The biggest criticism I’ve seen about Duke Nukem Forever is that it doesn’t play like a modern shooter. While the genre has evolved over the years, the Duke Nukem series has made me wonder whether current mechanics have really gotten any better.
It's easy to argue that Duke Nukem as a character is sorely outdated, but his latest title, however, hasn’t aged badly at all.
Prior to getting my copy of DNF, I decided to play through its predecessor, Duke Nukem 3D. You know what? That classic is still really fun and playable — more so than many modern shooters.
What I enjoyed so much about replaying Duke 3D was that it focused on entertainment, and it didn't take itself too seriously in the process. I could collect 12 unique weapons that were effective in different situations, and I could employ multiple strategies to accomplish objectives. Plus, the game let me discover paths, puzzles, and secrets on my own.
The experience made me realize that I don’t need a two-weapon limit, cover system, or grenade button to have fun. I just need engaging mechanics with good level design. Duke 3D still has these after all this time.
The only modern shooters that gave me a similar level of enjoyment were Gears of War, Halo: Combat Evolved, and Bulletstorm. All the features that Gears and Halo popularized worked so well because they were originally designed to make those titles more enjoyable. Bulletstorm was also really fun to play because of its fresh ideas.
Even though Duke Nukem Forever employs a two-weapon limit, grenade button, and regenerating health, the core design is clearly not a slave to today’s conventions. Despite somewhat-dated graphics, I still think the gameplay holds up rather well.
(Takes deep breath) I’m actually enjoying DNF’s campaign more than the ones in Call of Duty: Black Ops and Killzone 3.
For starters, I really like how everything begins. After the short tutorial, you walk around and interact with various parts of Nukem’s home just before all the action starts. This lets you see a vertical slice of his everyday life before the alien stomping begins.
This sequence helped make the game's world more than a collection of levels. If other bullet-based titles with more fleshed-out characters did this, I’d feel a lot more grounded in them.
The enemies and action sequences feel more like a pre-Halo FPS, and I’m fine with that. Running and strafing around enemies can still be just as fun as hiding behind cover.
I’m not even offended by the game’s vulgar presentation. Many of the jokes are of the sort that you laugh at instead of with. A few of the lines still got a chuckle from me, probably because I actually understood the references.
The puzzles and exploration portions even out Forever's pacing. I’m playing the game with hints turned off and figuring out what to do on my own. Doing this gives me more freedom to roam around than in most 2011 shooters.
Despite the game’s shortcomings, Duke Nukem Forever reminds me of what first-person shooters were supposed to be. If nothing else, it presents a variety and playability lost in most of today’s releases.