Duke Nukem Forever

Duke Nukem Forever

15 years ago.  Try and think back that long.  For most of you it probably still meant school of some sort or starting a career.  Some others might remember falling in love for the first time or meeting “the one” that you’re still with.  For a few of you, life may not have even started yet!  15 years; that is the gap from when the last first person Duke Nukem game was released.  Sure, there have been other iterations since of the brand.  Like the ’02 side-scroller Manhattan Project, N64’s third person Zero Hour released in 1998, or my personal favorite “spin off” Time to Kill (1998) for the Playstation.  But 3D was the last time it was in its original form, until now with this game.  And yes, gaming technology and prowess has progressed way passed double digit bit graphics to controllers that double as a second screen that can be used to show your ball in the sand while you attempt to “get on the green” using another controller that has motion sensors.  But this game is all about staying true to the franchise, while playing some “catch up” in the technical department.

The story line in the single player campaign finds you after sending “those alien bastards” back to the (worm) hole they crawled out of the first time around, and getting worshiped for doing so.  The mansion you live in reveals many testaments to your testosterone-powered heroics: with casinos, monster trucks, burger joints, and of course strip clubs that carry “the King’s” name or likeness.  While channel surfing after receiving a “Sleepy Old Bear,” you come across news reports that the alien scum are back to seek revenge on the planet that defied them, and the man who sent them packing.  Quickly, their plan becomes evident: they are stealing Earth’s women (especially the hot ones).  This sends you into action as Duke for the first time, in a long time, in an FPS experience filled with humor and action aplenty.

big monster

The campaign itself will take most people around 8-9 hours to complete.  Some may “sprint” through it and get done in about 7, but the extra time will be spent exploring the surprisingly interactive environments.  Practically every light switch can be flipped, every doughnut can be eaten, every beer can be drank, and every toilet flushed.  Other interactions require more than just tapping X, like signing autographs/drawing with the thumbsticks, bench pressing with repeated taps of A, and even playing mini-games like pinball and air hockey.  Each of these will “play their part” to (at least) momentarily distract you from the frag fest.  And there is an incentive to doing some exploring along the way outside of pure curiosity.  Instead of instituting the frustrating mechanic of needing to collect objects to advance to the next level, like a certain number of key cards or time travel energy crystals, there is an optional – but positive outcome.  Your Ego is a health/shield bar hybrid.  And although its depletion does not mean death, your room for error is now gone and you will have to find cover to get back to “playing shape.”  This bar can be increased incrementally by doing the aforementioned activities throughout the campaign.  There are about 5-6 of these “secrets” per level (outside of a few exceptions).  And some of these can be found very easily, even naturally, while others may take another pass through to collect.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you will be at a stark disadvantage for not uncovering every single one.  But with the added gun fire coming your way in later missions, you may want to partake in the obvious interactions, if nothing else.

Of course all of this is a far cry on the importance scale to what it’s really all about: the shooting.  I’ll admit, I have played many “gun based” games that outrun this one in the “finer points” department.  Realistic recoil, reticle blooms, weapon customization ect. are non-existent in this title.  But I think these things would largely feel “out of place” in a Nukem installment.  What it does do well is give you old favorites like the shotgun (which is encased in glass that says “Break in the event of an alien invasion”), the mini-RPG Devastator, among others, and turns them up to 11.  And naturally some weapons are better in certain spots than others.  I mean, you will not be sniping with the shotty, but a “face-to-snout” altercation is solved best with some buckshot straight to the dome piece!  Trip mines and pipe bombs have never been more fun to use, as the latter are detonated MacGyver style with a key chain car alarm.  In terms of overall mechanics and handling, its fair.  Lining up and pulling the trigger comes as natural as breathing and a careful study of your shots is not a recommended strat as it is in other shooters.  But with the amount of enemies that will be gunning for you, and you alone, you’ll be glad for this simpler approach.  The campaign also features a lot of different gameplay elements outside of just burning through ammo.  Driving vehicles and solving puzzles are a necessary step in extinguishing the babe-thieving threat.  Getting behind the wheel of a monster truck and plowing over every building, alien Enforcer, and Pigcop in sight is just a blast and is meant to let you blow off some steam.  The puzzles, though, are quite rudimentary and can put a serious damper on the overall “flow” at times.  Platforming is another huge sub-feature of getting through the story.  Jumping from a broken slab of concrete onto the roof, or from box to sofa to poker table as mini-Duke (don’t worry, the “pint size” moments afford for relatively solid gameplay and a lot of laughter) are part of getting from place to place and actually adds some nice transitions between a few levels.  Even the tried-and-true Duke water diving sections are here, and they are as difficult as ever.  Speaking of difficult, this game can be just that in some stages.  The average gun battle has you, to put it lightly, out-manned and out-gunned.  And bosses are, as the kids like to say these days, unfair and it will take some “trial-and-error” before beating them.  But using the weapons and resources around you, as well as “runnin’ and gunnin’ ” and playing with an up-tempo edge will lead to successfully moving through this relatively solid single player experience.

