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Duke Nukem Forever (PC) artwork

Duke Nukem Forever (PC) review

"The inspiration is, of course, the venerable Duke Nukem 3D, a groundbreaking over-the-top comedy shooter that had actual gameplay when it came out 15 years ago. But in Duke Nukem Forever, it's tough to use the word "inspiration". When you come across a nod to the original game, it feels like it was chucked in carelessly. Here's a trip mine. Here's a holoduke. Here's a pigcop. Here's something like a boss fight. Here's a gun that shoots blue lasers. Here's a stripper."

Early on in Duke Nukem Forever, you might consider you’re playing some sort of clever meta joke. The faux interaction, the retro gunplay, the plastic character models and stiff animation, the sparsely detailed environments, the rote turret sequence, the game-within-a-game conceit, the unfunny dick and tit jokes, the blatant tunnels and corridors in lieu of level design. "Oh, I get it," you'll think. "That's the joke!" So you keep playing, waiting for the actual game to kick in. But as you press on, it will dawn on you that this isn’t a joke at all. It's the actual game.

The real value of Duke Nukem Forever is that you can use it to gauge the range of any reviewer's lowest rating. Here is the baseline for how low games can go. I can’t imagine anyone awarding this with anything beyond the basic “well, it booted up” rating. I can’t even imagine anyone even caring about the gameplay implications of things like the two gun limit or the regenerating health, because that presupposes it’s a game worth playing. But there is almost nothing to recommend this shallow, stale, unfunny, underdeveloped exercise in shovelware that looks and plays like something an Eastern European developer you'd never heard of might have sold for $9.99, but that you'd find in a bin at Target for $1.99.

Duke Nukem Forever asset

The inspiration is, of course, the venerable Duke Nukem 3D, a groundbreaking over-the-top comedy shooter that had actual gameplay when it came out 15 years ago. But in Duke Nukem Forever, it's tough to use the word "inspiration". When you come across a nod to the original game, it feels like it was chucked in carelessly. Here's a trip mine. Here's a holoduke. Here's a pigcop. Here's something like a boss fight. Here's a gun that shoots blue lasers. Here's a stripper. Here’s an alien hive. The levels where you're shrunk down to tiny size are moderately clever for how barrels are replaced by jars of mustard and lava is replaced by a kitchen grill. Duke's brief vision of heaven could have been clever if it didn't feel like B-side material that couldn't be left out because the game would be too short. As a multiplayer game, with the obligatory leveling up to unlock cosmetic doo-dads, the gunplay is lively in the same way that any multiplayer gunplay with a few fancy weapons is lively. But otherwise, everything feels old, tired, and just flat-out lazy.

For instance, Duke's trademark quips, delivered by voice actor Jon St. John, should breathe life into any middling shooter, right? But then you kill a bad guy and hear the following line: "When I promised to kill you last, I lied". This is, of course, a Schwarzenegger line from Commando, which he says as he drops a major character down a cliff. It was set up earlier in the movie, and when he says it, it’s a payoff. It’s cheesy, but it’s been earned. But in Duke Nukem Forever, it's a random quip immediately after Duke has killed one of the hundred or so aliens he's in the process of killing. It makes no sense in that context. Like any of Duke's lines cribbed from Schwarzenegger, Sam Raimi, or John Carpenter, it's borrowed cheese, delivered without the slightest pretense of being earned. And now, in Duke Nukem Forever, it's delivered without even understanding why the cheese works. It's the worst kind of hand-me-down cultural reference. Imagine someone telling you about a skit he saw on Saturday Night Live, but he can't even get the set-up right, much less the punchline, and it's Saturday Night Live besides, which hasn't been funny for 15 years. And in this case, the guy is unironically wearing Andrew Dice Clay weightlifter's gloves and he looks like early Dolph Lundgren, a man who has had the good sense to leave the 80s behind and age into a 21st century bad-ass in The Expendables. Meanwhile, Duke Nukem is literally grabbing turds out of toilet bowls and smearing them on the wall. Yes, literally. Interactivity, ladies and gentlemen.

