2011: The Year of the Gamer. A lot of great games came out that year, games that I would consider personal favorites. That year, I pre-ordered the collector’s editions for both Marvel vs Capcom 3 and Mortal Kombat (2011), two of my favorite fighting games of all time. I paid for MvC3 myself but my step-father actually paid off the rest of my MK2011 pre-order as a surprise, but he also did the same for a game my little brother pre-ordered. For reasons I can’t even begin to parse, my brother (who was 13 at the time) wanted to get Duke Nukem Forever. I’m guessing it was because he was really into FPS games at the time and wanted to get it I don’t fucking know.
A couple months pass and when June finally showed its ugly head, my brother received his copy of Duke Nukem Forever. Kid even got the Balls of Steel edition too. He popped that sucker in and played the game for a few hours and he absolutely hated it. He hated how weird the game was and how often it loaded. I decided to play it with him just to help shoulder the burden and it certainly helped him enjoy it more, and I honestly had an okay time with it. Wasn’t THAT great, but it was fun enough.
We are approaching the 10th anniversary of the release of this game, 10 years is a long time to reflect on this game and my feelings on it. I’m a little older, a little wiser, and a little more familiar with Duke Nukem as a whole since I beat Duke 3D last year. I wanted to revisit Duke Nukem Forever to see if I still somewhat enjoyed it as I did all those years ago
I admit I was somewhat optimistic going into this one. I knew full well that DNF was not a great game but having the context of Duke 3D with me now, I felt like I could enjoy it a bit more. A lot of reviewers in 2011 made a note of how despite its problems, DNF is still Duke Nukem at its core in terms of humor and level design. I thought “Oh this’ll be fine.” and you know what? It was for a little bit. I liked how it opened with the finale of Duke 3D and I enjoyed throwing feces at EDF soldiers. I was really confident that I could handle anything DNF threw at me and I was convinced that reviewers were too hard on this game.
I am not exaggerating when I say that the moment I picked up a gun I was filled with every possible negative emotion a human is capable of feeling. The gunplay in this game is fucking wretched and a downgrade from Duke 3D in every way. The guns outside of MAYBE the shotgun have almost zero impact and have to be some of the most unsatisfying weapons I have ever used in a first-person shooter. It’s not helped that DNF had to do the “MODERN GAME” thing and have reloading and low ammo limits, which is really annoying considering how spongy the aliens feel this time around. Certain enemies can take entire clips of ammo and not go down, it’s ridiculous.
Even outside of the gunplay, the game just feels like shit to control. Duke moves so slow and his sprint only gives him a moderate amount of acceleration, and even then the big fuck can only run for like 5 seconds before he runs out of breath which is HILARIOUS considering how good of shape he’s in. Enemies seem to be mostly “hitscan” based so they can ALWAYS find a way to hit you. You can dodge bullets in theory but because of your speed you’re just going to end up getting hit by everything, and getting hit sucks because your health bar is essentially just a damn shield, A THING DUKE LITERALLY MAKES FUN OF IN THE GAME. God and going off the movement all the levels are filled with shitty ass platforming that barely works because of how weird the game controls and your jump being Ass Bad. Everything about this game feels so bad, dude.
At this point, I’m just losing my mind. I’m going through level after level dealing with these shitty mechanics and I felt like I was being pranked. There’s no way I actually enjoyed this when I was a kid, right? I know I wasn’t really accustomed to FPS games growing up but I was 14! I could recognize flaws in video games at that point! I had to wonder if I was doing something wrong, like if I was forgetting about certain mechanics and not learning the gameplay loop properly, and to be fair I was kind of right. I always forgot which buttons the explosives were mapped to and during particularly dark sections of the game I always forgot to use “Duke Vision”. Duke Vision is basically a night vision mode to help you see in the dark.
I was desperate to find positives here, I was trying everything. I remembered the game’s troubled history and how tumultuous it was for everyone involved. I didn’t want to hate what I was playing because I KNEW talented and hard-working people made it and I didn’t want to discount any of the work they put into this or any version of the game. At some point, I had to wonder…was it me? Was the reason this game was such a chore to play through?
The moment I got to the hive level in Duke Nukem Forever is the moment I threw away all those thoughts. This game is disgusting and awful. This game took every fun thing about Duke Nukem as both a franchise and a character and threw it into the toilet. The hive is unfun, too dark, annoying to navigated and filled with the horrific sounds of women being tortured and impregnated by aliens. This Sucks. Duke BARELY reacts to the things around him and it’s just so skeevy and awful. And because of how bad this section looks, it actually reminded me of something interesting THAT WILL GET ME TO STOP TALKING ABOUT THE FUCKING HIVE.
What the fuck happened here? There are muddy-looking textures, undetailed props and areas, and poorly animated and ugly character models all over this game. It’s a fucking nightmare to look at. You want to know how bad this game is as a visual experience? I’m going to post a picture. The left side is how the game SHIPPED, and the right is the game with its shitty visual effects turned off.
This game hurts my fucking eyes, man. Duke Nukem Forever really does have it all. Crap visuals, boring gameplay, disgusting set pieces, poorly functioning puzzles, garbage platforming, insipid level design, and just general unpleasantness. You know what the best part is? The fucking game ends with the SAME EXACT FINAL BOSS AS THE START OF THE GAME. I hate it. I hate Duke Nukem Forever. I HATE IT. ……It did give me one thing though.
Sometime after Duke Nukem Forever launched, a story-based DLC expansion was released. “The Doctor Who Cloned Me” takes place after the main game’s ending and it does the unthinkable; It makes Duke Nukem Forever an enjoyable experience. It has fun levels, Duke is actually saying more things than his standard one-liners, you get an actual VILLAIN in the returning Doctor Proton (who dies early on, but still), you even get genuine humor that’s more reminiscent of Duke Nukem 3D. I honest to god loved playing this DLC because it reminded me of why I liked Duke Nukem 3D so much. This is what the main game should have been, and it honestly makes the main game feel even worse by comparison. The Doctor Who Cloned Me is a better sendoff for Duke Nukem than Forever could have ever hoped to be and it…made me feel good a little bit. It helped me say goodbye to Duke Nukem.
Life Goes On
Duke Nukem Forever is not a good game. It straight up isn’t. It’s a boring, unfun slog that has almost zero redeeming qualities about it. The only reason you should care about DNF is its legacy in gaming as one of the biggest letdowns in the entire industry. I will say that if you can find it on sale for under $10, I would recommend getting it just for the DLC episode. It’s short, but it blows the main game out of the water. I miss Duke Nukem a lot and it’s a shame that he is more than likely never coming back.
Fuck Gearbox Software, and fuck Randy Pitchford.