I haven’t played Duke Nukem Forever, which hits stores today, but after reading a bunch of reviews from other game critics, I’m not sure it’s even worth the effort to put it in my GameFly queue or find a Redbox game rental kiosk. The opinions — at least from writers whose work I admire — are unanimous: this game is not just poorly designed, it’s offensive and unfunny.
I’ll paste some highlights from my favorite reviews below, but first, a little background: Duke Nukem Forever was in development for 12 years by 3D Realms, becoming a legendary tale of video game vaporware. In 2009, publisher Take-Two finally pulled the plug on funding, and 3D Realms disbanded. You can read that whole story at Wired.
Last September, Take-Two subsidiary 2K Games announced that developer Gearbox Software would pick up where 3D Realms left off, developing a first-person shooter that preserves the series’ tradition of foul-mouthed humor.
Gearbox has a good track record, having previously developed the hit shooter Borderlands. What could go wrong? Apparently, everything.
Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann thought the action was — surprise, surprise — antiquated:
For a game that’s supposed to be so over-the-top and bombastic, Duke Nukem Forever sure is boring. Its longer-than-average campaign attempts to deliver on variety by mixing in a few vehicle sequences, an underwater section, and multiple levels where you’re shrunk down to tiny size and forced to carefully jump from one platform to another, but these only help make the game feel old. Most of this stuff–the platforming and awkward underwater controls, specifically–has been bred out of modern shooters for a reason.
Over at Destructoid, Jim Sterling was not amused by the game’s alien rape jokes and other comedic misfires:
It’s not a funny game. It’s a disgusting one, and this is coming from someone who has laughed at jokes concerning every social taboo and tragedy imaginable. The issue stems from the fact that there’s no irony or punchline. There’s no attempt to make the “jokes” ridiculous — in fact, there are barely any appreciable jokes at all. We simply have Duke Nukem, with his disembodied and dispassionate voice, regurgitating out-of-place movie quotes and sounding bored to be there.
Techland’s Evan Narcisse found deep technical flaws throughout:
Horrific load times hit you as soon as the game begins. Once you’ve got control, you’re assaulted by terrible texture pop-in, where you can often see the tech drawing in the world as you play, which is a cardinal sin for gamers. The poor lighting doesn’t help.
Here’s more on Duke Nukem Forever’s design flaws from Randy Nelson at Joystiq:
There are problems with laggy aiming, dumb-as-doornails enemies, weak level design and even weaker presentation. There are puzzles that might have seemed “cool” way back when with their simple seesaw physics, but today they mainly feel like ways to artificially extend the game’s length, which comes in at just about 10-12 hours on normal difficulty.
I actually spent a lot of that time unsure of where to go next, trying to get past areas that suddenly spiked in difficulty, resetting to previous checkpoints because enemies had stopped taking damage and generally waiting.
And a zing from Earnest Cavalli for good measure:
Why does Duke only carry two guns, instead of the arsenal he was packing in ’96? Because that’s how Halo did it.
Finally, let’s turn to Ben Kuchera at Ars Technica, who sums up the whole ordeal rather eloquently:
Sure, it may still sell millions of copies due to the name alone, but it will disappoint buyers and make anyone with half a brain feel uncomfortable. I have no clue how a game so all-encompassingly ugly can suffer from so many framerate issues, but Duke finds a way. From a business and gaming history perspective, the fact that the title exists at all is fascinating; for everyone else asked to spend $60 on it, it’s merely sad.
I’m a fan of humor that’s willing to push the boundaries, but nothing is being sent up, mocked, or lampooned here. There’s just no reason for what you see and hear. This is an ugly game that exists to celebrate ugliness. The people involved should be ashamed.
And so ends 12 years of Development Hell. Previously, I’ve written that Duke Nukem Forever was better off unreleased, remaining an example of one developer’s inability to keep pace with the video game industry. But now that the game is out, and the reviews are so bad, I’m convinced that the finished product is an equally worthy example.