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If you're reading this review, then I would assume you know the long and unbelievable story of Duke Nukem Forever's 14 year development cycle. You're not dreaming - Duke Nukem Forever will actually be released this week, but does a game that's been in the oven for 14 years stay relevant and fun compared to FPS games released in the last 5-10 years?
Duke Nukem Forever takes place right after Duke Nukem 3D. The world is idolizing Duke Nukem after he rescued the planet from the alien invasion, but the aliens aren't done with Duke and have proceeded to abduct all of the hot women on the planet. Since Duke needs hot babes around him at all times, he answers the call to arms to rescue all of the chicks those alien bastards stole from Earth.
The first thing you'll notice when you begin playing Duke Nukem Forever is how dated its graphics look. Character models, the environment, and miscellaneous items lying around try to have a high definition quality to them, but when you take a closer look, they're not as impressive as they're perceived to be. Explosions, destructible pieces of the environment, and other special effects aren't very impressive either. The overall lighting in the game world also looks strange and can be be described as "dark light." The game gives off an unnatural glow to everything the light touches, which makes things that don't have light on them look darker than they actually should appear to be. Even after attempting to calibrate my TV to try to make the game look better, I gave up and determined it was the game and not my gaming setup.
Duke Nukem Forever isn't the most technically advanced game as loading times between levels and after each death can be deemed unbearable. Even though the game doesn't penalize the player for dying besides playing from the last checkpoint, I feel the time during the loading screens should be more than enough to make players try their best not to die during the game, less they face the wrath of the loading screen. Another technical issue I experienced during my time was a number of slowdowns and hiccups when the action was too much for the game to handle, and by that, I mean when there's more than 2 enemies attacking Duke at a time, which the game often only has 2 enemies attacking to make up for this handicap. You would think a game featuring Duke Nukem would want to be full of death and explosions, but given how often the game experiences slowdowns and hiccups, I'm forced to think otherwise.
One thing Duke Nukem Forever has going for it is its sense of humor. Duke's comments to certain situations, dialog between NPCs with one another or with Duke, and Duke's actions can make for some humorous situations. During my time with the game, Duke has handled his own feces, kicked a field goal with an enemy's eye, and treated an enemy's privates like a speed bag, and he did it all while serving up memorable quips and a style that can't, and probably won't, be imitated. Duke's comments to other popular franchises such as Halo, Gears of War, and even Valve Software seem ironic as those competing games and company end up delivering very well polished and fun game experiences, where Duke Nukem Forever does not.Since Duke Nukem has a larger than life attitude, I felt it fitting his health bar was replaced with an "EGO" bar. If Duke takes damage, his EGO bar starts to drop until a heart beat is heard and the surroundings begin to pulsate red. If Duke is killed, he'll drop to the ground with his sunglasses shattered. Throughout the game there are a number of moments where Duke can increase his EGO bar. The activities vary from pumping iron, defeating bosses, to simply just admiring himself in the mirror. Making the EGO rechargeable instead of relying on health packs feels awkward as Duke has always been known to be a badass, and thus, should be running and gunning at all times. Instead, during my time with the game, I felt myself avoiding enemy attacks more than anything else in the game in order to save myself from minutes spent at the loading screen.
Many of Duke's classic weaponry make a return such as the Ripper, shotgun, RPG, and Shrink Ray. Pretty much every weapon that was made available in Duke Nukem 3D is made available again in Duke Nukem Return. Not only has Duke's classic weapons made a return, but many of the aliens he faced off in Duke Nukem 3D have made a return as well such as Assault Troopers, Pig Cops, and Octabrains. I'm torn whether to think the classic weapons and enemies act as an homage to Duke Nukem 3D or laziness on the part of developers to copy & paste weapons and enemies from Duke Nukem 3D into a new game.A multiplayer mode is available in Duke Nukem Forever, but it doesn't offer anything out of the norm. You can expect to play in deatmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and king of the hill modes. As you play, you'll earn experience points through your time across all multiplayer modes, which can be used to unlock new gear to customize the look of your Duke Nukem as well as customize Duke's digs. As you first start off, you'll be limited to the amount of items that are accessible, but as you gain levels, more items for both the closet and Duke's digs will become available. The game offers a healthy amount of unlockables to keep players coming back, but the problem I have with the multiplayer is it's a laggy mess no matter which game you join. I'm not sure if the lag is due to the network coding or if it's the previously mentioned performance issues. At this point, I see no reason to attempt to touch the multiplayer modes unless a patch is released in the future to make it actually playable.
Final Thought: Duke Nukem Forever successfully encompasses what a Duke Nukem game should be. Absurd commentary, an even more absurd storyline, and a whole lot of shooting. The problem is, the game suffers from a laundry list of technical issues and the gameplay feels old compared to recent shooters. Duke Nukem Forever might have slightly impressed if it was released when it was supposed to in the late 90s, but it certainly doesn't hold a candle to shooters released in the last 5-10 years.