When 3D Realms announced that a new Duke Nukem title was in development back 1997, no one could have predicted how infamous the story of this title would become. After delaying the game for a number of years, then declaring that it would be released when “it was done,” 3D Realms would take a financial hit, losing their development team that was working on Duke Nukem Forever. Later, after having been worked on by a few development teams and still being unfinished, a legal battle would take place, and then finally in 2010, 2K Games officially reported that Gearbox Software was working on the title, and it would have a release date of May in the following year. Not to add to the running media joke that was Forever, the game was pushed back another month and has now been officially released to the masses.
Don’t expect the greatest game of this console generation, rather, welcome what should be touted as the greatest Duke Nukem game to date. It would be too easy to say the game is dated, looks bad, or even feels unfinished, but the truth is, Gearbox president Randy Pitchford has stated that Forever would be the game that 3D Realms had imagined years ago and that fans of the franchise have wanted for years. Think of the game as more of a re-release of a retro game that was never released, and not as a direct competitor of any modern first-person shooter on the market today. For a game having this type of development status, it is somewhat surprising that the title launched as a full-priced, retail release, seeing as even a minor initial launch price reduction could have gone a long way.
The gameplay has all of the elements of an average first person shooter, with an added mix of driving, puzzle solving, underwater swimming, and, of course, boss battles that can get difficult if not approached correctly. The downside to having Forever change console generations and development hands so many times, is the fact that the game has a few bugs and annoyances that can be hard to ignore. Perhaps the most obvious are the loading times between levels and level reloads when you are defeated, which usually took about a half of a minute, but felt like longer when you are ready to jump back into the action. Besides that, there are a few frame-rate issues when the action gets intense and even complete freezes during some of the boss battles. You may even experience a glitch in the driving levels where you get stuck in a vertical position, without a corrective option, and are forced to reload the level. Of course, these were all on the Xbox 360 version, so your experience may vary between platforms.
What makes the game interesting are the easter eggs and interactive elements found scattered throughout the game. Duke will do things like spit off one-liners, relieve himself in the bathroom, or perhaps even take cheap jabs at other popular franchises. You may find nods to other game franchises like Halo, Borderlands, or even access to secret rooms by using “companion” elements, like those found in the Portal franchise. If you are looking for interactivity with the “babes”, yes there are those moments as well.
The controls can feel a little off at times, and aiming can be all over the place, but thankfully the aim-assist can correct some of the issues, and you start to get that nostalgia feeling back, and for a moment really want that mechanic available on Duke 3D where you could shoot enemies in the air by simply aiming in that general direction. The driving controls work fine, using the triggers for the forward and reverse, and using the handbrake-type button gives you greater control when attempting those sharp turns. Using the first-person controls for the platforming and puzzle solving areas works well, as there are hardly times where you would get frustrated by the controls, but instead might find yourself wondering what the next step is in progressing. Thankfully, whenever you are presented with quick-time type scenarios, pressing the required button is somewhat forgiving with the timing and you can usually accomplish your move without having to restart the sequence. This is especially important during boss battles, where if you fail at the button pressing, the boss will usually gain a fraction of their health back, and you will need to deplete their health once again before being given another chance.
You can probably guess that the graphics and sound are pretty much up to par with a launch title from this generation, or possibly the tail end of last generation. While they are not absolutely terrible, it is pretty obvious that some of the character models and environments have been given some polish to at least be acceptable for a retail release. The sounds heard in the game are nothing spectacular, and the soundtrack might be interesting at first, but once you hear certain tracks multiple times, like in the loading screens, you start to grow tired of them rather quickly.
The title has a moderately high replay value, as you could spend 6 to 8 hours playing through the campaign on the default difficulty. Having completed the campaign, you not only have the option to replay on the harder settings, but there are cheat options in the extras menus that can do things like alter enemy appearances or even toggle invincibility mode for a fun change of play-style. Unfortunately, using “cheats” will disable the achievement system, so completionists will want to tackle the harder difficulties without the alterations, to ensure the achievements unlock.
The multiplayer mode features a standard set of team and free-for-all gametypes that are fairly easy to navigate through in the menus. Each of the modes feature ample weapon spawn locations, and offer the unique weaponry from the single player mode, for matches a little different from other shooters. You might even be happy to note that there are no achievements for the multiplayer, giving completionists a break from the multiplayer grind, and giving multiplayer mode participants the freedom to just have fun with it.
Overall, there is fun to be had with Duke Nukem Forever. Anyone expecting the latest and greatest first-person shooter, will probably be disappointed and might be better off sticking with a title made for this generation. While the style and humor may not be suitable for all audiences, long-time fans can still appreciate what the game finally brings to the world of gaming. It has been a long time coming, and finally, patient fans of the Duke Nukem series can get their fix until 2K and Gearbox can get another one made.
*2K Games provided SlimGamer.com with a review copy on the Xbox 360 platform.