Everyone knows that Duke Nukem Forever was left in the oven a little too long and if you've ever visited http://duke.a-13.net/ you could probably list a fair number of things that have come out while the game's been in development as well (like six Final Fantasy games, the first seven Call of Duty games, every Infinity Engine game, the entirety of the Unreal and Half-Life franchises etc.). But it's hard to visualise exactly just how long FIFTEEN YEARS really is... unless you have a handy chart full of games to compare it to I guess.
Luckily I just so happen to have one right here:
|(All dates come from the internet, so... you know.)|
To give this list some context, a top tier first person shooter in the mid 90s took on average about a year and a half of development time to get from concept to retail shelves (well, mailboxes in Doom's case) and Duke Nukem Forever was originally intended for release in mid 1998 or earlier. Daikatana by the way was originally intended to be finished in seven months.
(Clicking the rest of these images will likely give you a better look at them).
Duke Nukem 3D's most memorable scenes. Oh sorry, I mean the third game. I honestly keep forgetting that Duke 3D wasn't the beginning of the series (though I suppose the clue is in the name, just like there's a subtle clue in Duke Nukem Fo(u)rever's title that it's the fourth game).
But then I choose to start a new game and DNF immediate goes and ruins the goodwill its earned. The screen goes black and Duke's voice proclaims that "Those alien bastards are going to pay for shooting up my ride," like a cheesy comedian starting their act with a well worn catchphrase, long after everyone's forgotten what it originally meant. Then it puts the phrase "It's Time To Kick Ass And Chew Bubblegum..." up on screen as well, just because.
"Your face. Your ass. What's the difference?"See, I can random quote things from that old videogame everyone liked as well!
This is exactly how the game starts, I promise you. 3D Realms apparently noticed that taking a leak was a popular feature in the first game and have put more of a focus on it this time around. Though to be honest the scene is eventually justified by the helpful Earth Defence Force soldier trying to offer advice from the sidelines when you leave Duke standing there and refuse to play along.
Right, before I set off I should do my pre-flight checks.
- Can I see Duke's feet? Check!
- Does the game have working mirrors? Check.
- Can I interact with everything in the room even though it serves zero purpose? Check.
- Do I have a map screen? Nope.
Plus the bloody EDF soldier keeps repeating that the red pen smells like cherries and there's no button here that lets me enthusiastically insert the thing into his brain via the nasal cavity.
Anyway I suppose I should go out onto the field and kill this creature we all came here to stop.
|Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition (PC)|
These two are the Holsom twins, (not to be confused with the Olsen twins): a pair of giggling pop stars who seem to love Duke almost as much as he does. They're offensively rich, impossibly famous, vapid, childish, and they communicate with sexual innuendos... so the three of them were basically made for each other.
Though I'm not entirely sure why I'm here relaxing at home with Duke's girlfriends instead of shooting aliens in the face. It's been like ten minutes... I could've been halfway through level three of Duke Nukem 3D by now!
|Duke Nukem Forever E3 2001 Trailer|
I have to get to Duke's own personal in-house talk show studio below his apartment to take part in an interview. I haven't got a clue how to get where I'm headed as no one thought to give me directions (or an automap...), but that's fine as there's only really one way to go.
You know, I'm not actually bothered by the slow beginning as much as I should be. You run around plenty of hallways and offices in Duke Nukem 3D, but it's so weird to walk through them and interact with people on a normal day before everything has started exploding.
Not that I can actually interact with people, I just sort of run into them along the way and have to wait for their thing to finish, trapped behind an invisible wall.
Not that I can actually run at this point...
By the way, there's a reason I took the shot at such a weird angle and that's because I was trying to match this shot from the 2006 trailer.
|Duke Nukem Forever 2006 Trailer|
But hey, I have at last managed to find a place in one of the trailers that exists in the finished game!
Though I do get to take part in a skit based on Christian Bale's outburst during the making of Terminator Salvation. You remember that right? It hit the news just over two years before the game came out. Do you remember Terminator Salvation at least? Never mind then.
Honestly this is probably my favourite one of these scenes in the game so far, because it's the first I've been able to walk right past and ignore.
I appreciate that the developers are trying to build up an atmosphere here, but they chose the wrong game series to do it in. Duke Nukem is about having two lines of plot set up and then a whole lot of putting boot to ass. No matter what they put into this intro level it'll never be as interesting as a pure combat level, because.... wait is this a Duke Nukem museum I've just wandered into?
Fuck killing aliens, I'ma go look around.
There's a lift outside waiting to take me down to the Duke Cave, so I should probably keep moving. I'll need some guns if I'm going to be shooting aliens (I really hope I eventually get to shoot some aliens) and if there's one place in Las Vegas I'm likely to find a semi-automatic rocket launcher, it's going to be Duke's basement.
