After running, gunning, and grunting in the Duke’s boots for a week I’ve been trying very hard to pick out the one element of the game that I disliked the most. The story is a strong competitor for first, because its quality suggests that 3D Realms (or one of the other four games studios that developed this title) kidnapped a group of hyper-active teens, force fed them Mountain Dew and action movies for a week, and then locked them in a room until something resembling a plot and dialogue were scratched into the walls.
Then there is the gameplay, which despite some genuinely fun shooting sequences, is so utterly confused about its own pacing that you feel like you’re being punished for playing the fun portions of the game. “Oh, did you enjoy that epic boss battle? Well, here is a dream segment where all you can do is slowly walk around a strip club looking for popcorn.”
To be fair, Duke had its fair share of “f%^& yeah!” moments, but there is a cloud of disappointment that looms over the whole experience. This is mostly due to some very legitimate reasons, but maybe it’s also because, after fourteen years of buildup Duke couldn’t do anything else but collapse under the weight of its own hype. Fourteen years, we built Duke up in our imaginations to be something more than a game, and that’s where it probably should have stayed.
The events in DNF take place twelve years after Duke beat back the alien hordes in DN3D. His name and symbol have been trademarked to everything from burger joints to football stadiums and he plays video games based on him in his penthouse suite with his twin celebrity girlfriends. Duke is the hero, and when the aliens come back seeking revenge the world once again looks to him to save them.
…and that’s pretty much it for story. There is a sub-plot about “saving the babes” who were abducted (including Duke’s twins), but for the most part it just feels like the game is killing time before the final mission at the Hoover Dam. The story suffers from two major flaws, the first of which being a weak plot line. Before or at the end of each mission a military General named “Graves” (or whoever is close) pulls Duke aside to tell him where he’s going to fight next and why. It’s a cheap/patchwork way of justifying some of the game’s locations and it boils the story down to something overly simplistic.
Second is the dialogue. I get that DNF is supposed to be tongue-in-cheek and that Duke himself is a testosterone-driven pop culture quote-spewing killing machine (he’s a classic). The problem is that fans of the series (and gamers everywhere) have grown up; we’ve gotten used to games with deeply engaging stories (like Bioshock) and charmingly witty humor (like Portal), and DNF doesn’t just come close with its sub-level toilet humor, zero emotion story, and dry pop culture reference quotes.
From a technical aspect, DNF suffers from occasional frame rate drops and frequent texture pop-ins, these are minor inconveniences though. The most frustrating issue is the far too frequent and time consuming load screens (which you’ll be sitting through every time you die).
Probably the biggest issue of the game is its pacing; when you’re blasting away at pig cops or going on a steroid-induced melee-rage the game is actually pretty enjoyable. The game tries to mix in too many puzzle, platforming, and calm “just walking around” segments though, and it ends up killing the fun. Respectfully, the Duke is supposed to be here to “kick ass and chew bubble gum” not spend three fourths of his time solving environmental puzzles.
Probably the best feature of the game was the extras that were included on the disc. Including Duke’s penthouse that could be upgraded and customized by playing the multiplayer, a complete timeline of the game’s development, and other bits like old trailers and concept art. Additionally, fans of Easter eggs will be happy to see the number of movie and game references throughout the story.
The one question that kept rolling through my mind during my time with DNF was, “fourteen years of development? Really?” So much of the experience was lackluster and forgettable that I found it hard to believe. I suppose, the one good thing to come out of thisis that it’s finally out; the nightmare is over and we can all move on. More importantly the Duke can move on, start fresh, and one day present us with a title that will be truly deserving of being branded a Duke Nukem game.