All that sexy marketing guff about ‘good things coming to those who wait’? Well after 14 years of patient, then impatient, then forgetful, then non-chalant and then ultimately exciteable hanging around for Duke Nukem Forever, it’s clear that some things haven’t got better with age.
Yep, that bastion of 90s machismo – all boob jokes, crotch kicks, and cigar chomping testosterone – is back, and while his return is on a next-gen platform, the game itself is unapologetically old school.
The plot, in as far as it goes, is as meta-fictional as they come. Duke’s been out of the limelight for a while, and while he hasn’t been saving the world from alien invasions, he’s been living it up in Vegas as a global celebrity with money, women and booze on tap.
When the aliens return, his higher-ups are adamant he doesn’t get involved (he’s ‘a relic from a different age’, apparently), but before long he’s cranking out the big guns to save the world from destruction once again.
When we said it was old-school, that wasn’t completely a derogative. It’s oddly refreshing to play around with a game that harks back to the simple things – massive guns, generic aliens to explode, and a genuine sense of character as strong as its humour.
It’s the basest of humours admittedly, but the moments that it revels in its bawdriness are the moments you appreciate the level of love that’s gone into retaining the feel of the franchise – from the off you’re put in control of a character that can pee, get hammered (it makes you stronger), and who gains ‘ego-meter’ (read: health) points when he basks in the spotlight.
And it’s not afraid to direct that pee stream in the direction of its FPS successors either, mocking modern conventions with cocky abandon (who needs a key card to open a door when you can simply kick it in?).
So it’s odd that when it has chosen to incorporate some of the 21st century’s FPS standards, they’re done so woefully clunkily. Some people like to say looks aren’t everything, but let’s be honest – Duke Nukem Forever is as FUGLY as the warthog marines he so likes to punch in the face. More than a likely a victim of its prolonged development schedule, you get the feeling that the core engine itself is a few years old and they’ve merely attemped to throw a new layer of glossy sheen over the graphical cracks with each year it’s been delayed.
The animation is robotic, the textures are shoddy, the frame rate chunky, and the loading…. OH SWEET MOTHER OF GOD THE LOADING. Each and every level load feels like you’re reliving the achingly tedious 14 year wait all over again.
When it comes to the core gameplay, it’s just not up to par. As much as you’ve got to approach it in the Duke bubble it inhabits, you’ve also got to compare it to its main competitors. And with squiffy aiming, jittery and heavy movement, and collision detection issues galore, there are a whole host of irritants obstructing the immersion. In its defense, there are enough ridiculous weapons on show to at least offer a brief distraction from the bugs, with shrink rays, shotguns and freeze guns allowing for a certain level of blasting titillation.
If the nostalgia helps you persevere than the single player is longer than your average campaign, with Easter Eggs galore and the odd splash of originality to spice up proceedings (from controlling Mini Dukes to surprisingly solid vehicle sections). Which is a good thing, considering how frustrating the multiplayer can be, with uninspiring mechanics, maps and hair-pulling respawn points. Still, if you loved multiplayer back in the 90s, it’s likely you could still harbour some reminiscent love for it now.
After14 years of waiting, the decision to purchase the above is deceptively simple. If you’re looking for a balls-out, crude, fun, adrenalised and supremely silly first person shooter, go for Bulletstorm. If, however, you want to relive the glory days of the 90s – relevancy and quality be damned – then you’d have a hard job topping Duke Nukem Forever.
Duke Nukem Forever is on General Release now, and available on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.