Duke Nukem is back but is he relevant? After more than 12 years in development Duke has returned to claim his throne, however, he turns out to be more of a court jester instead of a king. The problem Duke now faces is that he hasn’t changed with the times and a lot happened over those 12 years. A good portion of the Duke fan base has grown up and moved on to other established franchises like Halo, Call of Duty and Battlefield. The core concept of this game was developed in the mid-late 90s and, unfortunately, Duke is showing his age. You have the typical narcissistic humor where Duke can’t get enough of himself and the people of Las Vegas worship him. Within the world of this game Duke is still a big star and everyone treats him as such. I can’t help but think that Duke Nukem Forever might have done a lot better if it was released ten years ago, as it was originally intended. To put this into perspective for some of our younger readers, the Halo franchise didn’t even exist when 3D Realms initially revealed Duke Nukem Forever.
When you first begin playing Duke Nukem Forever you are going to immediately feel like you are playing a shooter from the late 90s. The controls are not as fluid as modern titles and the overall game is clunky. There are definite frame rate problems in the game and, even though it spent 12 years in development, it has the feeling of a rushed title. The controls aren’t as responsive as they need to be and everything simply looks dated. There is also some really lazy level design. There is one particular level where Duke shrinks down to action figure size and you have to drive this car through the casino. Along the way you have various puzzles to solve and obstacles to overcome. Once you reach the end of the casino Duke grows back to normal size and then you have to run back through the casino to the point where you originally started as mini Duke. This felt like a way to artificially extend the game and, like I said, really lazy level design.
For a game that is a first person shooter there is a surprising amount of platforming in this game. I think it was put in the game to try and break up the action and pacing of the game and introduce some variety, however, I was really getting sick of it about halfway through the campaign. There was also another level where I was driving and I constantly had to stop and get gas for my vehicle. It became really annoying and seemed like it was put in there to try and extend the game. As I have stated above, Duke is behind the times in a lot of different areas. With that said though there is one modern advance that Duke utilizes and that is his health system. His “Ego” is his health in the game. You can build up your Ego by interacting with special objects in the world such as admiring yourself in the mirror or lifting weights. It works the same way Halo’s health system works where you have a shield and then your health will deplete once the shield is down. If you start getting in the red you need to quickly take cover for a few moments until your health recovers.
By now you probably think this is the worst game ever, however, it really isn’t. Despite all of the complaints that I have about the game there are definitely other titles that are much worse. I was definitely able to go through the game which is more than I can say for some other titles. Duke is a competent shooter, however, it didn’t grow with the times. There really isn’t any of the modern advances that gamers have come to expect from their shooters, however, the game has a modern price tag at $60. We all know that a lot of money has been sunk into this project for over a decade, however, you can’t really charge the same as other franchises that offer so much more. If you like Duke Nukem’s sense of humor then there are definitely one liners in the game that will make you chuckle. Everything is completely over the top and that is basically what defines Duke. The “story” in the game is simply that the aliens have returned and they are kidnapping hot women. It is Duke’s job to save these women as well as the planet itself. Some levels are definitely better than others and it seems like that there are some levels that received a lot of attention in development while others appear to be a bit rushed. If you happen to play a lot of first person shooters (or open world, action games in general) you’ll probably chuckle when Duke calls out Halo or Saints Row. Now that 2K and Gearbox own the Duke Nukem license, hopefully we’ll see a proper Duke Nukem game built from the ground up for this generation. I do think that Duke still has a place in the industry, he just needs to be updated. If that were to happen then we could possibly see Duke retake his throne and we could once again say “Hail to the King, baby”.