Seriously, is this a joke? I know all about Duke Nukem Forever's infamous development and it would be remarkably unfair to judge the game based on that, especially since the game has been made and remade and started from scratch a dozen times or so, but even if you judge the game entirely on its own merits, it's a sloppy mess and I honestly can't help but think this was just some sort of cruel joke meant to poke fun at the expectations of the fanbase that's been waiting so long.
Before I ever even got to play the game, I knew I had to keep my expectations in check. After a decade and a half of development time and countless false starts, it was easy to think, “15 years? This must be the best game ever”, even though the actual development time for the finished product was only a few years, much like any other normal game. For this reason, I spent the first six hours of game time thinking to myself that it wasn't so bad; it's about as mediocre as I'd expected, no reason to be disappointed. Sadly, this didn't last and before long I was ripping my hair out.
The story is about as simple and basic as they come. It's been 12 years since Duke Nukem saved the world from the aliens, and he's basking in the everlasting glory of being a global champion and role model for everyone in the world. Naturally, the aliens return to wreak havoc on human kind, and Duke is the only one who can stop them. It's pretty much exactly what you expect out of a Duke Nukem story, and in that respect I give it an unenthusiastic thumbs up.
As for the humor, it mostly works, but some of it does not. Making constant references to just how long fans have been waiting to see you again is funny, painting the walls with poop is not. I won't lie, I got more than a few genuine chuckles out of the game, but there was just as much humour that felt recycled or forced. I did find that, instead of creating memes (I'm here to kick ass and chew bubblegum.... and I'm all out of bubblegum), he was just rehashing them wholesale (Epic fail, Tonight you dine in hell, etc). Though I do say that the one part of the game that made me laugh out loud was a reference to Halo. Early in the game, you're offered a suit of power armour that looks an awful lot like Master Chief's, to which Duke replies: “power armour is for pussies.” There were a few moments of genuine laughs like that, but they were few and far between, and punching massive beasts in the balls is only funny the first few times, but keep your eyes out for a 'silicone based life form'.
While the story and humor was pretty much what you'd want out of Duke Nukem, the game really falls apart in every other category. Within only a few hours of gameplay, I'd already hit a streak of red flags long enough to land a 747. The first of which was how ugly the game is. The graphics themselves are pretty subpar to begin with, but it's the animation which stands out as particularly bad. Every character - even the stripper - moves with the fluidity of a robot that hasn't had the pleasure of oil for the better part of a decade and has about as much facial expression as the front of a buick. To make things worse, the frame rate is so bad that playing the game is a persistently jerky affair, and not in any pleasant way. In fact, it's so bad that the game appears to freeze for a few seconds any time there's too much action on screen. The voice acting is tolerable as long as you're only paying attention to the jokes and not the audio quality itself. I would like to praise the heavy metal soundtrack, because I thought it was pretty good, but the more of it I heard, the more generic and bland it sounded.
I actually kind of liked some of the humor and could get over the poor audio and visual fidelity, but the game really descends into atrocity when we get to the core gameplay. Duke Nukem Forever definitely has some fun parts and interesting ideas to play with, like the vehicle sections and the shrinking mechanics, but none of that matters if the game handles like a break dancer 50 years past his prime. For starters, it didn't seem to matter how much I tweaked with the control sensitivity, aiming was about as easy and accurate as doing brain surgery with an eye patch while having a mild seizure.
All this time wasted trying to aim results in a combo of frustrations, wasting a lot of your ammo (of which you have relatively little to begin with), and all the time fooling around will get you shot and killed with extreme prejudice. Seriously, I was hoping this game would have traditional health instead of a regenerating health bar like every other shooter in the last decade, meaning full health is just one cowardly moment behind a pillar away. They call your health “ego” in this game to mix things up a bit, which is a perfect representation of Duke's attitude and can be upgraded by interacting with random items around the world. Upgrading your ego does seem to make sense most of the time, like when you admire yourself in a mirror or defeat a boss, but sometimes it's entirely arbitrary, like throwing a paper plane or frisbee. It's a good idea, but it's really hit-or-miss when it comes to the actual implementation of it.
