And the Duke is what we got!
OK so this review is way over due and I guess in keeping with the game itself. The production schedule was somewhat akin to that of the great pyramids and, as such, it kind of shows in the game itself. By now a lot of reviews have been out so you have all seen the slightly diverse pool of opinions on the game. I got it on release day and started playing instantly but it has been put down a few times for other game’s sake which I have also to review. Kind of like Gearbox, really, developing the game itself. I doubt anyone has been waiting with baited breath for me, though, so hey.
One thing noticed pretty early, is that Duke Nukem Forever does not take the plot very serious, giving you the usual farce of silly situations to face. If you can take this as it is then all is good, but if you want gritty reality and maturity in your shooters then this is not the game for you. In a way it is to FPS games what Monkey Island is to the point and click adventure. To put it bluntly, a little goofy…
The first clue you get is when you realise (if you are old enough to have played 3D) that you are essentially reliving the last mission of the old game, killing a huge cycloid king in a stadium. It is a little different to the game in that you have NPCs now, getting in the way and such, making plans in the locker room where you start the game taking a piss while a nervous soldier waits for you to finish. The commander shows you a whiteboard with a plan of attack on it and you can do what you like with it when he asks. It is kind of a tutorial on the initial controls of how to interact with stuff, but I have never seen a tutorial that lets me pick up a marker pen and draw a penis on the whiteboard containing a military plan of attack. And then be congratulated for having done so by the soldiers… well anyway. This is not the end of the silliness since it all turns out to be Duke playing what looks like an X-Box only with his nuke logo on it instead, in a penthouse of a casino he seems to own while getting his… gentleman’s sausage gobbled on by two blonde singers dressed like Britney Spears in her first hit music video. (Have they really been making this game for 12 years? Guess this proves they started and the beginning.) All this happens in the first few minutes of the game so you kind of have the bar set pretty low by this point.
But enough about the game itself for now and on to the meat of how the game plays. I am going to skip to this since I have a backlog of blog entries and wish to keep a few of them short. I will say that by this time I still have not finished the game, but have seen enough to comment on how it plays.
The mechanics are pretty solid and I have not seen many critical bugs that get in the way of it all. So this is a good point. Of course, they have had 12 years to iron out the bugs in the mechanics so they did something good with their time. My only issue is with a few of the default key assignments and they moved a couple of things around while adding a couple more to the mix as well. Using stuff like pipe bombs now does not lower you current weapon and is much like a grenade hot key. Same for dropping a holoduke decoy. They made hotkeys for steroids and beer as well, and consuming them has a different effect on Duke. Beer makes him a bad ass boxer, putting his guns away and using only fists. Steroids slow time down and leave it at that. Also the glasses have ‘Duke Vision’ like a night vision mode. However the keys are not intuitive, and actually takes some getting used to. They are typical weapon keys instead of using things like the F keys to differentiate them as a different function so sometimes I fumble and hit the wrong one and lob a pipe bomb when I wanted a holoduke. But this is a small complaint on the back of a solid control system.
Guns feel solid, damage dealing is as visceral as before and there are some old favourite mechanics from the last game that make a return. The only difference is the health bar and, like many shooters today, you regain health naturally instead of having to heal up with medical kits and bottles of pain killers. The health meter is now an ‘Ego’ meter which lowers as you take damage. You let it refill between being shot and all is well again. You can increase the capacity of the meter by interacting with stuff in the environment like clicking on a pinball game about Duke, checking out nude calendars on the wall, throwing paper airplanes and… I shit you not, slapping three huge alien breasts on the wall inside the alien hive ship… Well, it is Duke.
The other classic FPS concept thrown away, with comment from Duke himself to emphasise this on the dev team’s behalf, is the need for keys to open some doors and make your way on in the level. Other than that, the levels are pretty linear with the occasional way round you can take but they all lead to the same place anyway.
Ohh and you cannot carry all weapons like before. Again, this is something you get rarely these days in an FPS. You get your pistol, then two main weapons and that is it. You have to swap them out for the job at hand at the time, and they are usually located somewhere near the place they will make sense. Though to the game’s credit it tries to trip you up by placing weapons somewhere they are not really needed. So you see the RPG launcher lying around and think ‘Hmm, I will swap here because I bet something hard is waiting round the corner’ and then you just get more of the same waves of normal aliens to kill. Not sure why I gave it credit for that but there you are.
