Duke Nukem Forever ReviewJason Venter
It's important to remember something any time you put a disc in your PlayStation 3, grip your controller and prepare yourself for what you are about to experience: games are supposed to be games. They can be other things that today's gamer seems to crave--artistic, profound and meaningful--but at the end of the day, video games exist as a medium because people saw how cool video was and they figured it was high time interactive entertainment evolved to take advantage of the new medium. Do yourself a favor and keep all of that firmly in mind if you ever decide to play Duke Nukem Forever.
Because boobs. Duke Nukem Forever is a game with lots of boobs, and there's poop that you can throw at walls and there are aliens impregnating Earth's women and there are more boobs--you can even slap some that are just hanging from walls--and there is a strip club and bloody body parts fly everywhere when you fry an alien with a gun you carry around that's the size of a large microwave. There's also a lot of ****ing profanity, mother****er! ****, there's a lot of profanity!
It's abundantly clear from the title sequence onward that Duke Nukem Forever isn't meant to be any of the things that most maturing gamers profess to love. Here is a game that spent most of 15 years getting nowhere that it couldn't have gone in 2 or 3 years. The only real surprise is that some gamers will still be caught by surprise and perhaps even angered by the pervasive immaturity on display. Why would they ever have expected anything else? Hail to the king, baby!
The ribald adventure begins with Duke chilling in a men's locker room. There are toilet stalls against one wall, and showers. A disinterested guard stands nearby. You're free to wander the area at your leisure. You can take a leak in the urinal nearby (the game helpfully lets you know that you can press the 'R' button to piss; keep tapping it rapidly to urinate like a 70-year-old man) or you can check out the stalls and pee some more. If that gets old, you can reach into the toilet and pick up a bit of crap. Why am I doing this? Duke wonders aloud as you chuck the poop at the guard and the fellow doesn't even flinch. A brown stain spreads across the tile floor. As you carry around more dung, the Turd Burglar trophy notification pops up on-screen. It's funny because it's poop.
Eventually, the game moves on to matters of the non-fecal variety. You reach a chamber where some EDF guards are holding a meeting. The base you presently occupy has come under attack and it's up to you to help keep everyone safe. So you take over at the white board and you get to draw with the markers. No matter what you choose to sketch, even if you go for boobs or a penis to accompany the Operation: Cock Block text already shown, you'll be congratulated on your brilliance. Then you'll head down some nondescript corridors and cross a helipad where you must circle a colossal enemy and blast him until he falls to the ground and you rip off his robotic head with your bare hands. To paraphrase what a wise man once said, I'm here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I'm all out of gum!
There's no point in outlining every scene in what winds up being a rather lengthy campaign, though, in part because that would spoil a lot of jokes that provide one of your primary reasons for even playing the game in the first place. Some of those jokes are actually funny, some are self-referential and one especially memorable one makes fun of Master Chief. It's easy to smile until you remember that you've just spent a few hours throwing turds, drawing sloppily on white boards and running down corridors that all look the same--and boring--when you could have instead been making headshots or something similarly satisfying.
Duke Nukem Forever isn't trying to provide the same experience as other blockbuster games, though. It's trying to be something different and you'll either appreciate that or you won't. Just don't expect a purely conventional outing. There are familiar levels where you're advancing through corridors and blasting aliens that emerge from all sides, but then there are other stages like the one where you're shrunk down to a pint-sized warrior and you can't get anywhere unless you ride in an RC car, push food carts around and bounce from one cushion to another to cross a game room and raise a gate. The game's efforts to surprise you are welcome in an era dominated by homogenized shooters.
Unfortunately, the game relies too heavily on shock value and a script that feels like it was written by an angry 14-year-old boy with parents going through a messy divorce. Given the caliber of the talent that was pooled to form Duke Nukem Forever, you'd at least expect the piffle to be rounded out by environments that don't feel like they belong in a 1999 PC title with nicer textures. That would be more of a crime if you didn't spend so much of your time breaking open crates, circling piles of dirt and rock or climbing featureless girders on your way to the next shocking moment. In a sense, the game's sporadic lack of ambition works in its favor. Given the paucity of interesting vistas, though, it's surprising that every load screen seems to last nearly 45 seconds unless you install a 6GB file to your hard drive. Such delays annoy between levels, but it's harder still to accept them when you die in a tiny chamber and then must wait most of a minute before you can try again. In an interesting design choice, the developers chose to alleviate that frustration by filling the load screens with unhelpful bits of advice: If you keep falling into bottomless pits, notes one such line, it's probably your fault.
Still, it's difficult to take offense when Duke Nukem Forever insults you because the game hates everyone. Optimistic soldiers find their heads blown off or they get trampled by beasts, while women fare even worse. One of the game's most memorable scenes takes place in a series of underground caverns appropriately called The Hive. In that hellish place, beautiful and naked women are strapped to limestone columns or sprawled against the ceiling in slimy pods, moaning breathlessly between sobs or pleas to see their daddies. The implication is clear: these women are being defiled and dehumanized by aliens. It's supposed to provide interesting atmosphere. Other games have tackled similar themes, but perhaps never with so much success or with such a budget.
No matter how far Duke Nukem Forever goes in its effort to offend everyone, though, it seems counterproductive to hate the game for those attempts to titillate and disgust. Gamers are only getting what they were promised, after all, and the game spreads the hate without apparent malice. Poop, boobs, violence, drugs and profanity all go with the territory. It's just disappointing that no one responsible for quality control seems to have lobbied for the other things that prompt people to pick up video games, more commendable things like striking graphics, intriguing environments, precise play control and reasonably brief load times. The absence of those qualities leads to an experience that is memorable and flawed in equal measure. It's difficult to imagine anyone over 15 falling in love with that end result, even if he's a real turd burglar.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.