Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Duke Nukem Forever: A Cautionary Tale

Duke Nukem Forever was r

eleased on June 14, 2011 by 2K Games.

Until very recently, Duke Nukem Forever had become a creature of legend in the video game world. The game proved itself to be an elusive mythical beast in the vein of Bigfoot or Daniel Day-Lewis, spending years at a time in seclusion while emerging once every so often to remind society that it was still at large. Sadly, instead of a blurry picture in a local newspaper or Oscar-caliber performance in a new movie, all we got when Duke resurfaced was a half-hearted release date and a screenshot of what seemed to be an amazing game we would never get to play. Then, this year, Duke Nuken Forever's creators apparently got serious. A firm release date was set: June 14th, 2011. There were in-store displays, TV commercials, the whole nine yards, all bearing 6/14 as a firm release date. Some, like myself, were skeptical. Around Summer 2009, I had come to terms with the fact that Forever was never coming out. When I was proven wrong, I lined up to buy a copy only to find out that I really wish it hadn't.

As it stands, Duke Nukem Forever has been in production for over a decade. Development began in 1997 and the game was originally scheduled for release in '98 or '99. Since then, a lot has changed. The first-person shooter genre is not what it was when Duke ran amok 15 years ago in Duke Nukem 3D. FPS's have gone on to achieve monolithic status, with franchises such as Halo and Call of Duty dominating sales charts with each new release and games such as Portal (or Portal 2) taking the traditional run-and-gun gameplay in brand new directions. In Duke's new outing, we find none of these new features; there is nothing fresh here, nor does the game even seem passable by today's standards. Had Forever been released on the original Playstation, it may have been impressive. Instead, we are left with a title that feels stale and somehow half-baked (despite being in the oven since the Clinton administration) with graphics that look like they haven't been updated since production started all those years ago.

And it's not just the look and feel of the game that seems dated: the enemy AI, a point of pride for modern shooters and arguably the characteristic that made the first Halo such a huge success, is absolutely pathetic. In several different scenarios at different stages of the game, I found myself in a firefight with a handful of Nukem's alien foes (which look so similar to those in the Gears of War series that we'd probably have a lawsuit on our hands if they weren't developed by the same company) and managed to stand behind a column no broader than Duke's shoulders, and all 5 or 6 of the CPU enemies ferociously shot at the column until my health recharged. This was at the hardest initially available difficulty setting. Maybe I've been spoiled by more intelligent shooters, but I like a little more of a challenge than blindly running into rooms and shooting whatever happens to be moving.

Though the gameplay may be outdated, I did find myself enjoying DNF's story line. Humor has always been a flagship feature of the Nukem games and I can safely say it's all still here, juvenile though it may be. There are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments in the game's plot, and the dialogue is still peppered with Duke's lovably cliched one-liners. Still, that's about all there is to love about Duke Nukem Forever. I'm not here to review or score the game but quite frankly, it's a waste of $60 and part of me wants my money back. Video games have gotten expensive, and there a plenty of better ones for you to spend your money on, so please: don't bother with Duke Nukem Forever. It's a stale, stereotypical FPS that feels incomplete and unrewarding. Nothing about this game made it worth the wait. And if you have for some reason already dropped your hard earner dollars on a copy, I recommend just playing the pinball machine in Duke's gym in the first level. It's more fun than anything that comes afterward.

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