Friday, June 17, 2011

PC: Duke Nukem Forever review

I hate shooters.
I don’t know why. It might be traumatic, it might be personal taste, it might be whatever, but I really don’t fancy shooters at all. In my simplistic opinion we’re dealing with a genre that has shown breathtaking graphical advances, while the basic premise has failed to develop itself at its very own rotting core.
Of course there is a certain hypocrisy to this, because just as much could be said (if not even more) about my own personal flagship, the RPG-genre, which has basically reached a standstill in the last several years, only showing vague attempts to improve and take it to the next level. Though I will say to its defense that RPG’s (which translates into fantasy for the majority) are so tied up in conventions and rules that I certainly do understand why some developers are afraid of messing too much with it.
Shooters, on the other hand, I tend to wonder a bit about. I used to enjoy both Doom and Wolfenstein a lot, back when we were still getting turned on by erotic pixels in the first Larry-games. Actually, my very first PC-game was Doom. Doom was where it was at, we all played it and talked about it for hours, which in retrospect does seem quite odd for such an ugly game.
But the graphical aspect skyrocketed during the 90’es, especially for the shooters, and though I had plenty of opportunity to dive into it, the shooters lost me along the way. Quake was a drag (frankly, I found it hideous back then) and the Unreal-series was so mind-numbingly boring that I never made it past one hour of gameplay. Then there was the rerelease of Wolfenstein and Doom, and the sequels to Quake, and before we knew it we were looking at COD. What happened so fast? What was I wasting so much time on? Besides playing Baldurs’ Gate, I mean.
The Odd Man Fragged Out – Why I loved Duke Nukem 3D (   o   ) (   o   ) \o/
I took a general liking to the quasi-shooters. Those games that kept the FPP, and yet, in a whole new context.  Games like Hexen (admittedly, just a skin-revamp of what we already knew), Outlaws (a bit of the same, but with a nice humoristic touch), Thief (which is to this day one of the very best games in my book) and of course…Duke Nukem 3D.
I never knew Duke before the 3D-version. I only knew the game had boobs and plenty of violence. That’s frankly why I loved it back then. I distinctively remember we’d gather up a bunch of friends at the one guy who had the best computer (NIBBLES IN SVGA OR GTFO!), sort of like stealing your dad’s “Playboy”-magazine. Just, nerdier. And we never got tired of that ‘Shake it Baby!’
It wasn’t even as if you could sympathize or build much of a relationship to your protagonist (but frankly, the characters in the other FPS-games back then had personalities rivaled by damp cardboard). Duke was in many ways a parody of himself. A boy trapped in a grownup’s body, keen on presenting one sexist and flat one-liner after the other, making him nothing more than an action-hero cliché high on steroids. But that was all we needed him to be.
I loved Duke Nukem for several other reasons, though. My major complaint with the Doom/Quake/Unreal-series back then was that they seemed so similar in concept. You ran around dark corridors made of emo and shadowy pixels, bashing other people’s brains out so you could achieve a key-card which could unlock more dark emo-corridors with more monsters with brains. After half an hour it was as if I’d seen everything the game had to offer me. And I got bored and decided to look at titties instead.
Duke Nukem did manage to squeeze in what seemed like not only a variety, but also semi-realistic surroundings. At least for the first chapter and some levels in the following ones, in which you were running trough downtown, bars, the disco, clubs and cinemas. The buildings even had a toilet, for crying out loud. Who’d ever thought of a toilet in Doom? This was original. This was new. We liked it.
The multiplayer-maps carried on this torch, as a lot of them involved stuff like pool-parties, cafés and stadiums.  Of course we didn’t entirely evade the stupid and longwinded dark corridors with dull monsters, but they seemed a lot more forgettable now. DN3D also had a bigger emphasis on exploration, atmosphere and to a limited degree, interaction with the environment. You were tempted to explore the levels a bit. This is such an awesome effect, beyond words, which later was perfected by such brilliant games as Thief and Half-Life.
Compared to his boring competitors, Duke’s weapons introduced a new dimension of creativity. In Doom, every weapon just killed people, and some of them had easy potential to kill more than one.  A lot of games later began playing with things such as sniper-rifles and grenades, whereas DN3D took the odd turn and introduced freeze- and shrink-rays. And shattering those frozen opponents in multiplayer never ceased being funny.
Hell, it’s about time – Was I eagerly awaiting Duke Nukem Forever?
The short answer is no, but I can’t see it being that much of a surprise to anyone. I frankly don’t think that nobody but the very few in the minority could actually get excited about it after so many years. Let’s face it, after so many letdowns, we were all pretty much the digital equivalent of the disappointed son who’s stopped giving a crap whether dad finally comes home this Christmas or not. We’d learned to expect the worst.
For the very same reason, I don’t think I even really noticed the game’s release until a week before, actually realizing that things were about to get very real. And based on my just mentioned enthusiasm about DN3D, I’m almost ashamed to admit… I really didn’t care.
A lot of water had run under the bridge since then, and Thief is the only FPS that has survived in my collection of games. After one try at some random COD and realizing how much it sucked, I wasn’t really that keen to repeat that experience. On the other hand curiosity did kill the cat, and supposedly also made me decide to join Duke on another adventure. After all, you can’t help having some expectations after so many years.
Looking goooood… - But is it gooooood?
This is such an open question in many ways, and if you’ve read the reviews you’ve likely noticed that a lot of critics have not exactly hailed the king as much as he probably hoped for. The really short answer, in a simplified nutshell, is ‘No’. The marginally longer is: “No, what the hell were you thinking?”.
What really strikes you from the very beginning of the game is how much the developers have tried to ‘if it really isn’t broken , don’t fix it’. Normally I’m a huge proponent of this approach, as it has given birth to some truly great sequels throughout the history of gaming.
On the other hand this also serves as an excellent example of how thin the border between ‘boring’ and ‘joyful recognition’ is. In other words, Duke takes on one of the most cruel babes in history; Nostalgia. And she is a very cruel mistress indeed.
I will confess, though, I had an okay time with DNF. Not an awesome time, and in no way anything near what I appreciated back then (even now when the boobs really look like boobs). Frankly, though, I am wondering whether I’d say the same, had it not been for the title, which would’ve left the game as nothing more than a shooter that came out several years too late. In a sense, I suppose I really did want this game to be good. Which is a power that should never be underestimated and only shattered by truly horrible ass-smelling games (I’m still looking at you, Dragon Age 2).

