Duke Nukem Forever, originally meant to be released in 1998 at the latest, might be a reminder of a gaming staple gone by. No one thinks it’d take 14 or so years to develop a game, but it’s finally been released, to some pretty mediocre reviews. The average score is around 50%, or half of what some publications would consider a perfect score. Not an auspicious return for the Duke, whose last game was published during the Clinton Administration. Is Forever really a poor game though, or is it just a product out of its time?
Most game developers are notoriously tight-lipped on the production that goes into a game, even games that don’t take over a decade and involve several developers. For that reason we may never totally know what went into creating Forever, but playing the game feels like picking up an relic from a previous gaming generation. If Forever had been released when originally announced, it would’ve competed with the original Half-Life, Perfect Dark, and Quake III Arena in the FPS genre, all games that have had a sequel, re-release or remake since then. Specifically, it seems like it the game mechanics were originally devised back around 1999, and someone went back around 2007-2008 and spruced it up.
Forever doesn’t have a cover system like Gears of War (2006) or Killzone 2 (2009). You can’t dash behind cover like in Metroid Prime (2002). During the car sequences, moving the camera and releasing the stick doesn’t make it return to the default view like any Grand Theft Auto console release since 3 (2001). Picking up or interacting with objects in the world isn’t as quick as a game like Half-Life 2 (2004). At one point when Duke pops a steroid pill, he quips “I’m taking the yellow pill!” which I can only assume is a reference to the original "The Matrix," released in 1999. Duke also has two live-in pop star girlfriends in schoolgirl outfits, which just reeks of a Britney Spears “Hit Me One More Time” callback.
Forever does have regenerating health after a fashion (basically if you’re not shot for a while, you get all your health back), and it only allows Duke to carry two weapons at once, conventions introduced in the original Halo, released in 2007. It runs on a modified version of Unreal Engine v2.5, the engine used in Red Steel (2006) and Advent Rising (2005). When Duke is firing off his one-liners, he drops gems like “tonight YOU dine in hell,” and “Oh yeah, I’m bringing sexy back!” You might recognize those lines as lifted from the movie "300" and the Justin Timberlake song “SexyBack,” both released around ’07. At one point you can punch out a Christian Bale analogue right after he yells “we are done professionally!”
This article isn’t meant to be an apology for Forever or a way of rationalizing a higher review score. My point is that Duke Nukem Forever CANNOT be given an accurate review score, because it’s a relic of previous gaming generations that sat on a shelf for years, getting a bit of polish here and there until it was finally released into the wild.
The idea behind a game review, depending on your view, is to let you know if a game is worth the price they’re asking compared to your other buying options. The fact is though, as I’ve stated earlier, Forever doesn’t use any modern FPS conventions, or conventions of the genres it borrows from. Any review could only be considered accurate if someone from ’07 time-travelled to ’11 and reviewed it. Duke Nukem Forever shouldn’t be competing in your mind with Call of Duty: Black Ops, but rather Goldeneye 007 on the Nintendo 64 or the original Metroid Prime.
The game itself does actually PLAY well. On the PS3 version I played there was no texture or model pop-in, and I didn’t see any game architecture or character models acting irregularly, save for maybe one chunk of alien just floating in the air for a second. There are some fairly good-looking lighting effects. The only real problem I had was the load times between chapters that averaged around a minute each. In all probability Gearbox probably picked up the game more or less finished, debugged it and threw some polish on it.
To that end, I’ll state that if you purchase this game for the full $60 retail, you’re a fool. If you must buy it new, wait until it’s on sale or reduced to $40. That’s what the upcoming HD remake of the first Halo will reportedly be priced. Ideally, the downloadable version of Perfect Dark is on Xbox Live Marketplace for 800 points ($10), so pick it up then.
Until then, Duke Nukem Forever may be marketed and look a little like any other next-generation FPS, but it’s really closer to a remake of a game no one was ever able to play, unreviewable and overpriced. Hail to the king when the price is dropped, if you really want to, baby.