Duke Nukem Forever review (Xbox 360)

If there's one game that lets you know exactly what you're in for from literally the very first few seconds of play, it's Duke Nukem Forever. Never before have I seen a game that opens with the player facing a urinal, presented with an instruction to press a button to piss. As you can see, Duke Nukem Forever doesn't beat around the bush, either.

Yes, he's back. After a near 15-year stint trudging through the often inescapable flames of limbo in development hell, Duke Nukem has finally found his way back to store shelves, but it's not quite the valiant and kick-ass return to form that the world has patiently been waiting for.

Tasteless, transgressive and macho-cool, he's the same old Duke, thrown head-first once again into overcoming an alien invasion for the sake of humanity, armed with big guns, dark shades and an unbreakable ego. After over a decade of resting on his laurels and enjoying the titanic celebrity he earned after saving the world in the '90s, Nukem leaps right back into action when aliens launch a chaotic attack on Las Vegas and, in an attempt to lure Duke out, capture every woman in sight. What's the Duke without his legions of adoring babes? Naturally, he ain't too happy.

Those of a “weak disposition” would be better off staying as far away as they can from this game. And if such folk have already played it and cited its inane offensiveness in their snobbish reviews (as I have been reading over the last week), may I ask why you even bothered to pick up your controller and press the Start button in the first place? Duke Nukem is and always was about a self-obsessed, hulking meathead spouting movie quotes and wielding guns and girls left, right and centre.

Do you claim to adore Duke Nukem 3D yet are exasperated by Duke's cheesy one-liners pulled directly from the likes of 300, Commando and Pulp Fiction? Hey, “Hail to the king, baby” and “Groovy” were originally from the mouth of Bruce Campbell's Ash in The Evil Dead movies.

Pissed off at the character's blatant refusal to get with the times and “grow up”? Duke Nukem Forever is an 18-certificated video game and the titular character in question is a caricature born from an amalgamation of '80s action movie heroes, not your politically incorrect second cousin. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Duke Nukem. But there are problems with the gameplay.

Like the aforementioned FPS classic from 1996, there isn't much of a story to Duke Nukem Forever, but that isn't a flaw. We all like a bit of mindless gun-toting fun every so often, right? Well I do, at least. The game, with exception to frustratingly clunky aiming, handles combat well. You are able to carry any two weapons at one time on your blood and guts-splattered quest to rid Sin City of the alien scum. Why not mix it up with a rocket launcher while you blast away Pig Cops with your tried and tested shotgun? Having said that, such tactics may present a bit of a problem as explosions are often the cause of far-too-prevalent frame rate spikes. For a game where not a great deal happens on-screen at any one moment, this is inexcusable.

Visually, Duke's comeback is nowhere near as striking as you may expect for a game that's been cooking for more than 10 years. You'll soon be accustomed to the jagged edges and outlines, but it's quite the shock when you get started. As always, graphics aren't everything, but after all this time you have certain expectations, and sadly Duke Nukem Forever doesn't fulfil too many.

While I believe that some reviewers have given the game unfair treatment, or it's gone way over their heads, it still makes for an enjoyable, if flawed exercise in nostalgia. There isn't much for new audiences and it both looks and feels outdated, yet this is very much a true sequel. Hell, Duke still even jumps like a three-legged gazelle and grunts just the same. If you're looking to hang out with one of the most infamous characters in the history of video games and kick some otherworldly ass, you may find something you like in this throwback guilty pleasure. For those who want elaborate set pieces and top-notch mechanics, get back to Call of Duty and don't bother yourself.

SECOND OPINION | Nathan Hardisty
? Fifteen years of waiting and it’s all paid off. Duke Nukem Forever is the greatest game ever created - if by greatest you mean one of the worst games of the year. Duke Nukem Forever is a game caught between a giant web separating the old school and the new school, and neither of which are kind to the old dog. This is a game which frolics in regenerative health and a two-weapon system, but proclaims itself to be good old Duke with the power-ups. It’s one giant juxtaposition of an experience.

The shooting can feel fun at times and once in a while I’m taken into a blurry nostalgia-goggled dream and the game embodies Duke Nukem 3D. This dream quickly breaks when the game forces me to go on one of its dull set-piece moments or turret sequences and it sinks into the brown, generic FPS category that I loathe so deeply. None of the weapons have a punch to them and it all just feels hammy.

Speaking as someone who thinks Duke Nukem 3D has the greatest level design of all time, it’s disheartening to think all that talent has been practically wasted. The game forces its dull story down your throat and there’s no Duke humour to spice it up. The first 20 minutes are spent walking around and being blocked from shooting things up by NPCs talking to you. This is one of those "cinematic" games that ends up feeling way too forced.

Speaking of way too forced, there’s a certain level called The Hive in which young women are being raped by an alien queen. I thought, at first, that this was a way to get Duke and the player angry. It would’ve been a ballsy and perhaps shining, glorious moment, but instead Duke decides to quip, “Well you’re fucked.” while the women explode and scream. It isn’t funny. I’m the type of person who laughs heartily at good bad taste jokes, but this sequence ends up just being bad taste.

The multiplayer side of things is pretty much empty. There’s just this limbo of spawn-camping killers and people jumping around with massive hats. For a while there’s a certain charm and just like BioShock 2’s multiplayer, it just ends up falling on its knees. There’s no luster, there’s no edge to it and there are no fun thrills. The multiplayer days of Duke Nukem 3D are long over now and this isn’t a throwback to the good old days.

Duke Nukem Forever has invented time travel. It’s an old game infused with the essence of the worst of the new school. It’s forceful in its storytelling, it’s disgusting in its humour and only the nostalgia-curious should try this out. The very first level shows off just how good of a game we could’ve had but instead we’re left with a shallow experience that churns out bad taste and tries to cover up its lack of any sticky fun or incentive to play with the character of Duke. And he isn’t exactly the Duke I remember.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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