saturday, November 10, 2012

Duke Nukem Forever (Xbox 360) Review

Duke Nukem Forever is a game that needs no introduction.  In development hell for about fourteen years, the game went through several different publishers and developers, graphic engines, and platforms that the concept of it ever being released became nothing but a joke.  In June 2011, to the surprise of many, the game finally shipped thanks to Gearbox Software and 2K Games, releasing to the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 consoles.

The game received horrible reviews, being regarded as dated in almost all respects.  Its visual style, gameplay, and offensive humour have all been widely criticized, and while it sold well during its first week simply due to the novelty of the title, playing it is to play a unique piece of gaming history, Duke Nukem Forever failed spectacularly after that.

There were some who did enjoy it, however, and when I found a copy of the Xbox 360 version of the game for $9.99 brand new, some online buddies strongly recommended it and I decided to bite.  I had played the demo back when it was released a year earlier and was extremely unimpressed, so I wasn't expecting much from the retail game, but as I'm sure you know by now nostalgia is a powerful thing.

Duke Nukem Forever is a proper sequel to Duke Nukem 3D, a game I played significantly back in 1996.  in Duke Nukem 3D, aliens invade Earth and begin conquering the planet and stealing our women for breeding purposes.  Duke sets out to stop them, and what followed was one of the most innovative shooters of its time.  Duke Nukem 3D simply did so much that had never been done before:  Extremely interactive levels, varied and tactical weapons, unique alien enemies, and a crude sense of humour that had any teenager laughing their heads off.  Filled with witty one liners, adult humour, and gore, Duke Nukem 3D was the king of shooters for a solid few years.

Duke Nukem Forever is set twelve years later, and Duke is a cultural icon and hero for saving the planet in the previous game.  The aliens return, however, looking for revenge and once again begin stealing Earth's women, and Duke, disobeying the orders from the President himself, sets out once more to "Kick ass and chew bubble gum."

Duke Nukem Forever sets out to recreate, in a more modern way, what was so loved about Duke Nukem 3D.   The same weapons and enemies are present, the environment's levels of interactivity are insane, and the general plot is what we'd expect from the character.  By today's standards that plot is nothing special at all, in fact it's pretty bad and filled with mature, juvenile humour and actual nudity, even on the console versions, but it still strikes a strong nostalgic cord.

Running on a modified version of Unreal Engine 2.5, the game does look roughly four to five years old, and while it won't win any graphical awards, it's certainly no where near as ugly as all the professional reviews made it out to be.  Character models, environments, and weapons and effects are nicely detailed if a little muddy and lower texture quality, but they get the job done.

The audio was pretty spot on, with Duke Nukem sounding as self absorbed and vulgar as ever and the rest of the voice acting being of consistent quality.  The sound effects and alien sounds all work extremely well, and the majority of the game's music are more modern versions of the classic Duke Nukem themes.

The general gameplay is a mix of classic and new that sometimes meshes well and other times not so much.  Duke can only carry two weapons at a time now, akin to modern shooters, though he can also carry four Pipe Bombs and four Trip Mines.  While generally not an issue, some of the game's battles are more arcade style in which I wish the ammo limit was increased, as I found I'd run out too quickly.  It does feel good firing Duke's old Shotgun again, and Pipe Bombs are still extremely tactical in their use, which is great.

Another throwback to classic game design are the platforming elements found scattered throughout many levels.  In addition to shooting a lot of aliens, Duke will often have to jump through different obstacles to navigate around the environments.  While this proved annoying on occasion, again I feel pro-reviewers were too harsh here and often times you simply needed to stop and think for a second to figure a simple puzzle out.

Like in Duke Nukem 3D, Duke does have an inventory, but it's significantly limited compared to what it used to be. Duke now only has four slots, accessed via the D-Pad.  One is for his Sun Glasses which activates Duke Vision, allowing him to see in the dark.  Another is for a can of Beer, which Duke can drink to gain damage resistance.  The third slot is for the classic Holoduke, which not only creates a holographic duplicate to distract enemies but also cloaks the real Duke, making it far more handy.  The final slot is for Steroids, which Duke can take to increase his speed and melee damage.

