Duke Nukem Forever suffered one of the longest development cycles in the history of video games before finally arriving on store shelves last week. Sadly, it doesn't seem as though that extra time in the studio did much to improve its quality.
The game has been thoroughly slagged by the press, both traditional game journalists and mainstream reviewers. In fact, some of the reviews have been so nasty that one of the game's publicists was spurred to threaten and reprimand reviewers on Twitter.
I've spent several nights with Duke Nukem Forever over the last week trying to make some sense of this unremitting disaster of an interactive experience, but I think I've had it. I can't bear the thought of devoting any more of my free time to such an imposingly un-fun game.
That means it's time to report my impressions. Rather than write a review of a game that I haven't finished, I've decided instead to simply list the ten things that left my mouth most soured. From dated visual design to outright misogyny, here they are.
1. Puerile humour
Much like foul-mouthed comedian Andrew Dice Clay, this game desperately wants to be funny but simply isn't. It rolls out a parade of lame dick and boob jokes mixed with painfully obvious puns and double entendres that would cause even dirty-minded grade schoolers to groan. You'll want relief from the humor before the fighting even begins in the game's opening level.
2. Lack of spectacle
One of the main reasons people play first-person shooters is for the action. They want to have their minds blown with adrenaline-inducing sequences that make them forget that they're playing a game. Thanks to a combination of dated graphics (see: No. 3), unimaginative camera work, and a predictability that borders on the exceptional, spectacle never happens in Duke Nukem Forever. Everything I encountered, from a tame opening battle against a mothership to a boss fight against a boring, three-breasted alien queen, was a let down.
3. Shockingly poor graphics
Granted, the game began production well over a decade ago, but you'd think at some point it would have received a graphical makeover. Textures are sometimes so muddy and indistinguishable that they actually look like mud. The frame rate, meanwhile, stutters like poor King George. The graphics wouldn't have impressed many gamers in 2005, much less 2011.
4. Dull level design
Most of the levels I played were composed of a series of simple, semi-open environments. Duke would run from one to the next, get attacked by waves of enemies, then do it all over again. It's a bit like playing snippets from Gears of War's horde mode, only with far less variety, no rewards, fewer memorable characters and enemies, worse weapons, and no one to chat with.
5. Poor driving controls
There are times when Duke gets to pilot an RC car, either using a remote from afar or, when shrunken, at the wheel. The driving controls in these sequences stink. I'd rather have spent my time trying to steer a mule with a carrot.
6. Loading times imported from the dawn of disc-based gaming
Every ten minutes or so (sometimes a little longer, sometimes a lot less) gamers are faced with minute-long waiting screens as the next level loads. We're even forced to endure them after dying in boss fights, when all the game has to do is reload the exact same environment Duke occupied when he perished. How, with such small levels and more than a dozen years spent in development, is this even possible?
7. No mini-map
The game is extremely linear, to be sure, but there are some levels in which it would be quite handy to have some idea of where you happen to be in relation to objectives and locations. I'm thinking in particular of the alien hive level, which has players backtracking through environments that show evidence of an artist who grew a little overzealous with the copy-and-paste-muddy-texture function.
8. Duke Nukem
Stepping into Duke's boots left me feeling icky. It's one thing for a talented actor or comedian to lampoon a stereotype. However, in a game like Duke Nukem Forever we take on the role of the subject being parodied. In effect, we are the ones doing and saying the sorts of things we typically mock with derision. I've said this before, but it bears repeating: In a parody game, the joke could end up being on the player. That's definitely the case here.
9. "Capture-the-Babe" mode
Much was made of this capture-the-flag variant when it was first mentioned back in March. The final version of it is pretty much what we were led to think it would be: Teams of Dukes try to snatch women from each other's camps. These women wriggle, complain, and block Duke's vision, forcing him to spank their butts to get them to calm down. I can't claim to understand how this is better or more fun than capturing a flag, but it does lead nicely into the thing I hate most about Duke Nukem Forever, which is:
10. Duke's misogyny
I get that the game is intended to be a send-up of action movies from the 80s, most of which show women in a poor light, but I can't see how anyone with a mother, sister, daughter, or wife would be able to find humour in the way women are depicted here. Nearly all of the women Duke encounters are giggly, scatterbrained, fawning, and either scantily clad or just plain naked. Sex seems to be the only thing on their minds, as proven in scenes in which Duke gladly takes his "reward" from them in the form of sexual favours. It might be hard to believe, but these are actually some of the more tasteful scenes featuring women. At one point a woman can be heard retching after giving Duke fellatio in a bathroom stall. Players can increase Duke's "ego" ( Duke Nukem Forever's version of a shield) by slapping around a trio of alien bossoms. And then there's the whack-a-mole tabletop arcade game that sees players hammering on aliens that pop out from a woman's vagina and breasts. It's possible to parody anything, including the objectification of women, but this game's makers have gone so far and have been so relentless in coming up with demeaning and degrading situations that they have created something that becomes part of the problem.