Duke Nukem Forever Review


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.


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.

Playing through the campaign of Duke Nukem Forever is like witnessing an exposition of the evolution of the first-person shooter genre, with such modern tweaks as variable focus, replenishing health and close-in executions being implemented side-by-side with old school stalwarts like jumping puzzles and tediously timed boss battles. As an exercise in museum sciences, this is far more titillating than the game’s childish attempts at lasciviousness. As a game, however, it simply fails, sinking under the weight of its literal and figurative baggage.


Duke Nukem Forever looks and feels like the bastard son of a thousand developers that actually it is, with levels seeming to go nowhere and plot elements and game mechanics often being left on the deck, forgotten. The random strip club fetch quest scene at mid-way, for example (that one can assume was thrown in for lack of any other compelling reason to add in more tits), is left to fester with no explanation other than that, perhaps, Duke was dreaming. That the scene itself owes more to Leisure Suit Larry than Duke Nukem is merely icing on the turd.

The enemies and weapons are all largely taken from earlier installments and, although updated, seem less fun to play with than in previous Duke games. Weapons like the Freeze Ray or the Devastator seemed fresh, fun and inventive almost two decades ago when they debuted, but today feel like the relics that they are. Unfortunately Duke Nukem Forever doesn’t introduce anything of the same caliber to help it reclaim its status as innovator. The rare improvements on the formula are largely copied whole cloth from better games (Halo, Call of Duty and Half-Life to name but a few) and instead of heightening the experience, these additions serve to remind you of what you could be playing instead. Modern shine and polish are obvious in some places, absent in others, but by-and-large Duke Nukem Forever remains the game it was probably intended to be when it was first conceived which makes it seem dated and irrelevant by today’s standards.

The game also has multiplayer if you care. I didn’t. While the multiplayer was not yet available as of the time of this writing, there’s simply no conceivable way it would have influenced this review in any way other than to lower our already pitifully low score. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

The low point for me came after finally making it to “The Duke Dome,” to battle “The Queen Bitch,” in an old-school, classic Duke Nukem boss battle. This is where the curious mix of old and new combined in a disharmony of sound not unlike the brown note. It left me quite literally nauseous and wanting nothing more than to escape the tedious torment of playing this wretched game. Success in this particular boss battle depends on the strategic use of cover, weapons and timing – all classic boss battle stuff that would seem right at home in games from a decade ago – and mastering this combination is no challenge at all. The real challenge is in applying the strategic combination of old-school tactics while simultaneously being beat-down and generally hindered by new school add-ons, like damage fog and the knock down. It’s as if those assembling the game either forgot or never knew that timing-based boss battles worked precisely because the game was never smart enough to inflict punishment on you any deeper than a diminishment of your health … er, Ego bar.

Success in old-school boss battles often relied on tactically assessing how much damage you could absorb while getting in the killing shot. Adding in the modern style of tactile damage dealing, rather than deepening the experience and creating something transcendent and new, merely adds another layer of calculation necessary to accomplish the same task and leaves the player nearly paralyzed while waiting for the single, infrequent opportunity to inflict damage on the enemy without taking any yourself. Even though Ego regenerates (through cowardice), your Ego bar is barely long enough to allow Duke to sustain more than one hit in this battle, meaning that if you mis-time your attack, get knocked down by the boss and, while helpless, sustain another hit from either the boss (in a surprise, off-rhythm attack of opportunity), or from one of the many supporting monsters, you will die and be forced to replay the entire level, hiding around corners, waiting for your next opportunity to attack.


A successful run can take up to 10 minutes, during which time little fun is to be had and the player, rather than feeling like a bad-ass action hero, feels more like the pussified FPS characters of more modern (albeit realistic) games, in which a single random shot from an unseen enemy can end your day. This section of the game took me over an hour to successfully complete.

Bottom Line: Duke Nukem Forever is a deeply flawed game that I would have stopped playing after five minutes were it not a requirement of my job to play longer. Although no amount of money could have convinced me to press on all the way to the end.

Recommendation: If you are stuck on a deserted island with only this game to play, go fishing instead. Worth playing so that you may be able to say that you did, but otherwise imminently forgettable and not worth your time.


This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

What our review scores mean.

Game: Duke Nukem Forever
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Gearbox
Publisher: 2K Games
Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox360
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK),


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