Hard as it is to believe, there is life beyond the cosy bosom of Bit-Gamer, and if you've partaken of such a life in recent days, you may well have heard some opinions bandied about regarding the subject of today's analysis, namely Duke Nukem Forever. Basically, everyone's saying it's shite. Your reviewer is here today to tell you that those curmudgeons are wrong.
Well, wrong-ish. It is shite, but it’s shite in a specific way and it’s important you understand which way that is. The finished article is essentially a bigger version of Duke 3D with a lot more bells and whistles, but outdated and bearing the scars of a birth that took far longer than it needed.
Could we really have expected anything more? Only if we were being naïve. Playing DNF feels like going back in time. It's defiantly 'old school' but critical reaction seems to have ignored this and treated it like it was meant to redefine how we see the FPS. Cobblers; it was never going to. Perhaps if it had been released 10 years ago, it might have done – it certainly feels like a game that should have come out in 2001 rather than 2011.
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What we have instead is a solid, traditional FPS romp, crammed to the rafters with things to mess about with, mini-games to play, secrets to discover. It's got references galore and some of Duke's quips can genuinely raise a chuckle, even if the vast majority is witless chaff. There's as much variety as you'd expect in a semi-modern FPS, with the on-foot action sandwiched in between turret sections, monster truck rampages and even a bit where you get shrunk down to the size of an action figure and get to drive a remote-controlled car around.
There's a fully functional pinball game, a crappy poker machine, slots, air hockey and much, much more, not to mention all the 'erotic' content (more on that later). You could spend hours just in Duke’s utterly needless strip club dream sequence level alone. One thing's for sure – a lack of content is not DNF's problem.
Compared to the vast majority of what we'd call 'modern' shooters, this is a behemoth of a single player game, without even touching on its multiplayer. Even the most ardent critic couldn't argue they didn't get their money's worth, content-wise, but size doesn't matter if you don't know what to do with it.
A lot of the set piece levels outstay their welcome, going on far too long than is necessary. The aforementioned miniature car level quickly descends into boredom, especially when the level design is vague enough to confuse you as to where you're meant to go next. It lacks pace or excitement, and eventually you just come to wish that it would end.
The same goes for the monster truck sections. At first this is an admirable attempt to 'change up' from the general shooting, but it just goes on and on, eventually deteriorating into a samey grind through arbitrarily chosen clichés of 90s level design; a mine, a western town. Every time you think you've left it behind, you get asked to go back. There's an amusing joke pay-off once you've finally wrecked it, but it’s not enough when you’re forced to tolerate misleading level design in the preamble. The on-foot sections aren't free of such moments either, although things are generally better sign-posted here.
Once you know where you're going, the actual core shooting is reasonably good, especially if you choose to use the shotgun and pipe bombs a lot. The former is one of the meatiest seen in shooters for a long while, while the latter can provide a satisfyingly grisly pay-off.
Even the boss battles, usually such a source of utter horror in most games, are acceptable here. No weak spots, no convoluted methods of winning and grossly unfair attacks to dodge. It's just you, a load of rockets, a dwindling health bar and, at the end, some kind of 'finisher', like scoring a field goal with a giant eyeball. They don't really offer a challenge, but it's not really about that – it's the spectacle that’s the draw here, not the challenge.
Which is good, because I hate boss battles and would rather have them easy than moronically obtuse and difficult.