The story and setting (yes, there is one)
In DNF we set out some years after Duke managed to save earth and all we loved about it, from the alien-invasion and kick their sore ass back into space. We’re greeted by a nifty little flashback-introduction which barely qualifies as a tutorial, and take control of our old protagonist. Duke is still spewing out punchlines and…punches, wherever he goes, and you can’t help notice the designers intentions to turn up the amount of interactive objects all around you. Thus I was able to play with the sinks, toilets and even paint a giant wang on the picture of my arch-nemesis, before setting out to combat him.
After this jolly reenactment, you gain control of the present Duke, sitting in his apartment spewing…one-liners. Besides from becoming a stinking rich business entrepreneur, owning what seems to be half of the country, Duke has also managed to clone Britney Spears with one of the models from Vampire Bloodlines, acting as his personal concubines. You’re reminded to attend a talks-show later this night, and by the way, the aliens have shown up again. Prolly nothing to worry about, right?
Basically, this is a deep as the story goes in DNF. As you’ve guessed the aliens launch their attack, the president tells you to stay put, the rebellious general encourages you to see the situation out, and you don’t give a damn and bust out their head.
DNF never really seems to give you any kind of glorified goal except killing aliens. But whereas games such as Half Life achieved this by a long series of sub-stages, in DNF you get the impression that Duke just so happens to take one sideway after another. Even early in the game, he straight out refuses to go to the root of the problem, preferring to rescue abducted chicks.  This takes you through a variety of scenery that while interesting, just ends up feeling like a feeble attempt to prolong the game.