There are additions to the game, as well, in the form of the obligatory sliding-somethings puzzles to help you move along as well as some interactive stuff like driving sections and turret control. One section has you playing pipe dream where you have to link steam valves together so the vents above some nasty alien vegetation will shrink away and let you pass once you open the taps. They are not really hard, so it is hardly Professor Layton in Duke form. However, this brings back memories of games like Half Life 1 and 2. Yes, memories… DNF is full of them as the game evolves as you play and the development time spanning several fads of FPS game play shows as methods are pushed together from various contributors. Unfortunately none of these mimics are done to a fancy degree so DNF is not really pushing the innovation curve much with its huge muscles. Still they are not terrible, either. The driving is done better than it was in Mass Effect, at any rate. So this is a good thing.
The scenery also breaks up quite nice when it needs to, but usually as part of some scripted event instead of casual action like in games such as Red Faction and Gears of War 3. I did like controlling a huge crane and having it smash the face of a stadium up while aliens were trying to use it as a high ground to attack me. The damage modelling was done quite well.
There is a diversity of aliens like before, and the usual contestants are still there like the pig cops and the jetpack aliens that teleport around. You have the octobrains that still make a creepy roar like a lion in the bottom of a very deep can of baked beans, and now have some more powers like picking up your pipebombs or RPG missiles with telekinetic powers and hurling them back at you. You have the guys with armour and machine guns. And you have some new variations as well, especially with the pigs. Not all of them are in police uniforms with body armour, in fact most of them are just, well, naked. They also have larger commander variations that take some licking to bring down and the regulars can randomly go berserk and charge at you with renewed strength to beat you in the face.
Also, everyone who played the old game will remember with fondness the partial death of an alien where they kneel down and choke for a while. You could either shoot them again or watch them suffer and die in a few seconds. This is also back, though you can now hit the interaction key to have Duke finish them in a more interactive way by breaking their necks. It is not quite the curb-stomp of a Gears of War 2-3 grade but some thought has been given here. This is also an integral part of boss combat, where you may have to move in for the final kill and give the boss a good kicking up close to get the job done. And in some instances of the mini-bosses like the huge Cyclops monsters, you have an option to ‘humiliate’ them when they drop to their knees and punch them in the nuts a few times before the fight continues, all for that little extra ego bar boost.
OK so that is not what people remember with fondness about Duke Nukem 3D… what you all really want to know is if there is nudity like before, with strippers dancing to the backdrop of an alien genocide of humanity, and women tied up to strange hentai-like tentacles. Well.. rejoice because there is. Though the stripper section only shows up in a dream that Duke has while he is dying early in the game. But the naked-strapped-to-green-goo stuff is there in alien sections of the game, so don’t fret.
Anyway, DNF is essentially still a dated game with a few modern things thrown in. The graphics are pretty nice as well, though not industry leading by any standard with a lot of atmospheric touches conspicuously absent. Anyone that points to the section in the alien ship in defence against that statement will find their fingers slapped back down by me. Atmosphere is not tinting everything green and adding a little smoke effect. There are many small details that make a modern game these days and DNF is lacking this little touch.
Also, and I might be indulging in another petty moan here given my willingness to take the tongue-in-cheek humour of the game, the little shots taken at other games for comical effect grow tiresome as soon as they are uttered. It is like having that one uncle in your family who makes a satirical yet corny one-liner observation prompting everyone to roll their eyes and smile. OK these guys are kind of fun in their own way and they do it fully knowing they are not all that funny and only get laughs because their joke was actually pretty poor. Duke is that uncle. A scene where he is offered combat armour in the first section of the game and his reply is ‘Armour is for pussies.’ springs to mind, and the armour in the locker is actually the Master Chief’s from Halo. Or when a headless marine’s body is laying next to a helmet like the one from Dead Space and Duke opens his trap and says ‘That’s one Dead Space Marine.’ is enough to make you smile your way through a groan or two. Again, I guess that Gearbox knows what they are doing here and don’t intend for the jokes to be side splitters. So a pinch of salt later I move on and keep doing what Duke does best and splatter some alien heads open with a shotgun.
It is worth buying once it goes on sale, in my opinion, and that is if it is not already on sale by the time this review comes out…