Since its announcement way back in 1998, Duke Nukem Forever has become synonymous with vapourware, a game thought to be in development hell which would never see the light of day. After an inexplicably protracted development time, Duke Nukem Forever has finally been released. Was it worth the wait?
First of all, unlike some reviewers, I am aware that the game's development time does not decrease the game's overall quality, and should not be considered bad just because it's not the kind of competitor-toppling, solid diamond game one would expect to take over a decade to complete. However, I do question why exactly it took so long to bring out this average, generic first-person shooter.
The story is simple: twelve years after the events of Duke Nukem 3D, aliens invade Earth in order to abduct human women so they can be impregnated and a new generation of tentacle-monsters can be spawned. Duke joins the fray when his "babes", the Holson twins, are taken to the alien hive. Quite why he chooses to so this, I have no idea, as the facial animation of the women in this game make them all look like creepy, quasi-life-like robots, and the Holsom twins creepy laughs recall the Peg Dolls from that freaky episode of Doctor Who. Without wishing to spoil much more of the story, this particular plot thread ends disappointly, with one of the most disturbing scenes I've ever seen in a video game, after which the story switches to "Duke kills aliens for no reason".
As hinted at earlier, there's a real animation problem in the game. If you want a laugh while playing the game, stand in front of a mirror and jump around the room. Duke becomes an Irish dancer who keeps his arms at his sides at all times while prancing around a room. The characters all look unnatural, and the advert-hogging strip club level becomes a nightmarish quest to escape a building full of horrific robot women who ask you to find them popcorn. In addition, when the action picks up on-screen, there are time when the frame rate drops dramatically, spoiling some of the genuinely fun parts of the game.
Duke Nukem Forever, like virtually every Xbox 360 game on the market which doesn't require the player to have a living room the size of the Red Square, is a first-person shooter. Like in most first-person shooters from the last few years, the player is only able to carry around two guns at a time, and has regenerating health, in this case represented by an "ego" bar, the maximum capacity of which can be increased by defeating bosses and interacting with the environment. There are plenty of action-packed shoot-outs in the game, and some of these are a lot of fun, as you run around blowing the heads off of enemis with the shotgun, which by far outshines the largely lackluster assortment of other weapons in the game in terms of pure fun. There are also a number of boss fights, as mentioned. While some of these, like fighting a gigantic alien wielding a minigun that would make Team Fortress 2's Heavy Weapons Guy's head explode with joy, make for some of the best parts of the game. Conversely, some, like using a turret to shoot down the alien mothership, are highly boring. There are also parts of the game which are unreasonably difficult, causing the player to die over and over, having to wait around 30 seconds for the game to load each time.
The single-player campaign lasts a decent length of time. The first few missions, set in urban Las Vegas, are mostly boring as hell. However, after a couple of hours or so the game really picks up, with a variety of weapons, enemies and gameplay alterations making the game a lot of fun to play for a while. Unfortuantely, the last couple of hours consist almost entirely of running down brown and grey corridors shooting enemies with little variation other than frustrating and boring underwater sequences, then at the end there is a completely insubstantial ending which parodies Jackson's death from Call of Duty 4, a game from four years ago.
This brings me to another problem with Duke Nukem Forever - perhaps due to its development time spanning over ten years, far too many of the jokes are just pop culture references to media from years ago, and are rarely funny. There is also humour to be found in Duke's endless one-liners, which are hit-and-miss. Duke is just not a likeable character, and the supporting characters will pretty much all leave you hoping that they'll die at some point in the game so they'll shut the hell up.
There's a multiplayer mode, too, which consists of Duke Nukem-themed variations of standard game modes like Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. It's possible to unlock new items with which to customise your appearance, as well as furniture with which to decorate Duke's pad. This last feature doesn't really add anything significant. The multiplayer is quite fun and should bring about an hour or so of fun, but there are far better online first-person shooters available already, for lower prices than Duke Nukem Forever.
After over ten years in development, Duke Nukem Forever is perplexingly average. The game really does become quite good fun for the second third or so of the campaign, but before and after that it's a standard FPS which won't live on for anything other than its development time. Buy it if you see it for a discount price, but otherwise, stick to the better shooters that are already available for the Xbox 360.