F.E.A.R. encourages you to hunt around for health upgrades, except instead of exploration it's procrastination I'm being rewarded for.
In Duke Nukem 3D when you try to play on a Duke Nukem arcade machine Duke says "I don't have time to play with myself." I guess that's the main difference between the two games right there. Now he does have the time, to stop and play with everything.
|Duke Nukem Forever E3 2001 Trailer|
Yeah, why am I still playing pinball anyway when I could be crawling through vents and throwing trophies at aliens! The only thing holding me back right now is me.
The room is a variation on the remote controlled car key pushing minigame from Shadow Warrior (except with added physics), where I have to drive the car around shelves to knock a power cell onto the floor and shove it through an air vent. Personally I think it's pretty well made for what it is and it would've been a nice short break in the action if there'd been any real action up to this point to take a break from.
I don't know, maybe I'm just dragging my own preconceptions into the game, instead of judging it for what it is. Duke Nukem 1 and 2 were platformers, Duke 3D was a first person shooter, and Duke Nukem Forever is apparently a series of minigames and comedy skits.
There's no button to aim down sights, which surprises me, but I can zoom in a bit which serves the same purpose. It even works with the fists, in case I want to do a bit of sniper punching. Also headshots seem to do more damage now, even if they're not instant kills, so that's one definite improvement over Duke 3D.
Oh btw, I think my Time to Gun was about 40 minutes counting from the time Duke put his controller down back in the penthouse, though to be fair I was taking screens and making notes so I wasn't exactly in a rush. You could probably get hold of a crappy alien plasma weapon in say... half an hour if you tried!
FIVE MINUTES LATER.
I can imagine this being a nightmare on harder difficulty levels, especially if you're playing a console version with the ridiculous loading times, but on standard difficulty it ain't so bad. I wouldn't call it entertaining though either, especially comparing it to the spectacular rail shooter level on the train in Bulletstorm, which was worth playing just for the visuals.
Alright the mothership is down, now can I do some first person shooting? Nope! First I've gotta play a bloody elevator braking minigame (seriously), and then...
I'm aware that this level gets a lot of hate, but I like it, so there. If you can't find some joy in driving around a casino during the chaos of an alien invasion in a miniature buggy, jumping across chasms and ramming aliens in the ankle, then you're beyond hope. Or maybe you're completely uninvested in the game because it's spent the last hour fucking you around instead of letting you shoot stuff. That would make sense as well.
Though I admit it is a bit awkward when the car gets stuck on something or flipped over and I have to get out and push.
FIVE MINUTES OF DRIVING LATER.
I haven't mentioned anything about the game's combat yet because I haven't really had an opportunity to experience it properly until now, but it seems decent enough to me. I'm rushing around the pillars, taking shots when I can, and ducking behind one of them when my health needs a second to regenerate (which it often does, I can't take many hits). A bit of a shame I'm locked in this tiny room, but that's this game all over really.
Oh no, the invaders have kidnapped the Holsom twins! I would've stopped them except the two aliens involved were suddenly invulnerable during the cutscene. Now it's personal!
Well, I mean it was totally personal earlier seeing as they invaded both my casino and restaurant just at the right time to interrupt my talk show interview, but now it's extra personal.
A FEW LOCKED OFF ENEMY FIGHTIN' ROOMS LATER.
Check out that box by the way. Across the land of DNF there are many like it, each giving me a full ammo refill of all guns, thus ensuring that I never have to do the slightest bit of exploration to hunt for resources! Obviously this isn't always a good thing and not something I'd want to see in every first person shooter but I have to come out and say that, well, I don't entirely hate it so far.
Bulletstorm has its own variety of this, handing out ammo and upgrades in a box after each section of a level in exchange for points earned through showing off in combat, which I think is a smarter way of handling it for games like this. Getting a free resupply in something like Rainbow Six makes sense, but in a Duke Nukem shooter ammo should be more of a reward.
Oh by the way I had to replay this level to get a better screenshot, so that's why my 'ego' bar is much longer than it should be. The game has a chapter select, so I can replay levels on harder difficulties and find all the ego boost items I missed first time around. Definitely worthy of mention and praise, though it does mean I have to replay all the bullshit as well (fuck that elevator brake minigame bullshit, man).
The game got a lot of complaints on release about the fact that you can only hold two guns, which makes a whole lot of sense in a game like Call of Duty, where half the guns are just variations on an assault rifle, but less sense in something like this where each weapon is part of a tool kit for disassembling different aliens. It definitely discourages holding on to the gimmick weapons, which is a basically a crime. To their credit though, the developers listened to criticism and eventually boosted the limit to four guns in a patch (though only on PC), so I can carry over half the Duke 3D arsenal at once right now.