What makes it worse is that even by the end of the game your ego is still so small that you'll be dying in only a hit or two, resulting in having to do a portion of the level over again. This is a trope I'm used to in modern FPS games, but Duke Nukem Forever takes it a step too far by killing you as mercilessly and frequently as it can. Oftentimes you'll be one-hit-killed by an exploding barrel that you didn't see, or are killed too fast to even turn around to face your assailant. This gets frustrating really fast and is especially common in boss fights where there's little or no cover and the enemies can kill you in only a few hits. This is a shame because it's been entirely too long since I last enjoyed a good boss battle, but instead of having clever and fun bosses that require a lot of skill we get bosses that take too long and rely on repetition and patience. This is a real shame since there was a lot of potential here and it was wasted.
This unfair balance of ego and damage results in a constant barrage of deaths. Some levels I'd die a dozen or more times, trying something new every time and failing, while other times I'd be playing and be killed by an assailant I couldn't have possibly seen coming or a pitfall that couldn't be avoided. If the actual game doesn't kill you, don't worry, the glitches will. I've fallen through floors, got stuck in walls, and had to restart for no apparent reason multiple times, but you know what's more annoying than dying a dozen times on every single level? Having to wait for the game to load after each and every death. The loading times on this game would be bad enough if you only needed to suffer through it for every new level, but to make matters worse the game reloads itself from scratch every time you die, so it almost feels like you spend as much time waiting to play the game as you spend playing. This cycle of death, reloading, playing, death, and so on, got so monotonous and persistent that I could barely stand to play more than an hour of the game at a time for fear of throwing my controller at the screen. But hey, at least I had plenty of time to write a poem, surf the web, and conduct scientific research in between gaming sessions.
I would like to say the game is long, with 23 levels (some of which have multiple stages), but each of these levels is particularly short, so the game would probably only be a few hours long if you weren't spending so much time on loading screens and repeating levels. In fact, I spent over 30 hours on the campaign alone, and about two thirds of that was wasted on monotony and repetition. This is not an acceptable ratio, and it made playing the game remarkably tedious and boring regardless of the humor. To make matters worse, a lot of the 'quality' time I spent with the game was done wandering around aimlessly because the levels were so poorly built that I got lost and had no idea what to do next, and it was very rare to see objective arrows to point you in the right direction. Sure, there were some clever puzzles from time to time, but most of the problem solving in the game seemed so arbitrary and poorly designed that there would be no way a rationally thinking person would figure it out without resorting to a F.A.Q.
In spite of all this, there are some admittedly good parts throughout the game. Some of the driving sections were really fun even though they went on too long, and it was refreshing to see some platforming; but like everything else in the game it was really poorly done. Your vehicles would get stuck in between objects or walls, and it should be common knowledge by now that first person platforming does not work well. It almost seems like 'wasted potential' was a motif when designing this game.
There is multiplayer for this game, but with how poorly done the rest of the game was, why would you want to play it? There's nothing special to be had, just the same old deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and king of the hill modes, but the multiplayer still has the same glitches and inadequacies that you feel throughout the campaign. I do admit it was funny to see “Capture the flag” renamed “Capture the babe”, and altered appropriately, but that's the extent of my praise in that department.
I really wish I could be more positive about the game since I felt I had a good grasp of what to expect, but it came in well below even my own expectations and no matter how much I tried to tell myself it was just average I just couldn't get over how unrelentingly bad in every way it was. Any one of my complaints would have been fine and forgivable on their own, but the fact of the matter is that we have a game that looks ugly, sounds bad, plays poorly in every conceivable way, and punishes you with exhaustive load times at every corner. I know from experience that it's entirely possible to make a funny but immature game that is still functional and fun, so there's no excuse for this game to be this bad regardless of how much hardship went into making it. As far as I'm concerned, the immature but fun game that could have been Duke Nukem Forever came out earlier this year; they called it Bulletstorm.