These levels do come in a certain variety, but don’t get your hopes up too high. They’re nothing like you’re used to by today’s standards. The variety often comes in two factors:

A) Length
B) Elements

Whereas I was sprinting through some levels in mere minutes, wondering whether I’d outrun any enemies, others take significantly longer. All in all, though, don’t expect to get stuck that much, as levels now often shut down behind you, making sure you’re trudging nicely along the path. I think it’s nice that developers these days make sure that you can safely leave games in the hands of your retarded monkey. We don’t see that enough. It’s good news that your monkey won’t even have to make decisions, because crossroads are extremely rare in DNF. Even better, some levels even carry signs with arrows pointing it in the right direction.
Regarding B, DNF makes use of five elements: Walking, Platform-jumping, Puzzles, Mini-games  and Shooting. Each level consists of random (but not necessarily all) of these elements in various turns. Walking, first and foremost, you’ll be doing a lot. Some levels barely consist of anything else.
Platform-jumping is so you won’t fall asleep walking, making sure you’ll jump from tentacle to tentacle, or not fall off a cliff. Puzzles comprise a series of small challenges that are not only insanely boring but also offensively easy, sometimes bordering plain offensive. Perfect examples are to pick up a battery to power up a crane so you can smash a wall. In another you’ll have to scavenge a nightclub to make popcorn for a stripper. These end up as nothing more but speed-bumps.
Even worse are the mini-games which plainly suck. This is where you have to deviate (whether you like it or not) from what you were previously doing in order to drive a toy-car through a room and fetch you a battery. In other scenarios you get to drive Duke’s (real size) truck through a desert, or get shrunk in order to navigate past a kitchen by jumping between shelves. The basic idea in this is not as bad as its design, as these sequences drag out for far too long. While funny the first few minutes, once I got that third animation indicating another ‘Lol ur small now!’-sequence, I was groaningly face-palming. Also, driving Duke’s car is fun, but after it runs out of gas for the third time, it just stops being funny to go look for more , knowing you’ll get jumped by monsters before reaching it.
This brings us to the shooting. There is shooting to be found, contrary to belief. The enemies aren’t looking that great but not downright bad either, and again you see that the developers have tried to import as much as possible from DN3D. It’s just bad to see how they’re often used as staged fights, as you enter a room and start a shoot-out from separate covers before you can move on. This would be okay, had it been for more scripted events and the like, but since these only play significant parts of the fight in a few situations, you end up just walking from one isolated fight to the next.
From time to time you will meet a boss. Besides from one particularly fight at the top of a dam, which I enjoyed rather much actually, a lot of these are lackluster without that much to offer. Basically, you run, kill adds, shoot boss, reload and repeat.
The singleplayer-part seemed extremely short, even when I deliberately took my time to investigate a lot, and I ended up completing it after 15 hours or so. Compared to the amount I spend at RPG’s or Thief, this is not much.
All this being said, you now know pretty much everything the game will throw at you. I suppose I should have posted a spoiler there.