It's just a shame they didn't let me carry more RPG ammo while they were at it. Only five shots, c'mon man! Fifty is what I'm used to.
Still, I suppose I should be grateful that I'm not forced to go through a QTE sequence to punch him in the balls afterwards or some dumb shit like that. Nope, Duke handles that one himself.
Anyway, now that I have killed the Battlelord, I'm free to carry on to the Duke Dome to rescue the Holsom twins and save the day!
CHAPTER EIGHT: THE HIVE.
Duke's reaction to this? "Looks like you're fucked."
|Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition (PC)|
Also it kind of makes Duke himself unlikeable. Sure he sounds upset when the Holsom twins explode in front of him, but he's knocked out soon afterwards and we take a detour into his nightmares for the next level, which takes place in...
The only way out of his mind is to search every room in the place for three items, but it's okay for Duke to break into the dressing room and start stealing things from the lockers because he's the owner! The strippers even come up to tell him that it's the best place they've ever worked in.
So I've finally reached a level that encourages exploration and it's a bloody minigame hub! Air hockey and video poker, yay.
I know what this game reminds me of now: Prey. The alien hive level, the video poker machines, the look of the graphics, the gruesome deaths of everyone I'm encouraged to care about... they both start in a toilet as well. DNF could've come out in 2006 and fit in just fine.
The thing is, I've already played through a level set in Duke's fantasy paradise: the skyscraper with his own personal casino, museum, death ray turret and talk show studio. He had pop star twins in the bedroom, photos of himself on every wall, people literally fainting when they meet him etc. But this is a man who fought aliens on the moon and he's dreaming about microwaving popcorn in the back room of a strip club?
3D Realms could have had one amazingly trippy dream sequence level here, as Duke processes what just happened and gets himself fired up for revenge. This would be a perfect place to throw in a bit of nostalgia, maybe a retro side-view platforming level seeing as they were so determined to break up the first person shooting. They could have even brought Duke back to the first level of Duke Nukem 3D!
|Duke Nukem 3D (MS-DOS)|
LATER, AT A DUKE BURGER.
It's just a shame that the music is still so... quiet. The gameplay has decided to show up, the level design is interesting for once, but the soundtrack isn't selling it.
Half-Life, which was as much about the obstacle courses as it was about shooting things.
long awaited sequel and got up to the hovercraft levels.
This is long long long driving level, broken up with shooting stages as I get more fuel for my Mighty Foot truck. I'm finding it fairly entertaining (better than being trapped in my own talk show building for an hour), but it's not quite up to Half Life 2 standards.
|Duke Nukem Forever E3 1998 Trailer|
Anyway, I'm turning this off now.
Don't spend fifteen years making a video game, is probably the main conclusion I'm going to draw from this. Even if you release a work of unparalleled genius, it's never going to live up to the hype and at best it's going to appear like it's got one foot in an earlier decade (and in this case the other foot is stuck back in 2008). It's funny really, as the Duke Nukem Forever I'm playing now seems almost like a reimagined version of the proper game; a HD update of a remake of a classic that no one ever got to play. Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with scrapping a game midway through and starting again, titles like Resident Evil 4, Team Fortress 2 and Diablo III prove that approach can really pay off, but there comes a point where it's just being ridiculous.
Though now I'm wondering what would've happened if something like Metroid or Super Mario Bros. had been delayed 15 years. I mean they would've come out on the Game Cube...
Anyway what do I, an old school Duke Nukem 3D fan, really feel about this entertainment product that lies before me? Honestly, I've liked it so far. Despite all my whining, there is a fair amount of first person shooting in this and it's good old fashioned gunplay, encouraging the player to stay mobile and take risks rather than snipe from behind cover. Enemies are easy to spot and don't instantly snipe you on sight, so I'd put it ahead of games like Battlefield 3 and Shadow Warrior right away. Plus they have the decency to react to being hit, which makes the guns feel powerful and gives you the option to interrupt their shots; it's handy when you want to run out in the open without having to pull the laser bolts back out of your butt later.
That said, solid gameplay and a few moments of inspired creativity doesn't put it on the same level as something like Half-Life 2, Bulletstorm, or even Doom 3, and it really does sabotage itself by trying to offer variety and gimmicks no one wanted instead of extended shooting levels.
If only 3D Realms had managed to finish what they had back in 1998, got some feedback from critics and gamers, and then put their new ideas into a sequel instead of working in isolation and constantly restarting the project to keep pace with their rivals. This could've become a fantastic Duke Nukem 7 instead of a mediocre follow up to a genuine classic.
That's what I think about Duke Nukem Forever anyhow. It's possible you think differently though, so if you want to share your opinions about the game, my article, the site, or anything reasonably related you can do so with the handy comment box below.