Expectations are a funny thing….. Ok yes its hard to choose where to start with this review. The press around Duke Nukem has been brutal and fights between PR crowds and game reviewers have boiled over into the public arena. So what gives with this much awaited and perhaps over hyped gaming franchise.
Many 30 plus’ers would remember the shareware offerings of Duke Nukem and Duke Nukem 2 from Apogee games. They were infact part of the original FPS games to hit the PC market space. Much like Luke Skywalker did for Darth Vader we all have to face the fact that Duke Nukem is FPS’s father… or at least his half brother. The things that made Duke Nukem popular was its complete departure from mainstream FPS and add a very sick & juvenile sense of humour to leading edge FPS gaming engine.
As we’re all too acutely aware the modernised version of this game (Duke Nukem : Forever) started its life in 1997. Yes thats right 14 years ago. The journey for Duke has been filled with the 1998 hype bubble, the 2001 promise date of shipping and various sneak peeks and endless cycles of on again and off again project news. Its no wonder the franchise became the laughing stock of the gaming industry. However along the way the game passed through a number of developer hands and eventually GearBox took the ball and pushed the product over the line for a touchdown… of sorts…
When GameGuide was invited by our friends at 2K Games to have a hands on demo we were keen to see what 14 years of, admittedly broken, development could produce. The demo was snappy and really flexed the muscles of Duke Nukems ego. It showcased the nostalgic aspects of the games, promised to push the boundries even further and had a reasonable mix of FPS & puzzle style game play. What arrived on our door step at the GameGuide office was somewhat different. Lets be clear we were not sold a lie by Gearbox in the demo. The thing with demos is that it showcases as many elements of the game in a small package, so that you get a good feel for a game. The slight problem was we didn’t quite realise just how this was going to translate into a full game with the promise of much more game time than other FPS offerings like Homefront.
When you fire up Duke Nukem : Forever you get given a stylistic intro video, which for some might come off as cheap and pointless. The game then launches you into Duke’s universe which is partially an intro / “get used to the controls” training sequence. It becomes apparent after this initial boss fight that your playing as Duke … who is playing… Duke… on a console.. The scene cuts away from that with Duke’s girlfriend’s asking how the game is, Dukes replies with a quip about the fact the game has taken 14 years to develop, so it better be good. (or insert Duke’s classy style of discourse here). Then its off to battle aliens invading your planet.
Ok enough with the storyline. Duke Nukem games were never very strong on the story and big on juvenile laughs, shooting and bad behaviour. This version however seems to be a little light on all those aspects for my liking. Firstly the FPS side of the game does show its age. Stacked up against the mainstream FPS engines of today this really does not show 14 years of development. The gameplay is ok, however AI is a little on the dumb side.
So all that to one side, does it deliver a healthy (or perhaps unhealthy) dose of Duke Nukem… well… kinda. It does seem to have a long amount of grind between truely funtastic Duke Nukeism’s. At points you just feel dumber for playing the game as they drag you thru endless linear mazes (no you cant get lost) for lengthy periods of time. At one point i did make one mistake and get killed…. at which point i seriously considered selling all my gaming possessions and taking up Amish Sheep Herding.
Don’t get me wrong… This is not an awful game… However what it isn’t is a Full Price release FPS. This really should be an XBox Arcade release. I know the gaming company is gonna hate me for saying this, but it simply is not worth the $120 NZD price tag.
Speaking with one New Zealand retailer they had commented that the game had sold well, but had nearly most of those sales returned. And this is a very telling point. We all loved Duke Nukem when it was shareware, even if we paid the $5 or $10 USD fee to play it. However the 30’s plus gamers have all grown up and gotten use to COD4 / BF2 quality FPS’s. We have (well most of us) given up on juvenile pranks like flinging poo at a wall or enemy. The sad fact is that Duke Nukem : Forever is 10 years too late, and its age has unfortunately betrayed the franchise.