Duke Nukem Forever Xbox 360 review

The Duke is finally back, but should we hail the king or blow it out our asses? Aaron checks out Duke Nukem Forever...

Alright, I admit it. Back in the day, I was a bit of a Duke Nukem fanboy. Duke 3D was amazing, and it was, in my option, the best FPS of the time, beating even id’s Quake. So, it goes without saying that, when the next Duke Nukem title was announced after Duke 3D‘s release, I was very excited, indeed.

As the months and eventually years rolled on, this excitement started to wane. Setback after setback, no-show after no-show ate away at my enthusiasm, until I was left, much like every other fan, with nothing but a bitter taste in my mouth. Duke soon became vapourware and we’d all but given up on his return.

After the fiasco of 3D Realms’ closure, the final nail was, seemingly, hammered into the coffin. Did I care? No, not really. By that time I couldn’t care less if Forever ever arrived. Sad, but true.

When Gearbox Software announced it had resurrected the title and that it would finally see the light of day, I hardly jumped for joy. In fact, it was more ‘meh’ than ‘yeah!’ Still, if only for nostalgia’s sake, I had to play it, but I was hardly pumped.

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So, why then, despite the fourteen year wait and the heavily unoptimistic outlook of the title did I start to grin like a five-year-old when I finally fired up the game?

Yep, even with nothing but cynicism in my noodle, as soon as the familiar drum hits and guitar riffs of the Duke theme rocked out of the speakers, I was instantly ready to kick ass and chew bubblegum (and yes, I was all out). I was a very happy chappy, and memories of 1996’s frag fest soon drifted back.

Sadly, though, this feeling didn’t last all that long.

Come get some!

As we all know, Duke Nukem Forever has been in the kind of development hell that no other title has ever faced. Over the years, the project has seen several game engines, redesigns, staff changes and more. It’s amazing that anything coherent came out of the development process, even after being hammered together by the talented guys over at Gearbox, and it’s not long after starting the game that you begin the see the results of this tortured evolution.

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You immediately notice that, visually, Duke Forever is a bit of a mess. To say that this looks like an original Xbox title may be a bit of an overstatement, but it’s not a statement that’s all that far wrong.

There’s no antialiasing to speak of, leading to jaggies everywhere, texture pop-in is rife, and although many textures look great, there’s a shocking amount of amazingly ugly, low res decals strewn about the world. Object modelling is often basic and notably rushed, and the overall feeling is very unpolished and disappointing.

Duke Nukem Forever can, at times, look fairly decent, and although not a patch on today’s cutting edge graphics engines, it still packs in the character and feel of the 90s titles. It’s just a shame that it looks so dated technically.

Still, graphics aren’t everything, and you can overlook a lot, if the game underneath is a winner. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite the case.

Back in time

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The core FPS gameplay in Duke Nukem Forever is as straightforward as it gets, and there’s nothing in the way of complex game mechanics or originality to be found here. It’s full-on run, gun and kick, and nothing more, really. Duke can interact with the environment, solve a few rudimentary puzzles and even drive a couple of vehicles, but for the most part, the game is basic shooter fare.

Enemies are as dumb as their Duke 3D counterparts, and many of the advancements we’ve come to expect in today’s FPS releases are missing, right down to polish, silky smooth controls and buttery aiming. Duke is often clunky and sluggish, which is a bit of a problem when many foes zip around the screen at high speeds.

The vehicle sections are decent enough, but controls are iffy, often leading to untimely deaths or bouts of wall-kissing as you get hung up on scenery, and load times are excessive, leading to prolonged pauses if you die and have to reload over and over, something you’ll be doing a lot on higher difficulties.

Even with these flaws and lack of TLC, Duke Nukem Forever‘s gameplay is solid enough, and a couple of enhancements have been made. Duke no longer has a health bar, but instead packs an Ego meter. This functions like everybody’s favourite Spartan’s shield, and as you take damage, it’s depleted. Once it’s gone, take too many hits and you’re dead. Stay out of harm’s way and it’ll recharge. Simple, if wholly unoriginal stuff, but welcome nonetheless.

As you explore you can increase the size of Duke’s ego by performing certain actions, such as lifting weights, winning at slot machines, signing autographs and even smashing a blatant Christian Bale-alike in the face. You can even play a fully functional pinball table to earn more ego.

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This time Duke can engage foes in hand-to-hand combat, and can perform executions on wounded enemies. There’s also a few QTE-style button mashing events to open doors, finish off bosses and the like. The inventory system has been mapped to the D-pad, making it easier to access items, and you can use a nifty ‘Duke-vision’ system to see in the dark. These may be very basic changes, granted, but every little helps.

The problem is that, despite these few simple additions, Forever‘s a game that’s never quite made it out of the late 90s, and it’s painfully obvious that this game was conceived over a decade ago. Simply put, it shows its age.

Shake it, baby!

Luckily, even though it was released many years ago, the original Duke 3D had some unique ideas that have stood the test of time, and have returned here. Most notably Duke’s arsenal of weapons still packs an enjoyable punch (even if the weapon models are some of the ugliest I’ve ever seen), and the shrink ray and freeze guns are as entertaining as ever, as are pipe bombs and trip mines.

These lead to some cool moments, and the varied alien horde make for some interesting foes, if often stupid ones. Titanic Battlelords, floating commanders and deadly Octobrains are just a few of Duke’s memorable cast, and each has been beefed up for this outing.

The many interactive environments and items add to the enjoyment, too, even if most are nothing more than frivolous detractions, and environments throughout are interesting, taking in such locations as opulent casinos, the burning ruins of Las Vegas and alien-infested hives.

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There’s also the simple, basic fact that Duke Nukem Forever is just plain fun, in a stupid, over the top way. In a time when we find ourselves wall to wall with ever more unimaginative and downright dull real world military shooters, Duke Forever is a breath of fresh air, and that alone will make the game worth it for some, even if it’s nowhere near as good as it should be, and is more guilty pleasure than classic blockbuster.

Then there’s the ‘humour’. Duke’s trademark misogynistic ways and crude style are back in force, and may or may not hit the mark, depending on your appreciation of schoolboy humour and poorly modelled cleavage. It’s all a little childish, really, but this is a Duke Nukem game, so it’s to be expected.

There are a few pokes at pop culture in there too, such as the aforementioned Mr Bale, and even a dig at Halo’s Master Chief. It all adds to the fun, but is hardly a substitute for polished gameplay.

Hail to the king?

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We all knew that Duke Nukem Forever couldn’t possibly live up to fourteen years of development and anticipation, so it comes as no surprise to me to find out that we eventually got a very average, if fun FPS. It’s a game that’s clearly been picked up after the prolonged development issues and then rushed to market, but despite this, is one that will certainly bring a smile to fans of the Duke, if only fleetingly.

If you pick up the game and approach it for what it is, an old school shooter, then you’ll probably enjoy it. There’s plenty of action here to keep you occupied for a few hours, and the multiplayer can be very entertaining, especially with the various imaginative weapons on offer.

If, however, you’ve moved on from simple run and gun shooters and lean more towards tactical titles or more intelligent outings, like Deus Ex and BioShock, then you’re probably best staying away.

In the end, it’s not as bad as many feared it would turn out to be, but it’s no game of the year either. Here’s hoping that the next Duke outing fares better.

Duke Nukem Forever is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.

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3 out of 5