Duke Nukem Forever asset

When the game actually writes a line in Duke Nukem Forever, it's something like this: "I can see my dick from up here". Duke says this from atop a tower looking out over a lo-res skybox of Las Vegas where he will shortly play a turret sequence for lack of something better to do. I've tried to parse the line and I’m at a loss. Is the joke that his penis is so big that it shows up in a landscape? In which case, did he leave it behind? Does he maybe live in a house shaped like his own penis? Or does he just mean that literally, in which case can't he see his own penis from anywhere he goes? This last interpretation strikes me as the most likely. I've probably given the line more thought than whoever actually wrote it.

Although the similarly low-brow Bulletstorm forgot to include an actual game, at least its low-brow had a certain amount of juvenile energy. In the also shallow and stale Splatterhouse, a gory and occasionally funny guilty pleasure, the hero kills a monster and then quips "what an asshole". He says this specifically after reaching up into the rectum of the monster and then pulling out its guts through that particular orifice. At which point the line “what an asshole” is actually a little inspired for its dual meanings. Not much, mind you. But enough to make me notice that someone wrote it. In Splatterhouse, I got the sense that someone was trying. Creativity sparked. Synapses fired. Ideas happened. A joke took root. A double entendre was born. But Duke Nukem Forever is the inert bastard child of no one bothering to even try.


tomchick's avatar
Freelance review by Tom Chick (June 16, 2011)

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fleinn posted June 16, 2011:

"underdeveloped exercise in shovelware that looks and plays like something an Eastern European developer you'd never heard of might have sold for $9.99" know, like... Vietcong, or Arx Fatalis, or Nexus: The Jupiter Incident, or.. :p

Good review. Like the opening a lot. And the ending.. and the bits in between.. But if you started explaining the meta-setup for the game in the third paragraph as if we didn't already know who Duke Nukem is, it would have been more effective, I think. Would have broken things up a bit as well. "Blabla, titular hero created at Epic labs", etc..
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sashanan posted June 16, 2011:

I was pretty sure that DNF at the very least would be a letdown to some and quite possibly to most. I suppose I didn't expect it to suck as bad as the reviews almost universally appear to point out. Even development hell can hardly excuse what happened here.
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Halon posted June 16, 2011:

Good review. This is pretty much getting bashed everywhere, though fans of the original games (especially 3D) aren't completely hating it. It's a poor game either way, but if you're a fan of the old games I hear it's a poor game that is still somewhat amusing and worth checking out (perhaps for a reduced price).
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zigfried posted June 16, 2011:

I just picked this game up today. Looking forward to playing it!
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JoeTheDestroyer posted June 16, 2011:

Oh, goodie! Another new game to add to the "bargain bin only" list.
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jerec posted June 17, 2011:

Duke Nukem Forever is a cicada. Spends 14 years underground, and when it finally emerges, it lives for a short time and then dies.
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Suskie posted June 17, 2011:

^^^ And it's ugly and horrible.

I rented this game last night to satisfy my morbid curiosity.
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JokerRulez posted June 17, 2011:

Regarding the comment Duke made at the top of the building.

In Texas they have a joke regarding restrooms, that all the men's urinals are hung low to the ground. This is a reference to the size and length of the men's "equipment" in Texas. They need lots of room to "swing" so to speak.

The Duke standing on top of a building in Vegas stating he can see his entire dick up there is likely a reference.

This is actually funny if you get the reference, as are most jokes. However, it looks like the joke is on us for this game. Too bad. Would have loved to have bought a quality retro package. Retro garbage is not worth it.

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Suskie posted June 17, 2011:

If that particular joke is from Texas, then how is Duke's line a reference to that if he's in Vegas (which is in Nevada)?
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JokerRulez posted June 17, 2011:

The location has nothing to do with the joke.

Not much of a joke either, though I believe that is the reference they were shooting for.

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WhisperingMadness posted June 17, 2011:

I hope you rented it at a redbox, Suskie, so you didn't waste too much money.
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WhisperingMadness posted June 17, 2011:

Sorry. I know this has nothing to do with the topic, but is there a way I can get rid of the ugly cheetos?
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EmP posted June 17, 2011:

Click the ugly cheetos to open new ugly avatar options.
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WhisperingMadness posted June 17, 2011:

Nice. Thank you.
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zippdementia posted June 18, 2011:

Suckiness is really sucky. I cannot express enough how disappointed I am that this game is terrible. It's so cliche to release a terrible game after years in production hell. I just wish that, for once, production hell would actually be worth it.

Like Batman Begins. That was worth the wait for another batman film.

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