But in 2011, the code on the disc just fuels embarrassment for everyone involved. The story involves the aliens Duke beat 12 years ago, who come back to exact revenge and steal Earth’s women. Horrific load times hit you as soon as the game begins. Once you’ve got control, you’re assaulted by terrible texture pop-in — you can often see the tech drawing in the world as you play, which is a cardinal sin for gamers. The poor lighting doesn’t help.
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Leaden animation, especially with the faces and lip-synching, makes the characters seem like reanimated corpses. And yet, all of that would be forgiven if the game play or humor were good enough, but DNF fails in this area too. The first penis joke and lewd comments may make you laugh, but after the one-note jokes are hammered over and over again, you start to hate everything about this game. The game play is what bears the most hallmarks from early-1990s game design, and it wears its age badly. Enemies just run at you without any apparent AI programming, and the environmental design — when it’s not being used to tell jokes — is bland and confusing.
More than a bad game in the present day, DNF makes you reconsider the esteem some original games still draw. It’s not the shock humor that DNF rolls out that insults; it’s how dated that shock humor is. Games like Epic’s Bulletstorm yuk it up in crude fashion, too, but they don’t ask you to swallow an anachronism like it’s part of the joke.
The thing is, I never really cared for Duke. If gaming’s like music or comics and your nostalgic sweet spot exists around the time you lost your virginity, then my heart belongs to Midnight Marauders, Icon #16 and Metal Gear Solid. Duke was already speeding toward irrelevance when his last game came out, and in a weird way, the perpetual delay of Forever just extended the ride.
The worst part of this Duke Nukem’s overwhelming awfulness is that there are germs of funny ideas in the game. Replacing a health indicator with ego, Duke’s cashing in on saving the world and a smattering of video-game in-jokes all make you wonder what might have been had Gearbox the courage to start from scratch.
Maybe there was something to Duke’s brash popularity back in the day, and maybe a spark of that could have been introduced to modern-day players in an engaging way. But the muddy execution of Forever snuffs out that hope. Duke Nukem Forever may ultimately wind up doing what hordes of alien invaders couldn’t: make it so that no one cares about Duke’s next game.
Techland rating: 4 out of 10