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Duke Nukem Forever Review

Russ Pitts | 13 Jun 2011 21:40
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The good news is that Duke Nukem Forever's status as the joke of the game industry remains intact. The bad news is the joke's now on you. Duke Nukem Forever is a terrible game colored with flashes of mediocrity sparsely interlaced with rare filaments of greatness.

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One example of the latter is the sublime monster truck levels in which Duke alternately powers over obstacles and foes alike in the jubilantly bouncy vehicle, and must run and gun on foot through some of the game's best-designed levels in search of gas to feed the guzzling beast after it peters to a stop, its gas tank empty. It's somewhat of a shame (if poetically appropriate) that these levels occur so late in the game, as many players will be likely to skip them, having been battered by the levels of far lesser quality non-sensibly stacked further toward the front.

The monster truck levels aside, most of the game is an exercise in tedium peppered with frequent, boorish attempts at humor that rarely elicit a chuckle. In Duke Nukem Forever, you play as Duke Nukem, the larger-than-life parody of 1980s action movie heroes who, after having saved the world from an alien menace 12 years prior, must again be pressed into action when the aliens return in search of "our chicks" and on a mission to exact revenge against the overly-muscled ego maniac, Duke. The game's attempts at self-awareness are frequent (such as the first level of the game turning out to be an in-game videogame Duke is playing while receiving oral sex from two school-girl outfitted blondes named "The Holsom Twins"), yet the shtick wears thin in mere minutes. With many of the levels taking place in Duke-themed attractions in and around the Las Vegas Duke Nukem-themed casino, the combined effect merely compounds the ennui of being in the presence of a cliché that has outstayed its welcome.

Even the basic mechanics of gameplay are not immune from ham-handed self pleasuring. The health bar, for instance, a staple of first-person gaming, has been replaced with an "Ego" bar, a play on the theme that for a hero like Duke, ego is everything. Unfortunately this opens the door for the game's most obvious WTF since, in a nod to modern gaming trends, this Ego bar will automatically replenish when Duke is injured, providing he can avoid taking any more damage. In order to replenish the Ego bar, the player must hide behind cover or run away from the enemy. Meaning that, functionally, Duke's Ego is restored by behaving cowardly. This discord alone could serve as the banner theme for the evolution of modern shooters, and why a game like Duke, having been almost cryo-frozen for more than a decade, then awoken and peppered with modern touches, feels so out of place.

In an interesting touch, the Ego bar can be permanently lengthened by interacting with various items within the game, such as Duke-themed pinball machines and mirrors, which makes a lot more sense than replenishing it by running away. This, combined with fun nods to Duke's "click and see" past (interacting with toilets, writing on whiteboards, using vending machines, etc.) could have added up to more than the whole had they been pinned to a game worthy of supporting such gimmicks. Unfortunately, Duke Nukem Forever is not that game. In truth, it's often hard to tell what game it is. So many of its levels are seemingly mis-matched, and the variety of mechanics introduced by other games over the more than decade since intermingling in a confusing and altogether unpleasant way.

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