June 16, 2011
It finally happened. A game that has spent more time in development limbo than any other has finally emerged, kicking and screaming, onto your console (or PC as the case may be). There is no point talking about the build up to this game as it is pretty much common knowledge amongst the gaming community and after more false starts than an unprofessional athletic event, it has finally landed. If only we could say it's been worth the wait.
As someone that played the original Duke Nukem 3D back in the day it is hard to see what this game actually brings to the table. If you were being uncharitable you could say that this is a poorly realised update of the original, only without the fun, level design or charm. In fact all of the enemies, weapons and catchphrases have been pretty much ported over with no real thought or invention. So you are fighting the same foes with the same equipment – only it’s fifteen years later and you are left wondering when the innovation will hit.
Even the graphics don’t justify the wait, as most of the effort seems to have gone into those levels that were strategically rolled out for preview events, with the rest proving to be full of poor textures and terrible graphical slow down. Too many enemies can grind the game down to a crawl, and Duke himself seems to motor around like an asthmatic ant carrying some heavy shopping (credit to Blackadder for that one). Sure you can interact with a whole bunch of background objects but there is pretty much no real point in doing so. It might be fun to take a quick bathroom break or draw all over a whiteboard, but perhaps a bit less time should have been spent on window dressing and a bit more time should have been lavished on the fundamentals.
That is without even going into just how dated and crass Duke himself feels nowadays as well. It is clear that Gearbox is playing upon his un-PC image to actually sell the game, but instead the quips, toilet humour and cringeworthy Capture the Babe multiplayer mode all just point towards our hero being a relic that isn’t quite up to speed. Personally speaking I feel that more games need to embrace humour, and adult themes are all well and good too, but the balance here seems amazingly off. It’s almost as if the game has been made as tasteless as possible just, well... because. Where the original Duke offered a satirical look at icons and movies of the time, here we have the same character fifteen years too late trying to riff on games that are blatantly that much better. Perhaps the tastes of people who played the original have just shifted but it just feels like things are too forced to ever hit home.
In fairness there are moments of entertainment to be had here, but they are so few and far between that it makes the rest seem like a form of punishment in order to get to the next treat. Killing enemies with a forklift is good times, as is running around a burger joint while in miniaturised form and there are some laughs to be had at the dialogue and during huge boss encounters that litter your path to victory. However, the game soon resorts to sluggishly strafing enemies while aimlessly blasting away or trying to time the amazingly poor jumping sections to perfection. Once you die - and it will happen a lot - then prepare to sit through lengthy loading times that make you feel every one of those fifteen years that you’ve waited. What seems to have been forgotten is that for all the toilet humour and one liners in the first title, there was also a damn fine game backing it up which is certainly not the case here.
It doesn’t help that while a lot of the staples that made Duke a good game have been dropped into place, there is also a fascination with new ideas and segments that seem forced rather than a natural progression. Duke was such a badass because he could carry a giant arsenal of weaponry, so why restrict him to the now accepted two weapon scheme? The same goes for recharging health (though the joke that Duke is shielded by his ego and can charge it by doing manly things is a decent one), a number of dull turret sections and even dull Portal-style puzzles. It’s almost like the developers took the original elements of the game and then tried to add in every good idea to hit FPS games since Duke first hit our shelves. It’s a mystifying decision and one that detracts from what would have been a fairly decent shooter if it had just focused on what it should have done, blasting enemies. For a game that proclaims itself a humorous blast fest, it seems to spend a lot of time trying to be anything but.
In a strange way the multiplayer, while hardly a bastion of greatness, actually shows what the game could have been. Based around rapid fire kills, a quick trigger finger and grabbing the biggest gun you can find – it actually seems to play a lot more like the original game than most of the single player mode. Sure the modes on offer are hardly innovative and you have a limited number of players but at least there is some fun to be had here. Assuming you dodge potentially crippling lag that is.
The achievement list is rather like the game itself, with a mix of mundane kill and difficulty based achievements and a few flashes of genius like swiping a poo or shooting down a blimp. Nothing is tied to the multiplayer so this should be a decent enough completion for anyone that has the endurance to slog through the game on Insane difficulty. Plus, you will probably have a bit of fun playing some of the minigames along the way - or tear your hair out in frustration, it's all possible.
The overall feeling here is one of disappointment as this is a game that, for all the hype and delays, had enough fans lined up to make it a genuine hit. How many of those fans will actually enjoy what is on offer here is another matter, and part of me wonders whether Gearbox merely saw the line of eager punters and rushed out a game in the full knowledge that it would be snapped up regardless. This is certainly not the worst shooter you will have encountered, and can be fun in short bursts, but there are just so many issues and badly implemented ideas that it is hard to recommend it over pretty much anything. If there is another sequel, and I wouldn’t hold your breath, then I hope that it gets a level of care and attention that this game, and its fans, deserved.
Duke just isn’t as funny as he used to be, and the rest of the music on offer is uninspired to say the least.
For a game that has been in development for so long there are some unforgivable bits of texture mapping and slow down, not to mention bland and ugly environments.
Sluggish controls, predictable enemies and badly implemented design decisions help to detract from what should have been the essence of the game – a fun shooter.
It looks dated, plays badly and is offensive just for the sake of it. This game isn’t proving a point, it's just proving its age.
Some good ideas are lost in a whole host of kill based achievements and those for progression, at least there are no MP achievements.
We all wanted this game to be good, and perhaps that sense of expectation has proven to be too much. But even then you can look at the shabby graphics, woeful humour and dull gameplay and realise that this game would have been underwhelming whenever it was released. A real shame.