"Duke Nukem Forever"
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Gearbox Software/3D Realms/2K Games ESRB
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence,
mature humor, nudity, strong language, strong sexual
content, use of drugs and alcohol)
By Billy O'Keefe
As perhaps you feared, the real-life saga of "Duke Nukem Forever's" development — 14 years, numerous reboots, a developer's demise and a 13th-hour rescue after the project had seemingly been buried for the final time — is more engrossing than the game itself. When the public finally gets its hands on "Forever" this week, more players than not will wonder what, exactly, took so long.
At the same time, "Forever" is more good than bad and more fun than not. Its spottiness is doubtlessly the fault of taking an eighth-grader's lifetime to complete development, but it's also born out of a willingness to try (and sometimes succeed at) things most contemporary first-person shooters would never attempt.
Because "Forever's" titular character has a sense of humor more reflective of gaming's juvenilia than its present condition, "Forever" finds itself wildly at odds with the same audience that was raring to play it in 1997. Time hasn't been kind to Duke, and while some of "Forever's" self-referential humor is pretty funny — Duke is now a celebrity with more endorsements than Krusty the Clown — most of it falls flat (often embarrassingly so).
Age spots pop up elsewhere — most painfully in the long loading times, but most noticeably in the graphics, which feature objects and textures that range from decent by today's standards to awful even for an early Playstation 2 (that's 2, not 3) game. Were the game's development not so famously documented, you might wonder if the disparity was some kind of in-joke you're not getting.
So how does it play? As a shooter, pretty well — and, beyond the ability to sprint, look down sights and regenerate health, remarkably similar to 1996's "Duke Nukem 3D." That game's enemies return with a few new friends here, and while their intelligence is dead simple and there's little in the way of attack strategy, they're relentless enough to continually put up a fast, intense fight.
In some ways, "Forever's" age is even a benefit. Because where most modern shooters add "variety" via cinematic but unimaginative sequences on vehicles or rails, this one makes like its forebears and throws out whatever weird idea it can dream up.
Sometimes, it falls flat. A few sequences that leave Duke as a sitting duck feel slightly cheap. Underwater levels, though short, are as unfun as ever. A mid-game boss fight takes too long despite hinging on a clever combat trick, and there's a weird moment with an elevator lever that doesn't immediately make sense.
But a challenge involving an RC car you must control with a virtual remote is brilliant, and driving that car later as shrunken Duke is a blast. (Driving Duke's monster truck at full size is even better.) A platforming run through a kitchen as shrunken Duke is, while a bit long, really clever in its level of design, and "Forever" even manages to make a valve-turning puzzle fun — even if Duke himself voices his disapproval.
Even when "Forever's" willingness to try anything backfires, it provides an element of surprise that makes the oddities and shortcomings considerably easier to forgive than they otherwise might be.
"Forever's" multiplayer, meanwhile, is completely trapped in time, with the modes (deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, king of the hill) you expect and the same run-and-gun sensibility that powered "Duke 3D." It works well enough, so this isn't necessarily a bad thing if you miss that approach. For collectors who enjoy rewards, an experience points system lets you unlock merchandise for Duke's virtual mansion, which is good for some light amusement but little else.
(c) 2011, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.