Tom's recent console review of Duke Nukem Forever attracted some debate. Thankfully, anticipating that the PC version might be slightly different to its console partners, we commissioned a PC review of the game as well, concerned that the PC crowd, unfettered by epochal loading times, might think we were doing them a disservice. The bad news is that Dave didn't think much of it either...
Developers: Gearbox Software (2009 -) and others...
Publisher: 2K Games
So it's finally here and if you've been paying attention elsewhere, it's been getting a right old shoeing. And, sadly, rightly so, because while it's not offensive to play (on the PC – it actually is on the 360 and PS3, with ridiculous load times and such) it is what one might call 'a disappointment'.
And as you know, the phrase “he'll be disappointed with that” is now the most scathing thing anyone can say about anything else. Just ask any football commentator. So, Gearbox will be “disappointed with that” in terms of the review scores their game is getting. Just like we're “disappointed with that” in terms of the game itself, a mish-mash of the modern and the retro that fails to adequately satisfy both grumbling factions.
It's also utterly crass, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if such crassness didn't manifest itself in scouring a strip club for dildos and condoms, in order to satisfy the zombified lust of a badly rendered sex worker with a glazed expression. It's quite funny that you can find three of the vibrators in a locker and turn them all, watching them dance around, but other than that it's just ridiculous and easily the most offensive thing in the game.
Not because it's actually offensive in a “Good Lord! Digital Breasts!” way, but because you're being asked to do it in the first place when you really want to be killing things to death with big guns. And when you are killing things to pieces, Duke Nukem Forever isn't so bad. It's passable.
The shotgun is pretty meaty, offering a satisfying feeling of power. The pipe bombs are the same. Enemies might not be smart, but an old school game doesn't need smart enemies, it just needs lots of them to run at you and die with buckets of blood spewing from wounds. That's all we want.
So it's a shame there aren't as many as there should be, because the game's been compromised for a modern audience and, dare I say it, for console audiences. You can only hold two guns now instead of an arsenal, and Randy Pitchford of Gearbox has gone on record to say it's because the controller can't handle more than that.
There's regenerating health, with saps all the tension from the combat, because you almost literally can't die if you have any degree of ability. If you do take a few hits, just hide for a few seconds. I understand it's meant to be tougher on the 360 and PS3, but on PC it's just stupidly easy.
It's dumb fun for the most part then, certainly not worthy of a decade-long wait, but the actual core substance of DNF is reasonable for the most part. One of the best bits is trying to find all the different ways to boost your health, or Ego as it is called here.
Doing things like checking yourself out in a mirror (before discovering how silly the jumping animation is) will give you a +1 permanent bonus to your Ego, while beating someone at air hockey will give another bonus, and so on. A lot of them come from discovering different ways of examining female body parts, incidentally, so if you're that desperate to ogle pixellated flesh, you can go crazy here.
Level design is a little off sometimes, with certain sections extended beyond the point where they start losing their appeal, the driving bits in particular. There are lots of turret bits too.
Multiplayer is plain old deathmatch, capture the babe (a female-shaped flag) and king of the hill, your typical done-to-death modes, and it does divert for a few rounds, but it's nothing special. You can dip in and out, and you might even have a laugh with some chums, but it's not one you'll be discussing with your pub buddies in five years time.
In the end, Duke Nukem Forever is a mash-up of ideas from all through its development cycle. You can see old school bits coming through, like the silly jumping animation, and you can also see bits that Gearbox have crowbarred in to make sure there's a 'modern' edge that apparently is what was necessary to make it saleable. Like checkpointing and no saved games, the two guns thing, lots of motion blur to hide the ugly visuals.
The question that needs to be asked is why not just go completely either way? Either go with a modern approach or a completely retro one? It's where the development caught up, all sorts of ideas from all sorts of time periods being squashed together. They'd have been better just tearing it all up and starting once, keeping a few choice bits like the Ego thing and forging a new title from the wreckage.
By not doing so, it's just come out as a confused, average shooter that's at best mediocre (on PC) and at worst horrible (on console). Own it for the historical value alone, but you'd probably be best waiting for it on budget as it's not worth a full price purchase at this point.
- The shotgun is good
- Ego boost concept is good
- It's playable, doesn't break and is reasonable fun in general
- Doesn't know what it wants to be. And the graphics are pretty bad.
- Vibrator search mission and zombie stripper
- Some bits go on too long, occasional bad level design
The Short Version: At the end of the day, it's a mess of different ideas that obscure an averagely enjoyable shooter. It isn't modern and it isn't retro, the graphics aren't good, console versions are weak and it goes on.