I know, it isn’t paladiny or Warcrafty or Blizzardy in the slightest, but come on, it’s Duke Freakin’ Nukem.
And it’s more than a little disappointing.
Before there was Duke 3D, there was plain old Duke Nukem. And Duke Nukem 2. I absolutely loved Duke’s earlier platforming games (where cola was a pickup, not beer) — they were right up there with similar shareware titles like Commander Keen. When Duke Nukem 3D hit, it was a paradigm shift for the character. The platformers had a certain innocence to them, but in Duke 3D, suddenly the protagonist was a foul-mouthed, wise-cracking womanizer. But you know what? It worked. Duke didn’t really have a personality in his earlier games, and now he was an ‘action hero’ throwing pipe-bombs and blasting aliens with heavy ordnance. And tipping strippers.
They’ve ramped that aspect of Duke’s character up in Duke Nukem Forever. We’re full-tilt machismo here. Duke has bronze busts of himself littering his apartment, posters featuring his appearances on magazine covers, a Duke Nukem Museum, and more. Girls are fawning over him left and right. And really, I have no problem with this. This isn’t why Duke Nukem Forever is an underwhelming game.
It’s underwhelming because the game is on rails. It’s linear to the Nth degree. In my first hour of playing, I’ve been herded through one hallway after another with almost zero need to backtrack, no secret rooms, and the accommodations have been relatively cramped throughout.
I remember feeling the same way when I loaded up Doom 3, a few years ago. I played the original into the ground — really, if the game had a Doom or Build or Quake (or similar) engine back in the day, I was there. Blood, Shadow Warrior, Heretic, Hexen, SiN, Half-Life, etc. My old school FPS credentials exist in abundance. Doom 3, however, was a significant change — the environments gained a great deal of detail, but everything felt so damn cramped. And polished. Smooth. I’m talking surfaces, and structural details… it all looked very good, like a sci-fi environment suitable for the silver screen, but it felt so very, very different from the earlier games.
And that’s how I feel with Duke Nukem Forever. Everything has this glitz and gloss (and fog and reflection and…) to it, and you’re allowed very little freedom when it comes to navigating these pristine corridors. It doesn’t feel like a balls-to-the-wall FPS, it feels more like a cinematic on-rails shooter. You interact with doors in a very literal sense, pulling them open with your hands, you kick down doors, you perform hands-on executions of your enemies… even climbing a ladder is a ‘cinematic’ moment, where you lose control of your character and simply watch Duke haul himself up the rungs. ‘Press “E” to do something’ is a prompt you’ll see often. ‘Repeatedly tap “Space” to do something else’ is another.
These moments do involve you, because you are pressing a button and watching the result, but they slow the action down as well. They also feel, well, scripted. Much of this game so far feels scripted.
Is it a flop? No. It is a worthy successor to Duke Nukem 3D? No. It is a different type of game, and it can be appreciated on that level. Just don’t expect a revamp of your old favorite Build engine classics.