I feel like everything I’m about to say about this game could be prefaced with “you probably already expected this, but…” I’ve played through this demo three times now and each time I just notice more and more wrong with it. The long and short of it is this: Duke Nukem Forever is not a game that should cost sixty bucks. Without the storied history behind the game’s development, it would likely be shunned as a product that doesn’t belong in 2011. You probably already expected that.
Visually, I wasn’t sure what to expect from DNF. As with everything else in the game, the graphics are all across the board. Some effects look okay, like water effects on the screen but the majority of the game looks pre-Doom 3. There are some objects in the environment that I had no idea what they were supposed to be because they were so blurry/poorly textured. The visual performance of the game is equally as sub-par. The frame rate is really jarring (especially in the driving segments) and there are serious texture pop-in issues. Twice, I went about twenty seconds without having any textures showing up on the truck I was driving.
The gameplay is just as messed up as the visuals. None of the guns feel great or powerful. Duke’s main pistol is pretty much a pea shooter while the dual-pistol-wielding pig aliens dish out damage like it’s going out of style. That’s another thing: the health feels like it was designed to benefit from a 90’s-style health pack system, yet regenerating health seems to have been tagged on. Nearly everything in the game is like this; it’s like they want to provide 90’s shooter nostalgia but not for the good elements of those older games. A good example of this is that Duke can only seem to carry two weapons at once.
The environments (in the demo, anyway) are straight-up bad. You fight a giant boss type monster in a football field and for a moment you almost hit that actual good 90’s nostalgia but the fight becomes boring when it lasts about twice as long as it should. After that, you fight your way through the most generic outdoor-desert area in a shooter. There’s literally nothing to look at except a bunch of blurry sand and rock textures. Then, you work your way through an equally boring mineshaft.
Several things in the game feel like they were added in after a good game was released over the past twelve years. You can tell which part they designed after Half-Life 2 came out when you start doing (bad) physics puzzles with mine carts.
So what about the humor? Meh. The game is at its funniest when it’s making fun of itself. All of the other jokes are terrible pop culture references. Hey guys, remember that South Park episode that coined the “step three: profit” line? Hope you’re not sick of that because it’s shamelessly in here. You know how Gordon Freeman uses a crowbar? Duke references that, too. I guess these jokes were maybe timely when the corresponding segments were developed, but not anymore. Earlier this year, Bulletstorm nailed the tone that DNF is going for and backed it up with actual good visuals and gameplay.
Maybe this whole thing is just a big joke. I wouldn’t say it’s unlikely, but it’s not a joke that’s worth sixty bucks. This should have been a ten dollar (at most) Steam download. If you really want to cash in some 90’s shooter nostalgia so bad, just replay the original Half-Life. Or play the (also Gearbox-developed) Opposing Force expansion; I still think it’s one of the best shooters of all time. Duke Nukem Forever is interesting, but that’s all it is. It’s just not a good game. You probably already expected that.