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Duke Nukem Forever is a legend in the video game industry. However, it's not for the reasons you may think. It's entirely due to its development history. The game started development in 1997, one year after the release of Duke Nukem 3D. The developers went through a series of delays, engine changes, gameplay changes, developers, and lawsuits. Then, after four developers including 3D Realms, the game finally released in 2011. The final version was finished by Triptych Games and Gearbox Software. However, despite much hype, the game was disappointingly received by most reviewers.

This result will likely be the same opinion for most players... if your expectations are high. If you were expecting a solid FPS with a focus on multiplayer over singleplayer, go elsewhere. Expecting a great looking game? Forget about it. Expecting a truly old-school FPS with a new sense of humor? Not a chance. Duke Nukem Forever doesn't live up to the ridiculous hype that was created over its 14 year development time. It was really never going to in the first place. In fact, it was never going to be anything extremely big or able to compete with modern greats like Half-Life 2 and Battlefield, and it wasn't trying to. It isn't a genre-redefining game or an attempt at grandeur. More than anything, Duke Nukem Forever and its titular protagonist just want to party like it's 1996. So check those unrealistic expectations at the door and forget what political correctness is. Duke Nukem Forever is a throwback to the adult humor of the 1990s gaming market with mixtures of 1990s and modern gameplay, and it succeeds for the most part.

It was going to be clear that Duke Nukem Forever was not going to compete visually with any recent titles, and this is definitely true. However, for the heavily modified engine it runs on, it does do a good enough job. Duke Nukem Forever uses, and I'm not kidding about this, a heavily-rewritten Unreal Tournament engine. Yes, the engine used for Epic Games' 1999 game Unreal Tournament. In just that alone, you would expect Duke Nukem Forever to look terrible in 2011. However, as mentioned, the engine was heavily reworked for Duke Nukem Forever. Some aspects, like human models and animations, are easily behind the times. However, lighting, gun and alien models, and level design are impressive, especially for running on the UT engine. However, the framerate on consoles can get a bit choppy at times and there are some terrible effects on the PC and Mac versions of Duke Nukem Forever. While it could have looked a lot better, it wasn't bad enough to take me out of the experience.

The story of Duke Nukem Forever picks up 12 years after the events of 1996's Duke Nukem 3D. Protagonist Duke Nukem is living in new found fame after saving Earth and its women from an evil race of aliens. Due to his HUGE ego, he has constructed a large casino, burger chain, and has two twin pop stars at his... disposal. After sampling a video game of his adventures, the aliens return. Though they seem peaceful, and the President and General Graves warned Duke to avoid hostile contact, they attack, leaving Duke no choice. He soon finds that the aliens are back to finish what they started: Kidnap Earth's women for reproduction. It's up to Duke to do what he's good at: killing all manner of alien life and chewing bubble gum. And he's all out of gum.

Truth be told, Duke Nukem Forever's story isn't the most original. In fact, it's really just a story similar to the likes of Mars Attacks. However, it's the way the story is told and Duke's humor and personality that set the game apart. The story is told quite well through scripted events with few cutscenes, and is even carried with Duke's humor and personality. The humor is filled with one-liners that never get old and references. The references go from Donkey Kong to the filming of Terminator: Salvation to Halo and Call of Duty. The one liners are also back, ranging from Duke classics like "Let's rock" and "Come get some" to quotes from films like Robocop, Team America: World Police, and Army of Darkness. Then there's Duke's personality. It really is akin to the mind of a male college student. However, while it may be offensive and stale to some, he really comes off as that one friend everyone has. The one who thinks he's hilarious, but is really making a big fool out of himself. The one you can't help but laugh at out of obligation, seeing as you've known him for so long. After this game, Duke is a digital version of that guy.

Gameplay is old-school shooting fun, with three touches of modern gaming. These filled me with trepidation when I first read about these mechanics. However, they work well in game. The first thing is the occasional quick time event. These mostly occur in bosses, thankfully. Even better is that the quick time events are amazingly brief. They are most comparable to the finishing moves in Serious Sam 3: BFE in terms of how quick. The second is the weapon limit, which is two on consoles and four on computers. Unlike games like Call of Duty, the weapon limit is not held down by strategic requirements. This is most similar to Bioshock Infinite. Also, there are a fair amount of EDF ammo crates, which refills ammo on all carried guns. The final thing is the regenerating "health", referred to as Ego. This is unfairly referred to as health, even though Ego is more like an shield. When Duke's Ego runs out, he can take a small amount of damage before dying. Should you avoid damage, both health and Ego recharge. The Ego can also be upgraded by doing activities like air hockey and admiring yourself in the mirror and by fighting bosses. The regeneration and upgrades will be necessary, as Duke Nukem Forever can be surprisingly difficult at times. Even on the medium difficulty, Duke Nukem Forever can still be pretty difficult.

Everything else is old-school fun. Large and varied levels, out-of-the-way activities, hoards of enemies, huge boss fights, puzzles, platforming. Everything you may love (or hate) about 90s shooters like Doom, Shadow Warrior, and Duke Nukem 3D is here. These old-school touches (weapons like the shrink ray and the hilarious difficulty mode names) actually make Duke Nukem Forever feel like a 3D Realms game at heart, rather than a repetitive shooter like Call of Duty.

The game also subscribes to the 90s shooter ideals of "lengthy campaign first, fun multiplayer second". Duke Nukem Forever's campaign is surprisingly lengthy, clocking in at around 10 hours on Piece of Cake difficulty with a bit of exploration. However, there is reason to replay. The Ego caps, which raise the Ego meter, is one example. A better example is in the form of an Extras menu, which unlocks bonus content based on the completed difficulty. Beating the game on the easiest difficulty will unlock the behind-the-scenes stuff (like trailers, a timeline, and photos), the soundboard, and one extra game setting. More unlock as you beat the game on higher difficulties. These range from old-school classics like Instagib to a usable version of Duke Nukem 3D's Freeze Ray.

Then there's the multiplayer mode. Again, it isn't out to compete with Battlefield or Counter-Strike for popularity. It's there to provide old-school frag marathons using Duke Nukem Forever's gameplay. Again, it works. The modes on the disc are fun, ranging from deathmatch (DukeMatch) to team deathmatch (Team DukeMatch) to king of the hill (Hail to the King) to capture the flag (Capture the Babe). These are fun to play, especially on the offered maps. One of which is a recreation of Duke Nukem 3D's classic Hollywood Holocaust map. My only question about the multiplayer comes from the lack of mod tools on the PC and Mac versions. While this may not sound big, it is worth remembering that Duke Nukem 3D's multiplayer lived off of the modders. Thankfully, the multiplayer hasn't died yet. Hopefully, it won't.

Again, Duke Nukem Forever wasn't ever going to live up to the wild expectation of fans everywhere. I can easily see why some would be disappointed by this game. It isn't perfect by any means. However, if you leave your wild expectations at the door, Duke Nukem Forever might actually surprise you. Considering the asking price of $5 for the console versions (which are a lot better than they were at release), it is an easy recommendation. My only hope is that we won't have to wait 14 years for another Duke Nukem game.




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