Not many games can say their development cycle reads like a high score, but that’s exactly what 131,400 represents for Duke Nukem Forever: the number of hours it was in development, give or take a few thousand. For more than 15 years, Duke Nukem Forever sat in game-industry purgatory, a title that everyone seemed to want yet no one wanted to complete. A game that blew through almost a half-dozen developers, each leaving its mark on a game that now holds the title of longest development cycle ever.
With such a long incubation time, Duke Nukem Forever ran the risk of looking, sounding and feeling dated. By and large it manages to avoid those pitfalls, but the game’s not without fault. In a weird way it seems as though all those developers were so scared about being outdated that they overcompensated by including every possible gameplay mechanic and cliche that ever appeared during that 15-year window. This was surely intentional, and it obviously fits the Duke Nukem vibe, but that doesn’t make the game any more enjoyable. In fact, the resulting experience ranges from juvenile to downright schizophrenic.
In just the first few hours alone, you’ve got a massive boss battle, a ton of hallway gunfights, more sex and poop jokes than a nine year-old, a night-vision experience, a few lever-pulling exercises and a kart-racing sequence that’s tedious after five minutes but drags on for a good 15 to 20. And that’s just the first few hours. The game levels out somewhat as time goes by, but by then the sour taste is already in your mouth, which makes the often-rough graphics stand out more than they otherwise might, and makes the been-here-before gameplay seem even more repetitive than it already would in the overcrowded FPS genre.
Duke himself also gets old, and no matter how much you may think you want another dose of the “man’s man” character, after about five minutes of listening to his overly cliched, awkwardly gruff and total potty-mouth personality, you’ll realize that you’ve rather enjoyed growing up over the past 15 years and wish your buddy Duke had done the same. Like many of the individual elements of Duke Nukem Forever, the character of Duke Nukem revels in the glories of his past — but fails in almost every way to balance them with the need to show some advancement.
Perfect example: online multiplayer. True, it’s nice that Duke Nukem Forever includes it, because without online multiplayer options the FPS would’ve been shunned altogether. Still, while the game includes the requisite deathmatch and team deathmatch modes, it’s the other two derivatives that theoretically show promise but really just end up shallow. The first is Hail To The King, a sort of team-based King of the Hill mode that’ll be familiar to Halo players but due to its speed doesn’t deliver the same strategic reward of a job well done. The second is Capture the Babe, a capture-the-flag variation in which, yes, the teams are trying to steal one of the twins featured in the campaign. Thematically clever? Yes. Good for anything more than a quick politically-incorrect chuckle? No. Again, Duke hasn’t grown up, nor has his game. The rest of us have.
I hopped on the pre-release hype train like all the rest, morbidly curious about what would finally come out of the 2K hopper when Duke Nukem blasted into retail. I expected at least one good thing to come to those who waited, ideally maybe a whole campaign of good things. Instead, we just got more waiting — both in the form of ridiculous load times and a continuing hope that “maybe the next level” would have something more. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Duke Nukem Forever aspires to take gamers back to a different period in the gaming continuum. What it will really do is inspire you to take it back to the store for a full and complete refund.
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360