The First (and Last) Hour: Duke Nukem Forever

Redbox debuted their game rental service last night (today is the official debut but some games showed up yesterday) and I wanted to do a post about it for ITworld, so I needed to test the service.

Problem is, I’m in the middle of Infamous 2 and just received Crysis 2 from Gamefly, so I didn’t really feel the need to rent a game. Then I saw they had Duke Nukem Forever.

Between the infamously long quasi-development time and the fact that the game has been getting such bad reviews, I was curious about it, but there was no way I was going to pay $60 to sate that curiosity. $2 though? Sure why not.

And guess what? The reviews are right. The game is offensive in all kinds of ways. Some of it you can skip. The much-talked about first scene where you start by first-person pissing into a urinal, for instance, can be skipped. I’ve heard of some other vile things you can do in that bathroom, but I stayed away from the toilets. Other parts you have no control of, such as the implied oral sex being performed on Duke (complete with slurping sounds) as he plays a video game. What makes this section of the game even worse (if that’s even possible) is that the “Holsom Twins” who are performing this service are animated like something dead and brought back from beyond. While you’re hearing bad voice-acting that’s trying to sound titillating, what you’re seeing are a pair of wooden-faced character models staring over your shoulder. It’s like Duke is getting head from a couple of zombies. So even if you’re into 3D animated porn, this isn’t good 3D animated porn.

Anyway, plenty of other reviews have talked about how offensive and misogynistic the game is and I’ll just say I agree with that. Heck, even some of the ‘tips’ that appear during loading screens are offensive. Let’s move on to technical and gameplay issues.

On the 360, loading times are stupidly long and ‘levels’ are stupidly short. There are sections of the game where you spend more time waiting for things to load than you do playing the game. The graphics are sub-par, the jokes are ancient, some of them riffing on stuff like old Schwarzenegger movies such as Commando, and the combat feels really stupid. Generally speaking Duke’s most potent weapon, in the early parts of the game at least, are his fists. While enemies can soak up bullets, 1 punch or melee hit does them in (I’ll admit I was playing on Easy so maybe that skewed things). In too many cases there’s a scripted failure at the end of a sequence.

The shame of it all is that there’s some good stuff here, too. Even in the 90 minutes or so I played, I was exposed to a number of different gameplay styles and mini-games. I found a playable pinball table, for instance. One light puzzle section had me driving a remote-controlled RC Truck in order to push an item out of an inexplicably sealed room. The sequence was illogical as hell, but it was kind of fun. There’s a turret segment early on, and even a section where Duke is shrunk to the size of an action figure and has to drive an RC car around a hotel lobby. None of these aspects are earth-shattering, but they were unexpected and kind of fun. But every time I’d start to enjoy myself, the game would throw another cringe-inducing dick joke at me.

There were even some legitimately funny parts to the game. One section has Duke coming upon a woman stuck in an elevator, and the brakes fail. Duke has to yank on a lever to slow the descent, and all the time the woman is freaking out and shouting at him to pull the damned lever and in this case, at least, the voice talent does a great job of turning this potentially horrific event into something pretty funny (and of course in the end Duke saves the day). Even Angela, who was frowning every time she walked through the room and heard/saw what was going on, chuckled at the elevator scene.

I almost wish Duke Nuken Forever was just relentlessly bad; but seeing these little bits and pieces of what could’ve been a fun and interesting game just makes the vile coating of “twisted 13 year-old-boy fantasy crap” seem even more tragic.

Was it worth $2 to get a glimpse at the train wreck that is Duke Nukem Forever? Well, my curiosity is sated, so I guess it was. But it wasn’t worth much more than that, to me.

* * *

Footnote: “Offensive” is a very subjective term. This game was offensive to me; it might not be to you. I’m not a fan of dick jokes or scatological humor. I’m not a fan of ‘bro’ culture, which Duke seems to be embracing in a twisted way. I am not offended by nudity but am offended by such pure objectification of women. When a female character shows up in a skimpy outfit but is more than just a sexbot (see my post on Hunted, though Duke has me re-thinking it) I’m ok with it, but in Duke the female characters are just sex toys with no other personalities, at least during the parts of the game I saw. When the Holsom Twins aren’t servicing Duke, they’re engaging in a bit of sisterly lesbian foreplay. It all gets tired really, really fast.

2 thoughts on “The First (and Last) Hour: Duke Nukem Forever

  1. I’m surprised by all the reviews’ attention to the crude humor. Isn’t that the heart of the Duke Nukem IP? I’ve never played a Duke Nukem game, but I get the impression that the asinine jokes are its primary selling point.

    If so, reviews should simply make note of that point and then get on with analyzing the other game elements (as you did). Otherwise, it’s like complaining that Mass Effect is a sci-fi game. If you hate sci-fi, you probably shouldn’t be reviewing the story.

    I also find it ridiculous that review sites are complaining about objectification of women and crude humor. Since when do game journalists write like thoughtful adults? Since when do they shy away from gratiuitous sexual innuendo and soft porn? Hell, sites like IGN have entire sections devoted to objectifying women.

    Duke Nukem is the game equivalent of Porky’s or American Pie. I don’t doubt that it’s a lackluster title apart from the humor that is its focus, but it seems many game reviewers are trying to pretend that the humor is beneath them. It isn’t. Duke Nukem is a blunt representation of the immaturity which pervades game journalism.

  2. Had DNF been a good game I probably still wouldn’t have purchased it, since to buy it is to condone the sexist content.

    @Aaron, could it be that more people are acting like thoughtful adults now because gamer demographics are changing? Significantly more gamers are female now compared to when the previous Duke came out. The world has changed, and Duke no longer fits in.

Comments are closed.