Duke Nukem, saviour, movie star, shark hunter, chick magnet and all-round most awesome man on the planet is relaxing in his penthouse apartment. He’s got a beer, a cigar, and hot twins giggling and practically bouncing out of their matching outfits. Duke puts down his video game controller, after kicking ass at the new Duke Nukem game, and is asked, “is it any good?”
“Yes, but after twelve freakin’ years, it better be.” [Despite the fact that the game was announced in April 1997, fourteen years ago - Ed.]
Hail to the King, baby, Duke is back, and at his macho, misogynistic, alien ass-kicking best. The problem is, while Duke is as great as we remember him, everything else about the game is straight out of the nineties. And that’s not a good thing. If Duke were in an ass-kicking mood, and when isn’t he, Duke Nukem Forever would be the first in line, bent over and with a very worried look on its face
But, it is packed full of alien dirtbags, lap dancing babes, and bad language (while we’ll be using words like freakin’, boobs and crap, feel free to assume more colourful Duke-isms). Duke Nukem Forever is an unapologetic crap-storm of bare boobs, tasteless jokes and ultra–freakin’ violence. In the end, that’s what it says on the box.
After saving the earth from the alien invasion, Duke’s been enjoying his retirement. It’s been a decade of selling merchandise, making movies, drinking beer, and generally soaking up the adoration of the Earth’s entire population. Then the aliens attack and, despite being warned off by the President, Duke loads up for what he’s best at.
From then on, it’s like it’s 1996 all over again. From the first person perspective you’ll be throwing punches, pipe bombs and hot lead at the same Pig Cops and Enforcers that were in your crosshairs all those years ago.
Back in the day, the way Duke interacted with his world was original and a lot of fun. You could flip light switches, turn on taps and use the bathroom. That’s all here again. But, pressing the square button when standing near a light switch and having the lights go on and off isn’t the same thrill it used to be. While you can play pinball, pool and the slots, it’s kind of boring and has been done so many times and so much better. And that’s the problem Duke Nukem has now. It wants to be the same Duke it was back then, and it is. But, it’s also the same game, and that makes it feel old, unoriginal, dated, and disappointing.
That is, unless you absolutely love Duke, and you love old school, stripped back shooters. In which case the game is fast, simple, violent and pretty funny. There are plenty of weapons, from railguns, freeze rays to shotguns and rocket launches. So, despite only being able to carry two guns at a time, there’s always plenty of hardware. Even if you do run out of ammo, Duke’s fists (with a little boost of steroids and beer) are always there to get you out of trouble. And, by getting you out of trouble I mean punching an alien bastard so hard its head explodes. Or, if you can’t reach its head, giving it the old one-two combo to the crotch.
While the action is fun, there is no way to avoid feeling it’s stuck in the past. There are no explosive cut scenes, no massive fire-fights, no alien hoards or epic moments. Two or three aliens turn up, when you kill them another couple arrive. Even when you beat a boss you just stop controlling Duke as he makes a smart-arsed comment and then moves on. Unfortunately, what you move on to is a long load screen. Yes, not only has Duke Nukem Forever brought us retro gameplay, it also brings back retro load times. So, whenever you leave an area, or if you die, you get to spend a minute watching a load screen full with handy tips like 'try to avoid enemy fire’, or ‘drink beer for an extra boost’.
Not to say drinking beer is a bad thing. For Duke, like us all, a beer gives a temporary boost to your ego. Essentially his shield or health, Duke’s ego is what keeps him going. As he takes hits it falls, if he finds cover it replenishes. While killing bosses gives it a permanent boost, all manner of other things give it a little boost. Catching sight of himself in the mirror (and liking it), using the toilet, lifting weights, or checking out hot babes on the net (or in magazines or calendars), all make Duke that little bit happier, and his ego that little bit healthier.
Okay, it is all horribly smutty and sexist, although we have seen the strippers and dirty magazines in video games before. While Duke Nukem Forever has better graphics than PS2-era Grand Theft Auto or Metal Gear Solid, it’s nowhere near the standard we’ve come to expect for high profile releases. However, the music, explosions and Duke himself, all sound great. But, even that can’t compensate for a game that can drag at times. The locations are all overly familiar, the puzzle and platform sections are uninspired, and even the mildly entertaining driving stages are kind of uneventful.
More enjoyable is the number of times you get to shrink down to little Duke size. Hearing all his sayings in his little Duke voice is always fun. But, like most of the game, it suffers because we’ve seen it so many times before. Just like little Duke, the online multiplayer is also pretty good. It’s hassle-free and has the basic team based contest you’d expect. Plenty of babe grabbing, respawning, and blowing crap up, but you guessed it – Duke did it ten years ago, everybody has done it since and most games do it much better now.
While Duke Nukem Forever is not the turd that Duke picks up out of the toilet, it is limited and rather uninspired. If it was sold as a $20 download, the nostalgia and uncomplicated gameplay would make it brilliant. If it was released in 2000, it would have been great. But, the Duke Nukem game of 2011 should let you see Duke, be Duke, experience his world in all it’s over-inflated glory. Sure, the same old Duke is great, but he should have been in a much better game.
In the end though, you gotta just crack open a beer, light up a cigar and slap a hot babe’s ass [Note: you don't actually need to do that - Ed.]. Because (and nothing is going to change Duke’s mind about this), whatever any scum-sucking alien-loving, dirtbag maggot says about his video game, Duke is still the king, baby.