The problem I found with Beer and Steroids is that the animation for Duke to use the items takes too long, often resulting in your death if you try to use them mid-firefight.  Duke Vision and Holoduke are extremely useful, and it's just a shame that some other really useful inventory items from the previous game didn't make it into Duke Nukem Forever.

The Portable Medkit is long gone, and Duke has regenerating health, or Ego as it's now called, like in any other modern shooter.  If you damage an enemy enough allowing you to perform an execution, something new to the franchise, Duke will instantly gain all his Ego back.  There's also an underwater level which many hated, and had the game included the Scuba Gear inventory item from Duke Nukem 3D said level would have been great.  Sadly Duke can only hold his breath for about ten seconds, and while you can get more air by standing over air bubbles (which doesn't even make sense to me), this isn't very practical turning the level into an exercise in frustration.

The game also features several vehicle levels in which Duke gets to drive around his Monster Truck or remote control cars.  In the demo I completely hated the vehicle controls, but oddly enough I adapted quickly with the retail game.  Not only did I learn the controls better but I actually found myself enjoying the vehicle levels immensely, something that really shocked me!

The highlight of the game, however, is the interactivity found throughout the levels.  There is no other shooter on the market today in which you can interact with the levels like you do here.  See a light switch, you can flick it.  See a pinball machine or a pool table, you can play the game.  See a bag of popcorn, you can pick it up, open a microwave, cook it, and then eat it.  Generally speaking, if it's in the game you can not only interact with it but you can do so in a realistic fashion, and interacting with items in the game world will often add a permanent Ego boost for Duke, increasing his health.  No joke, you can spend hours just toying around with stuff in the levels, and I can't stress how cool and fun this is, and more specifically, how unique it is.

The Single Player Campaign is a pretty solid length as well, taking about twenty hours to complete on "Let's Rock," the game's normal difficulty.  While some sections certainly feel dated and/or clunky, most of the game flows well enough to be both fun and enjoyable, minus a few really bad and frustrating design choices or puzzles.

Duke Nukem Forever also features multiplayer, which consists of four standard game modes:  Dukematch, Team Dukematch, King of the Hill, and Capture the Babe (a twist on Capture the Flag where the Flag is one of the Holsom twins).  I did get to play some Dukematch and Team Dukematch, and in truth I wasn't impressed.  You spawn with a Pistol and that's it, no Grenades, not items, nothing.  So if someone's spawn camping or you come across someone with an RPG, Ripper, or Devastator, you'll die again.  And again and again.  You can join games in progress, which is great in theory, but the imbalance of such a start and how ridiculously hard it is to try and catch up against more established players really killed the fun factor of what could have been a great retro Multiplayer feel.

As you play games you can complete established Challenges (such as killing X amount of enemies with a Shotgun) which unlock customizable options for your Duke, such as different Glasses, Shirts, Hair, etc.  As you warn Kills in matches you earn XP and Level Up, which unlocks trophies and items for your Digs.

A concept that very much reminded me of BioShock 2, Duke has a Multiplayer mansion where he can chill between matches in which decorations and items are added over time, including additional Babes.  At Level 1, the only "item" in Duke's Digs is a sexy french maid named Kitty Pousoix, whom you can ogle with one liners and she'll reply back in kind.  As you level up, statues, enemy trophies, and more Babes will appear.

While this adds more things to do and collect during your Multiplayer experience, at this point in the game's life cycle getting that experience will be rather challenging.  On Xbox LIVE on a Sunday night, there were literally only two games going, period!  Basically, the game's Multiplayer is pretty dead and with the experience I had I can tell why.

For a game that took fourteen years to develop, does Duke Nukem Forever deliver?  In all honesty, no, and the game was certainly not worth the original launch price.  As a dirt cheap bargain bin title, however, and provided you were a fan of the character back in the 90's and aren't looking for Multiplayer, Duke Nukem Forever's Campaign will satisfy with some cheesy entertainment, great level interactivity, and a simple experience through gaming history.  Shame it wasn't released several years earlier when the character was more popular and recognizable though, and when the gameplay style would have been more than appreciated, but, better late than never.


Adam said...

I played it recently, I'm sure glad I got it dirt cheap.

Juxtapose said...

Agreed. As a bargain bin title it's great, but for full retail price? No.