All the weapons but DN3D are back, with two significant drawbacks. First and foremost you’re allowed to carry only two along. Personally I went for the shotgun as it seemed to blow up everything, provided I was close enough, and the RPG (I laughed everytime. I’m such a nerd.) for dicey encounters.  Sadly I really wanted to try out my old favorites, the shrink- and freeze-gun, but the game never rewarded me with any extra ammo. Instead it insisted on force-feeding me Rippers (I loathe spray-and-pray) like there was no tomorrow, making me stick to the shotgun. I think this was a really bad idea to implement.
Secondly the weapons don’t really feel like making that much of an impact. Sure, you blow off the pig’s leg. Sure, fire that rocket to blow up the mob. But it just goes ‘squish’ like a jellyfish hitting a pillow, with a lot of blood. At the same time, weapons really do feel like DN3D, with not even the slightest of kickback. It’s just an animation that kills stuff.
Duke has become immortal, too. Now only his ego is hurt whenever someone busts open his head with a grenade. Luckily, our protagonist has learned some very nifty self-improvement speeches which he can practice to himself, provided that he can avoid damage for a short time. This shift to regeneration instead of hording those ridiculous medpacks all the time was one of the initiatives I actually liked.
DNF makes sure to include everything you’d expect besides that. Underwater-levels (which are as always extremely tedious due to them, again, being too long), a variety of monsters with various differences and strengths (but then again, they aren’t really that different once you get down to it, except from a named few) and finally managing resources. The game seems very generous with ammo. So much that I wondered why it even bothered making ammo in the first place, instead of weapons firing endless rounds.
The summary is that since the enemies seemed so identical beyond appearance and the weapons pretty much did the same (except the funny ones that, for some reasons, never received any additional ammo) I didn’t really care and went for ‘one size fits all’. Of course the insanely good bombs and mines are back in abundance, so in some situations it was even viable to rely solely on those.
Atmosphere – Sound and graphic and Duke. Not looking goooooddddd.
It’s still Duke. And I admit some one-liners made me giggle, albeit often the ones from the shrunk Duke, whose voice is pumped up on helium.
I wasn’t so put off by graphics as a lot of people seem to be. Maybe it’s because I’m extremely forgiving in that regard, still able to play Might and Magic 6 and ignoring the fact that it looks absolutely hideous. DNF is not pretty, a lot of the NPC’s are downright lifeless and devoid of expression and the backgrounds look downright outdated. But I’d never call it downright hideous. It’s manageable, and even my machine managed to run it nicely on high settings. I recommend lowering only your expectations.
Frankly, the only music I remember is the repetitive theme from DN3D, which is liberally applied everywhere in DNF. The rest is pretty tame, but again, manageable. Duke has some good lines that deliver, but besides from that there’s not really that much to recommend here. It’s a shame as I missed a lot of the other music from the first one.
Of course the developers have set out to keep the sly and dirty atmosphere. There are still plenty of boobs and the humor has certainly taken a turn for the…direct. While not as subtle, you’re now able to toss around vibrators, have sexual interaction on the toilet and even a boss makes sure to stick its three ( ! ) massive hooters right up your face. In this association is another particularly sick, but yet humorously over-the-top, joke in which you encounter three breasts hanging on a wall, which you can slap repeatedly in order to spray milky substance all over your screen.

That’s certainly one of the most disturbed things I’ve ever written.
But this is what the game encourages you to do. Whether it’s tri-boob-slapping or watching porn Duke has a chance to increase his Ego and thus chances of survival, every time he revels. While initially good for a few laughs, I couldn’t really help growing frustrated after a while. It’s hard not to consider whether this would be fun, had you only been 10 years younger.

The Verdict  (TLDR)
If you liked DN3d, playing DNF is like attending one of those reunions for your old class, at the same school you all went to. As you show up, you realize that everything pretty much looks exactly the same, save for a few minor details (which just so happen to be minor places you had fond memories of) and a lot of people haven’t really changed. As the night progresses, though, you can’t help feeling that no matter how much you want this to be the night of your life, everything somehow disappoints. Even though you always used to hang with that guy and talk about the big topics in life, now the charm is just annoying. The funny guys is now an idiot, you have no idea what you saw in that woman, and frankly the school itself now fills you with disappointment. In a way you wish you hadn’t come and instead kept just the memory.
This is DNF.
I have no doubts about the good intentions of this game, but it is clear to me now that part of Dukes’ original fame stemmed from his timing. He was, so to say, in the right game at the right time, in which he managed to outshine a lot of his competition.
Now times are different, and the battles fought in other arenas. The essential problem, though, is that Duke is still running around in an empty gladiatorial ring, shouting vulgar phrases and flexing that wandering cliché which is his one and only demeanor.
While still good for a short amount of entertainment, in this game Duke has lost the graphical fight before it has even begun. Once you compare him to mechanics seen in other prominent shooters these days, and his ‘personality’ compared to other beloved profiles such as Garrett or Gordon Freeman, everything about The King pretty much fades and leaves nothing left. Except an extremely anonymous shooter, which won’t be a problem for some people, and can certainly still provide a limited amount of entertainment.
If you’re still curious, though, I recommend saving your money for a sale. For now, it simply isn’t worth the money spent. I have a good feeling that you won’t have to wait 12 years for it to come around.
Score: 5/10.

1 comment:

  1. I have just downloaded iStripper, so I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers stripping on my desktop.