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Duke Nukem Forever (PC) artwork

Duke Nukem Forever (PC) review

"Let's not get some."

Duke Nukem Forever (PC) image

You might be wondering why I am reviewing Duke Nukem Forever now, six years after its initial release. Well, thanks to the random review box on the front page, I saw Tom Chick's review pop up and I just had to read it. It is an excellent takedown piece, and he covered most of what is wrong with this game pretty well, but I felt that he missed a few things. I was going to comment, but as I was filling the comment box with hundreds of words, I realized that I had a lot to say about this game and could probably write a whole review about it.

I will start at the beginning though, in case you don't know what this game is about. Duke Nukem Forever is a "comedic" first person shooter and the sequel to the critically acclaimed Duke Nukem 3D. It was released in 2011, a whopping fifteen years after its predecessor. Development was delayed due to a myriad of problems, which included, but were not limited to, high staff turnover due to the insufferable personality of head designer George Broussard, and a legal battle with publisher Take-Two Interactive, who took 3D Realms to task for failing to finish the game after thirteen freaking years. Once that was settled, the game was finally handed over to Gearbox Studios who got the job done in two. As Duke himself might say: "What a mess."

Anyway, once this game was finally released, I actually thought its premise was kind of brilliant in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. Duke Nukem is ostensibly the biggest, baddest, most egotistical, larger-than-life hero ever known, a guy who single-handedly saved the Earth from an alien invasion back in 1996. Now he's a multi-billionaire, he owns a huge mansion, he sleeps with countless women who throw themselves at him shamelessly, and he even owns a fast food franchise. Duke doesn't have a health bar in this game; he has an "ego" bar, which gets bigger and bigger the more that he pumps iron, kicks ass and engages in all manner of ridiculously manly activities. Then, when he learns that those same pesky aliens have invaded Earth again and stolen all of its women, Duke is of course called upon to save the Earth once more.

It is a premise that cannot possibly be taken seriously, making nods to all manner of bad sci-fi and action movies alike, and it might've worked if the writing was more self-aware, but unfortunately it isn't. Instead, the writing tends to oscillate between laughing at itself in one moment and then genuinely embodying the most vulgar and chauvinistic fantasies in the next. The problem is that these two things cannot co-exist at the same time and the writers don't seem to understand this. To make matters worse, the game is filled with meaningless one-liners that are sloppily harvested from pop culture, as if attempting to say: "Hey! Look at me! I'm still relevant!" (Tom Chick already did a good job of elucidating on this, so if you want some good examples, check out his review).

However, despite Duke Nukem Forever's feeble attempts to get with the times, its tone still feels trivial and regressive, as though it emerged, gasping for air, from the depths of a dusty time capsule. Sure, its graphics are decent enough; it used the latest version of the Unreal engine. However, aside from that, everything about it feels markedly dated. The physics puzzles, which mostly involve Duke throwing barrels around like Donkey Kong, are a serviceable way to put the Havok physics engine to use until you remember that Half Life 2 did physics puzzles better seven years earlier.

Then there is the multiplayer, which is pretty much as rote and unremarkable as it gets. Spawn into an arena with a bunch of other Dukes, pick up some guns off the ground, and then, well, duke it out. Heh. See what I did there? That line was probably funnier than most of the humour in the entire game. Anyway, the few multiplayer modes are either quite basic or ripped off from other games, and more to the point, not a lot of fun. It simply feels like a shittier Quake 3 with absolutely nothing new or interesting brought to the table.

It's a shame, too, because I really wanted to give Duke Nukem Forever the benefit of the doubt. I loved Duke Nukem 3D back in the day. It was a groundbreaking title that had excellent multiplayer, interesting weapons, unparalleled interactivity, intriguing level design and powerful map-building tools that carried it further than its crass humour or story ever did. I figured that if Duke Nukem Forever was cut from the same cloth it would deserve an honest look and perhaps some of its faults could be forgiven. And honestly, I did get some enjoyment out of Duke Nukem Forever for a brief while. Its shooting mechanics actually feel pretty good and polished. Gods, after fifteen years, you would damn well hope they are. And even though its humour is generally quite weak or outright stupid, I genuinely laughed out loud at some of its more brilliant moments, such as when Duke punches out a verbally abusive film producer or when he makes fun of Master Chief's wussy power armor. I even laughed at the reference to Leroy Jenkins, until I remembered that Mass Effect made that exact same joke four years earlier.

