Duke Nukem Forever
“Hail to the king, baby!”
That would be the king who, for technically over 13 years now, has remained absent from his throne. Duke Nukem Forever is everything videogames represent to the uneducated: it’s crass, violent, offensive and total throwaway entertainment but it also represents a satirical take on the videogame stereotype in the best form possible – an actual videogame. Our first glimpse of gameplay comes in the form of controlling the steroid junkie protagonist’s stream of piss into a urinal: tasteful. Following on, the player is thrown straight in the deep end with a boss fight, ending by breaking the fourth wall in true postmodern style with Duke himself playing the game from the comfort of his own living room (while the Olsen twins give him oral sex). The girls pull away and wipe their mouths, then ask the Duke was the game any good? He remarks “well after 12 fucking years it should be”; the nature of such self referential comedy sets the tone perfectly for a game which many didn’t expect to see the light of day.
Honouring its status as the true sequel to Duke Nukem 3D, the game frequently makes light of past events, quickly playing up its setting as being 12 years after the last alien invasion. The narrative concerns the aliens return to the U.S, their ship curiously hovering with little indication of a desire for communication or invasion. It is soon after Duke receives a call from the President, who urges him not to engage the aliens for fears of disturbing any intergalactic relationship that may bore from their unexpected presence. The aliens eventually touchdown upon earth, only to head straight for a burger bar owned by the Duke, clearly indicating a less than hospitable agenda for their visit. Soon enough Duke’s apartment block is invaded and it’s up to him to send the alien scum home packing.
The game eases the player in comfortably, using various set pieces as a disguise for the tutorial prompts, no doubt a commonplace design choice in contemporary shooters. Duke’s controls are solid as expected but feel somewhat heavy handed and cumbersome in comparison to that of its marketplace rivals. Duke can often become unwieldy in times of intense combat, likely a relic of generations passed in the games lengthy development period. The game’s arcade-esque shooting mechanics are also juxtaposed by the ability to only carry two weapons at any given time. This makes things a little frustrating for those who just want to blast away with a wide arsenal at the push of a button, again, likely an odd design choice unresolved over the years (though Duke makes self-reference to this, occasionally exclaiming “you make me wish I had 3 guns!”)
Thankfully, there’s more to the game than just straight up shooting, with an extensive range of tangible objects placed around Duke’s world to interact with, it’s unlikely the player will be left un-amused for long. These range from shooting some hoops, teasing an alien wall made of breasts, signing autographs, pinball machines, billiards tables and even more urinating. Various interactive moments also prove an advantage for the player with each one dispersing an ‘ego boost’, effectively contributing a power up to Duke’s overall health bar. Structurally, it tends to have more in common with old-school FPS classics than the games it satires. There is no ducking behind walls or weapon customisation and players are frequently given breaks from the shooting to take on quests at a more leisurely pace. An example being a chapter set almost entirely within a strip club, in which Duke must locate condoms, a vibrator and popcorn… that’s it.
The humour really comes alive from more than just a conceptual aspect, the script frequently attempts to be topical in a satirical sense and in many cases succeeds with hysterical results. Pop-culture parodies are rife and Duke wastes no time in ripping to shreds those who have taken his gaming crown in the last decade (green power armour is for pussies right?) Best are those placed subtly and take aim at events outside of gaming, a particular rant heard early in the game being case in point.
From a visual standpoint, Duke seems to be lost in time; textures are frequently left looking grainy and unfinished while various models throughout the game are jagged and dated. However, taking into consideration the treatment Duke received in development and the delightfully vibrant art style, these are menial gripes. If anything, the visual handicaps are scars left from years of abuse and in a way represent a more humane trait to a game that is mostly just insensitive and crass. Either way, Duke Nukem Forever is still technically competent and does little to distract from the overall experience.
Unfortunately, multiplayer was not available for evaluation at the time of writing. However, the game contains four different online multiplayer options: Dukematch (Deathmatch), Team Dukematch (Team Deathmatch), Capture the Babe (Capture the Flag) and Hail to the King (King of the Hill). Capture the Babe has been subject to some controversy due to its misogynistic gameplay, something we believe gamers will have to decide for themselves when it comes to game time.
Michael Csurics, responsible for the games sound design is another notable commendation to Duke Nukem Forever’s experience. Weapons sound meaty, Duke’s voice thunders through the speakers while the soundscape of the world around you only catalyses the humour further with some wonderfully offensive effects thrown in for good measure. The game’s voice talent is confidently tongue-in-cheek; as it should be, with any hamminess quickly flattened out by the next knock out one liner. As a whole, Csurics work is a strong part of Duke Nukem Forever’s success and indicates an optimistic future for his upcoming work on Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Duke Nukem Forever feels like an anomaly; it’s wholly surprising to see the game in its complete package and even more so that it’s actually good. It was never going to be perfect but it hits a spot that’s been left unappreciated for an awfully long time. While the likes of Call of Duty and Crysis continue down the road to absolute realism, Duke Nukem Forever takes gamers back to remind about how to have fun; surely that’s why people play games? It does not set out to encapsulate the audience with its artistic flair or cinematic sensitivity but rather ensure you are always laughing. Where Portal 2 nailed wit, Nukem delivers in its ability to delivery unrelenting gross out humour at every corner and it most certainly works. Within the space of 12 months, we have had two of the funniest and most delightful games to ever see the light of day. It is difficult to articulate what has been achieved through Duke Nukem Forever’s humour but no doubt, the delays were worth it, if only to have gaming’s funniest year yet.