monster truck

Like most games, there are both positive and negative aspects abound.  Forever is no different.  The over-arching problem the game has is it’s unpolished. Sure, the development of this game as been off and on for more than a decade.  But it’s not as if Doc Brown and Marty McFly grabbed dev tools for the new generation of consoles, presented them to the door step of 3D Realms in ’96 and said good luck with everything.  By the time a well laid plan was put into place and a solid publisher (2K) and dedicated developers (Gearbox and Triptych with Piranha on the multiplayer side) were assigned to the project, you can fast-forward to 2009.  I’m not giving the team a “free pass” on the mistakes, but anyone that thinks this exact game in the case, on the shelf, in the store is 12 years in the making is sadly mistaken.  Having said that, more could have been done in the presentation department.  Almost every time a new level booted, there was a clear frame rate “glitch” in accordance with the first major demand on the hardware, like an explosion.  Loading, as a whole, is atrocious.  I can understand an extended “wait” the first time a new stage has to be put together.  But what is inexcusable is this need for this every single time a checkpoint is reverted back to.  For me, the main anxiety of dying was not having to try again, rather needing to wait for the level to load all over again.  At this point, a design “decision” such as that is unacceptable.  Graphically, things could be better.  Colors and resolution are okay, and the character models are actually pretty good.  But the environments and backdrops do leave something to be desired.  The levels in the desert, for example, have muddled textures to which nothing else in the world really “pops.”  Sound isn’t bad; each weapon has a distinct noise that seems to fit that particular firearm, and the explosions are loud without being “harsh.”  What is harsh is when too much “stuff” is occupying the scree at one time, and the game seems to have trouble with getting a grip on all of it and producing something that sounds clear.  The one shining positive in presentation is the script.  It is as cheesy and crass as ever, but Forever features not only classic one liners from the man himself, but others (in particular the occasional Earth Defense Force member) also have hysterical scores written for them.

bigger monster

An entertainingly fun campaign is to be expected.  But just as enjoyable is the online play.  LIVE features up to 8 players in four different games types.  While this number may seem low in comparison to other shooters (with the standard being at least 16), the frenetic play style, frantic pace, and level design play very well with the limited number.  There is classic DeathMatch (FFA rules for most kills), Team DeathMatch, Capture the Babe (the Nukem twist on CTF), and Hail to the King (team based King of the Hill style variant where foot time in a designated area is what matters).  My favorite of these is TDM and CTB; the maps developed for DNF really seem to favor team over “every man” in terms of flow and gameplay.  There are also three options in finding a session.  Quick Match simply supplants you in a random room.  Custom Match allows you a few more options to narrow the random search (type, level, ect.).  Game Browser is a very cool, “throwback” option which brings up a list of the current games and informs you of the host’s GT, match type, number of current players, map, and even the ping. In the way of gameplay, Piranha did a great job with developing something that is really reminiscent of the old PC LAN days, even on a console.  The FPS assists (like acceleration, snapping, friction, ect.)  that have since been developed, that are used in popular shooters today, and make racking up kills much easier don’t seem to be present in this one, which is good. There’s no class or weapon customization options to speak of, and no “advantages” during the match for playing well.  Success is dependent on your knowledge of the map, memorization of weapon and power-up spawns, and plainly being better at shooting guns than the other guy.  Which should be the point of a first person shooter.  Points for kills, assist, and completing challenges increase your rank, which unlocks items in the “My Digs” section, that’s kind of like My Crib in past NBA 2k games and is packed full of statues, workout equipment, beer, women (of course), and even a game room.  It is worth noting that before the game launched in the U.S. I was having some network problems like lag and session failures, but those have become less numerous since.  The increased latency of playing with folks “across the pond” may have played a role previously.  This online experience is quite vanilla, and definitely isn’t the moose tracks-peanut butter-praline surprise we are all used to playing now.  But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t sweet.

Now to the summary!