This took 14 years? Seriously?
You read that right, Internet friend: 14 years. So long that websites have sprung up just to talk about what was done in the time frame since 3D Realms started development, like Britney Spears' entire career, and in a 14-year frame itself, like the time from Kennedy's "man on the moon" speech to actually putting a man on the moon. And after numerous "Vaporware of the Year" awards and running industry jokes – my favorite being DNF stands for "Did Not Finish" – we actually have a finished product on our hands, folks. Duke Nukem Forever has been released. And damn, if it doesn't look like they started work on it years ago.
For the totally uninitiated, even after a decade-plus, here's the rundown: Duke has gone into semi-retirement after he took down the alien pigcops and flying bastards in Duke Nukem 3D. In that time, he's apparently *deeeeep breath* climbed Everest, started Duke Burger, taken over a bunch of hotels in Las Vegas, won boxing championships, what looks to be a few Oscars, started a strip club, TV station, and has convinced two "hot" twins to stay with him in his penthouse/bachelor pad.
The aliens haven't gone away, though; their mothership is hovering right over the Duke-ified Strip, ready and waiting. It's almost as though every dollar spent over the years of development went directly into Duke's pocket… and from his pocket into his business ventures. Oh, and the steroids. He's done – and continues to do – tons of steroids. He's a little like Charlie Sheen with a better public image… and bigger guns.
So, you might be wondering, how awesomely-awesome and badass does it look? It has to be as amazingly sharp as anything we've ever seen before, right? Well… no. It looks about as sharp as the Doom 3 engine might get, but when they started on the design, that tech was already outdated. Pixilated images are all over the place, which makes me wonder if this could run full speed on an original Xbox… hell, maybe a PS2. There's a reason why the commercials look a little out of focus, no matter the TV and the quality of the stream.
What about playing it? Surely it must handle well after so long! That part is at least alright, provided you're like me and enjoyed a lot of Quake III Arena back in the day. Run-and-gun is everything here, and the controls are tight enough to make it work, but when every enemy can be out-maneuvered by strafing left and right – without the need to duck behind cover very often – no strategy is necessary. There aren't too many different weapons to pick up along the way, so if you're hoping for a diverse way to barbecue some alien pig, you're going to be disappointed.
There is some interesting interaction with the environment too, from Duke Nukem pinball and air hockey to bench-pressing hundreds and hundreds of pounds, all to build up the life/ego meter. Hell, slapping some alien wall-breasts around (yup, boobs on the walls, I'll let you savor that image a little longer) and making fun of what's obviously Master Chief's armor ("Power armor is for pussies!") does the trick once in a while too.
The multiplayer is in the same kind of boat: both old and tight. If you remember playing Quake III Arena, you probably remember sinking tons of hours just running around a tiny map blowing up your friends with a big, colorful rocket launcher, not caring where or how to aim the damn thing. Well, if you're into that kind of play still, you're in luck! The maps might be larger with better detail, but it's still just a bunch of people shooting wildly and hoping for the best. It's a random sort of fun; I've got to give it that. Say what you will about the "storyline" of DNF, but at least the vault kept this kind of madness amusing. Not for hours on end like it used to be, but there's a charm to it.
Is it outdated? Let me bring up this little tidbit to explain: The opening scene is the final battle from Duke Nukem 3D. At the end of it, Duke kicks the baddie's eye like a football through the uprights, and all is fine. As the screen pulls out, it's basically implied that Duke was not only playing that scene in a video game (which is pretty cool), but getting.. *cough*pleased*cough*… and one of the girls (there are two) asks if the game is any good. Duke responds with a charming "Well, after twelve fuckin' years, it should be." There are two things wrong with that statement: First, the game isn't that good overall, and second, development started fourteen years ago. Even the dialog was held intact from when 3D Realms went down!
Speaking of dialogue, I was hoping at least the one-liners and running gags would be interesting and funny… but even that is mostly hit or miss. I knew the humor would be chauvinistic, sure, but I expected some wit… instead, it sounds like an old boy's corner at a strip club. Having dialogue that bland and straightforward would be just fine if it stayed at the strip club stage, I guess, but it's everywhere and outright boring. Aside from the occasional one-liner and outdated pop culture reference (though I did chuckle at the loading screen's tidbits of wisdom, like "When being shot at, try to avoid bullets"), it's just "I like chicks" talk.
There are few things worth waiting this long for, and so far in the gaming industry, I don't know if we've had even one. This is the Chinese Democracy of our industry: When it finally does see the light of day, everybody mocks it anyway and nobody really cares. But hey, if you haven't played a shooter in a decade and want to slap around some alien boobs, you'll be right at home. For the rest of us, unless you need a game from the past and don't want to dig up your time capsule to play something, this is best left to the vaporware we all thought it was for so long. At least it was legendary then, when we didn't actually know what to expect.