TLDR: Long post is long: 1,774 words according to Word. Feel free to skip it and post pictures of cats. As I'd bet Duke likes cats.
I just finished Duke Nukem Forever and Call of Duty: Black Ops. I've been alternating between the two for the past few days now.
Beating DNF unlocks easy access to the cheats and perhaps more interestingly access to concept art, screenshots, and video from the permutations of the game over the last fifteen some odd years. You see certain settings repeated through the art and I think it lends a certain amount of credence to the idea that Yahtzee espoused that the levels of the game seems to bear some semblance to the FPS eras that have come and gone. The situation also fits the rumors that Broussard was driven by feature creep.
I also agree with Yahtzee that the expectations for DNF, time to completion, and even old gamers nostalgia ruined any real chance the game had at a fair shake in the eyes of both players and the press. VRock posted
that he had never managed to beat Doom II without cheating. I meanwhile never bothered to complete Duke Nukem 3D, not even with the cheats. I only played it in Deathmatch a small bit, which was all fun and games until someone started putting laser tripwire bombs in the spawn points.
I didn't come into this with any nostalgia and fond memories. I wasn't sure what to expect, the fact that game toiled under twelve years of feature creep doesn't bode well for any project. What I found may be flawed, but the reviews I've read at ArsTechnica and even TheEscapist don't seem to have any actual bearing to the reality of the game.
Ars in particular expressed a feeling of shame and offense at the game. Duke3D never struck me as particularly politically correct even during the 90s when cigars and keeping money shot stained dresses unwashed was still in vogue. If it was offensive then, then more of the same definitely hasn't aged like fine wine now. Frankly though, compared to some of the antics that were possible in the Grand Theft Auto series (like buying a hooker, then beating the hooker to get your money back) I fail to see problem.
Explicit T&A, as if GTA IV doesn't have that? For that matter that's the one feature of this game that has been consistently promised for fifteen years. Ars tried to further fluff it up as feeling dirty for more than just the T&A, but also what he perceived as misogyny. Sure, women don't make out so well in this game. There are definitely no role models in this game for your daughters. There wasn't fifteen years ago either. Calling Duke a misogynist or even a sexist seems a tad over the top though. What Ars failed to mention was the blatant disregard for life Duke had for all the men around him as well.
If we're going to stop and do something as patently absurd as attempt to speak to the character we know as Duke, we're not going to find much depth. Duke3D and DNF are not character stories and they don't even pretend to be. Yahtzee hit on this as well. DNF is a story about an egomaniac. Your health bar is called ego. You get ego for trivial narcissistic actions that benefit Duke alone. You don't give a damn about anyone, nearly everyone you meet dies, and Duke couldn't care less. The most "remorse" you get from Duke is a pithy situation that makes light of the situation. Duke isn't a hero and "saving" the Earth is only happening because the aliens are getting in the way of our favorite megalomaniac, Duke. Duke isn't a misogynist he's a sociopath.
The death and destruction Duke causes is immense. The fight in Vegas levels the city, Duke blows up Hoover Dam, and then at the end of it all he espouses the desire to run for President
. I didn't play the first game through to completion, but I seem to recall a similarly self-centered reason compelling Duke to action at the beginning of Duke3D. Doesn't Duke complain the aliens were going to pay for shooting up his ride?
So is their story? No. There is a premise, just as there was only really a premise in Duke3D. You are there to kick ass and chew bubblegum... and you're all out of gum.
Is there plenty of action? Yes. It's not Serious Sam level action. It's not even as crazy as some later levels of Doom, but it certainly seems acceptable.
Is it old school in it's play? Eh. Yes and no. For example the first and final boss fights are definitely circle strafe affairs. It's not as bad as Call of Duty games, but yeah, you do have to leverage cover and your regenerating ego now and again. I'd accuse it of being wholly CoD like, but CoD is actually more frustrating - to me - to play than Duke is. Duke is more durable.
The two gun situation? You know initially it felt just sort of wrong. They maps though do a good job of leveraging the mechanic. Sometimes they make sure ammo is or similar weapon drops are handy to let you keep their preference. Sometimes they limit the type of weapons to make you change the flow of your game. Game situation that are ideally suited to certain weapons always have those certain weapons lying around. Compared to some elements of the game I actually feel that this mechanic feels a bit polished.