But then I got to the torture porn level and became confused. Within this alien house of horrors, I found myself faced with dozens of young, beautiful, topless women who were bound in green alien goo and writhing in apparent agony. They had all been forcibly impregnated with alien parasites, and I literally had only two ways of dealing with them: Put them out of their misery by murdering them myself, or leave them to their fate and watch their stomachs explode in a grotesque rain of blood and alien parasites. The better option, obviously, was to murder them myself, but either choice was fucking awful. If Gearbox was going for the horror angle here, they sure nailed it.

But then, amidst this Gigerian nightmare, Duke finds a wall of mottled alien boobies protruding from a wall. He gives them a firm slap, which produces a spray of nasty, greyish alien milk. Duke laughs at this and says: "So wrong, yet so right." Really, Duke? You can find humour in the midst of all this? Then he traipses through the rest of the alien hive, killing all of the women he sees and is more or less okay with it. "It's better this way," he says, as he puts a few slugs into a young woman's chest. What a charmer.

Then he finds his fucktoys, a pair of twins who are vaguely modeled after the Olsen twins, who were also kidnapped by the aliens. They are also naked and bound in green goo of course, but the first thing they do when Duke finds them is to apologize for being raped by the aliens, because they know that getting pregnant will make them fat and Duke won't like that. Seriously. Then they, too, explode in a shower of blood and alien parasites, because they were apparently useless side characters who didn't matter anyway.

Man. I dunno about you, but I couldn't find anything funny, nor sexy, about any of this. In fact, I have no idea what the developers were going for here. What I do know is that the humour in these sequences simply didn't work, it trivialized the suffering of these girls while Duke simply came across as a deranged psychopath rather than the funny, incorrigible anti-hero he is supposed to be. Either way, I felt none too comfortable playing a game that forced me to commit violence against innocent women, or failing that, stand by and watch as horrific sexual violence happened to them instead.

"But wait," you say, "Duke Nukem 3D also featured mostly-naked girls who were bound in alien goo. How can you defend one title and not the other?" Well, for starters, the girls in 3D were simply pixelated pieces of scene-setting that were barely interactable at all, serving as a one-note reference to the Aliens films. I guess I feel that there's a bit of a difference between that and girls featuring high-definition models, realistic animations and full voice acting, who whimper, cry and beg for their lives. The latter has a bit more of an impact on the psyche, I think. The developers seemed to fail to take this into account though, probably because Duke Nukem Forever's development manifesto was trapped in the 1990s just like everything else about it.

I probably could've slogged through this game and enjoyed its mostly-functional shooting mechanics and its few moments of well-written humour if only to satisfy my nostalgia, but in the end, it was its overtly misogynistic tone that turned me off. After I emerged from the deplorable alien sex dungeon nonsense, I found myself unwilling to go on. I half-heartedly poked around the multiplayer modes for a bit until I realized that nobody else was playing this game, then I uninstalled it for good. I would advise you never to make the mistake I did; that is, to install it in the first place.

Nightfire's avatar
Community review by Nightfire (January 10, 2017)

Nightfire is a reclusive dragon who lives in a cave with internet access.

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hastypixels posted January 13, 2017:

I'd wondered why this remake failed to achieve zeitgeist in the manner that Doom has, but now it makes sense. Reviews I've seen ... particularly LGR's, gloss over the darkest side of Duke. Your review did a good job of reminding me why I played: Not for the sass - or crass - but for the weapons, multiplayer and action.

I wonder if we're so inured of hentai tropes that we simply say, "let them play, I wouldn't bother" instead of discussing it? The end of Bioshock Infinity's DLC campaigns also contains a horrific torture scene. Needless, according to the reviewer, but they're not movies. You have to work reach the end of a game, so content can be set behind that barrier.

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