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Critical Reception: Gearbox's  Duke Nukem Forever

Critical Reception: Gearbox's Duke Nukem Forever

June 15, 2011 | By Danny Cowan




This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to the infamous, long-delayed Duke Nukem Forever, which reviewers describe as "heart-breakingly disappointing on almost every level." Duke Nukem Forever currently earns a score of 48 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.

Mikel Reparaz at Games Radar scores Duke Nukem Forever at 6 out of 10. "The impossible has happened: After 14 years in development hell, Duke Nukem Forever is a reality," he begins. "Long synonymous with endless delays and empty promises, this butt of countless internet jokes is finally, undeniably here."

"Picking up 12 years after the events of 1996's Duke Nukem 3D, the long-overdue sequel forces foul-mouthed cardboard-cutout Duke out of retirement to fight off another alien invasion," Reparaz explains. "Of course, it's all just a flimsy backdrop for silly, gruesome alien carnage and crude gags -- or at least, it should have been."

Reparaz notes that a slow start hurts the game's initial pacing. "When the shooting finally starts, things definitely improve -- but even then, DNF's a mostly average shooter, with rare moments of brilliance," he notes.

"DNF does have some cool moments, most (but not all) of which come toward the end of the game. A handful of the levels shrink Duke down to the size of an action figure, for example, which turns otherwise unremarkable environments into enormous jumping puzzles, filled with similarly tiny enemies (or, more menacingly, full-sized ones that aggressively try to stomp Duke flat)."

"Our expectations were pretty much zero at this point, and we would have been perfectly happy with a game that was just good," Reparaz writes. "Instead, Duke Nukem Forever is just a few ticks above mediocrity, with glitches and performance problems that are inexcusable in a linear, $60 shooter. After spending so long in development, that makes for an incredibly sad punchline to one of the internet's longest-running jokes."

Giant Bomb's Jeff Gerstmann gives Duke Nukem Forever 2 out of 5 stars. "In some weird way, the notion that Duke Nukem is a final, shipping product is all the victory it needs," he admits. "But also know that this final product is kind of a terrible shooter with a bunch of really mindless attempts at referential humor, both of which do a great disservice to the Duke Nukem 3D legacy. If you're not a history buff and you're just looking for a good time, look somewhere else."

"For a game that's supposed to be so over-the-top and bombastic, Duke Nukem Forever sure is boring," Gerstmann observes. "Its longer-than-average campaign attempts to deliver on variety by mixing in a few vehicle sequences, an underwater section, and multiple levels where you're shrunk down to tiny size and forced to carefully jump from one platform to another, but these only help make the game feel old. Most of this stuff -- the platforming and awkward underwater controls, specifically -- has been bred out of modern shooters for a reason."

Gerstmann also finds the game's humor to be lacking. "Times have changed, and Duke's schtick just feels unimaginative and sad in Duke Nukem Forever," he says. "Duke's still lifting his material from other sources, and he's getting a fair amount of it wrong. Plus plenty of it is way, way out of date. (...) No jokes are wrapped around these references, making the whole thing feel like some kind of sub-Family Guy attempt at getting you to chuckle just because you remember a line from Starship Troopers."

"It feels weird to criticize a game that's been in development for as long as this one has for feeling like a relic, but in the end, Duke Nukem Forever's development history only really matters to a fraction of the overall audience," Gerstmann notes. "It's great, in some ways, that Duke Nukem Forever was released at all. But don't be confused into thinking that it's a great game."

Dan Whitehead at Eurogamer rates Duke Nukem Forever at 3 out of 10. "Reviewing Duke Nukem Forever actually proves incredibly simple," he writes. "Everything else becomes a sideshow when the main event is so obviously, heart-breakingly disappointing on almost every level. The toughest part is deciding where to begin."

Whitehead continues: "The visuals that jump out at you first. This is an ugly game, committing practically every graphical sin imaginable. Textures are crude and blurry when they bother to load in at all. Jagged edges turn every diagonal into ziggurat steps while the frame rate chugs up and down."

"Beneath the glitchy surface things aren't much better," Whitehead says. "Aiming is jerky and imprecise, even after tinkering with the sensitivity. Movement is heavy and sticky, frequently leaving you snagged on scenery or bumping up against invisible walls. Both jumping and running feel sluggish, with Duke's grunts suggesting that he probably should have put some more gym time in before his big comeback."

The lack of new content is also troubling. "Most alarmingly, all the weapons are repeated from 1996, and there are no new enemy types either," Whitehead notes. "While old favourites like the shrink ray and the devastator are still satisfying to use, it beggars belief that of all the hundreds of people involved in this game over the years, nobody could come up with a single idea for a new gun or enemy."

"In the end, you feel every year of Duke Nukem Forever's ridiculous, fractured development seeping out of each unsatisfying frame," Whitehead concludes. "With four studios sharing title space in the opening animation, and end credits which run for almost 10 minutes, the weight of so many false starts, dead ends and endlessly revised design documents proves too much. For all his muscle and bravado, Duke Nukem is actually a fragile creature. His legacy is based on a specific combination of time and technology and a mercurial element of fun that simply doesn't lend itself to repetition, especially after so long in limbo."


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