Map design? Think a CoD single player map and you've got DNF pegged. You get some variety in level design, in terms of level concepts they largely lifted from other properties. One lifted item is the use of mounted turrets as per Half-Life and Dead Space. Dead Space wisely dropped that mechanic in its sequel, in DNF the regenerating health helps, but I'd bet I'd still end up pissed off if I had to use a gamepad. The driving as pulled right from Half-Life 2. The driving in HL2 and DNF were never amazing, but neither exceedingly irritating either. My only complaint to driving in HL2 is that the Source engine makes me motion sick. Only game that does that to me.
The puzzles in the maps aren't exceedingly complex. Puzzles don't seem out of place really. They seemed to have drawn a lot of inspiration from Valve (Half-Life style puzzles) right down to using barrels. The puzzles are definitely a point that separates DNF from being a CoD clone.
Where they goofed in the maps/puzzles I think would have to be the platforming. There are certain mechanics of the jump puzzles that are very well polished. From example the trampolines and even the climbing and dropping onto the next levels are automated in a nice clean fashion. Where I struggle is trying to remember the last FPS I played that had jump puzzles. Does Half-Life 2 even have them? I suck at jump puzzles and for the most part I found what they had implemented acceptable, but there were a few rough spots.
They tried to leverage some underwater content to add tension. You may of course be different, but I usually find underwater content to be frustrating, not tense. FWIW, I died in these sections considerably less compared to a few of the jump puzzles.
The humor in Duke3D was never - to me at least - bust a gut funny. In fact I struggle to think of the last game I played that had a one liner that had me losing my composure and doing something other than smile, roll my eyes, or snort. Nothing has changed here. There is some wit, there are some outright reference rips, hell one of the side characters is a direct rip of Marcus Fenix right down to the use of colorful metaphors every other word. There are some memorable lines, but I don't think you're going to find yourself falling out of the chair. Humor is pretty subjective it’s hard to say really.
The most disturbing content and level is The Hive. Way too much Hentai Porn (or Aliens to a point) watching amongst the 3DRealms staff: Rape/Non-Consensual, Ovipositor, Alien, Preg/Birth, and Snuff. I think this is the part that largely made Ars uncomfortable. Probably didn't help that Duke - unsurprisingly - couldn't care less.
Does it deserve the Metacritic score it has? I'm not so sure. I look at CoD: Black Ops and think DNF perhaps has gotten a raw deal. Black Ops is a one trick pony. DNF made an effort to enrich the gameplay with some different concepts; Black Ops largely sticks to one thing and never relents. All the Black Ops levels are just as linear as DNF, there's no attempt at humor, but there is an actual story. It would be remiss to not point out that The Black Ops story has seen its own share of critical derision. The Black Ops combat is frustrating regardless of driving or fighting on foot as the enemy - even on normal - has perfect aim and you are hampered by an absolutely god awful off the hip shot, limited movement speed and visibility while iron sighted, limited ability to deal with the grenades thrown at you, and a fragile amount of health for sustained damage. Sure they put lean back in for Black Ops, but the AI's aim is so perfect that you get shot for leaning around the corner to fire. Cover as a concept is pretty broken in CoD. The combat in DNF is nowhere near as broken or frustrating as Black Ops.
Black Ops made mega money - arguably because of the deathmatch - in spite of the fact its SP experience is pretty weak. DNF meanwhile gets crucified. I don't do the Deathmatch thing anymore so I can't speak to the multiplayer component of DNF.
Once you start playing DNF will you see it through? I honestly don't see why not. That's a pretty subjective thing. If you find CoD so boring you don't finish its single player, then I rightly suppose it's possible you might not finish DNF. Of course there's always the possibility you find the subject matter of The Hive so disturbing you'll quit there.
The game is probably more deserving of a review score in the low seventies. If you want to use those missing thirty points as a gauge for price, then I guess one should give this a look when it hits thirty-five bucks or less.
"Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. We're so glad you could attend. Come inside! Come inside!"