Monthly Archives: October 2012

Duking it Out 2

Duke Nukem Forever doesn’t need much of an introduction – it’s incredibly well known even if mostly thanks to its lengthy stint as the official Internet poster-child for vaporware. The game did take an utterly ridiculous 15 years to see the light of day so fair enough. Upon release though, the game got trashed by seemingly every other person on the Internet with a keyboard and a passing knowledge of it. I suppose it’s somewhat understandable, I mean no game could possibly live up to 15 years of built-up hype and it would have taken a miracle to convert public perception of the game after that long. Whatever! I hate pile-ons and I’m willing to look at it with an open mind. So is it really that bad?

Somehow they made me hate octabrains even more.
“Somehow they made me hate octabrains even more.”

Just like Duke Nukem 3D, Duke Nukem Forever is a first person shooter in which you play as the venerable hero Duke Nukem as he tries to stop an alien invasion of near-future earth. Despite the similar story setups the gameplay makes a notable veer away from that of the first game. Considering how dramatically the FPS genre has changed since those early days it would probably be more notable if it didn’t, though. Instead DNF takes obvious queues from its successors. Games such as Half Life 2 and Halo are obvious influences with a much more guided, linear approach to level design, cutscenes and somewhat of an actually recognizable plot, driving and turret segments, and even physics puzzles. Controversially, it also incorporates features such as recharging health and a limit to how many different types of guns you can carry at a time.

Scoring a headshot in the awesome intro sequence.
“Scoring a headshot in the awesome intro sequence.”

The game was nice and short, clocking in at around 10 hours for me. I think my favorite parts of the campaign were the sections where you got shrunk down in size. Sure, it’s a bit gimmicky but it reminded me of all of those old “giant” user made maps we used to deathmatch on in games like the original Unreal Tournament. Too fun! I was actually reminded a lot of Prey during the game, somehow, which is mostly a very positive comparison to make. All said my only real complaint about the gameplay (noting that I played this patched meaning I could hold 4 weapons instead of just 2… thankfully) is that I felt like the difficulty was noticeably inconsistent, with boss battles being a big spike up compared rest of the game. I know that isn’t necessarily unusual (bosses are supposed to be hard, duh!) but I’d literally go for a few levels without ever being in any real danger only to die 10 times in the first phase of a boss fight. Irritating.

This screenshot is gross on so many levels...
“This screenshot is gross on so many levels…”

DNF still features all of the referential humor and satire that Duke Nukem 3D was known for only this time it’s totally cranked up. I swear, some of the damn silly lines Duke delivers and situations he gets in this time around make the game seem almost like parody of Duke 3D and I often found that funnier than the actual jokes. Unfortunately the casual objectification of women of the previous Duke Nukem games is also cranked up to absurd if not outright offensive levels and where Duke 3D flirted with nudity DNF has tits and ass all over the place. Thankfully despite large doses of it early these scenes make up a relatively small portion of the game and the aforementioned ridiculous tone of the whole thing makes it hard to take too seriously. I do have to wonder if they really missed the boat on their target audience by delaying the game so long though. That is, it seems it probably won’t resonate with today’s younger gamers and since so many of us who played Duke 3D did so as kids and teenagers it likely won’t appeal to us in quite the same way either. I guess what I’m saying is that Duke is a bit of a relic.

Moving on from the negativity for a moment, also back from Duke Nukem 3D are most of the weapons and enemies, all more or less intact. Hell, the game even starts out with you reenacting the boss fight from act 3! Awesome bit of fan service there. I was disappointed that they got rid of Duke’s “mighty boot” as an always available melee attack (a feature that was ahead of its time!) but I still enjoyed tearing up alien scum with the ripper and sending rockets into the asses of those annoying octabrain bastards. There were plenty of other throwbacks to Duke 3D in the game, from classic lines to all of the neat little interactive environment objects (which now actually serve somewhat of a purpose) but my favorite of all had to be the glorious introduction to the game which recounts the plot of Duke 3D in a highly stylized, James Bond movie intro sequence like way.

Offroading in the Mighty Foot.
“Offroading in the Mighty Foot.”

The graphics got panned a lot when the game was first released but I found them to be decent enough with the character faces and animations being the main low points. I was actually pleasantly surprised to find that the game did a good job of representing your whole body from first person – something somewhat rare that I personally really find helps me get more immersed in first person games. The sound is decent and while the music seems like it mostly consists of throwbacks to the classic soundtrack of Duke 3D let’s not forget that people fucking love the soundtrack of Duke 3D! I didn’t really encounter any of the bugs, performance problems, or any of the other technical issues I heard a lot about though I understand those issues were mostly with the console versions, never mind the fact by the time I got around to playing DNF it had already been patched more than once.

I'm not entirely sure what's going on here but I like it.
“I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here but I like it.”

Overall, while it definitely doesn’t feel like 15 years of work (because it isn’t, technically) it is a fairly solid effort and even with its modernized systems it manages to feel like a bit of a throwback to the golden era of FPS games. That said, unless you’re a big fan of Duke Nukem it doesn’t really have all that much to offer. Still, the answer to my original question is a resounding “no!” Duke Nukem Forever might not be amazing, it might be offensive to some, not at all funny to others, and not at all worth waiting 15 years for, but it certainly isn’t the horrible train wreck piece of trash that you’ve probably been led to believe it is. Bandwagons… blech.

Duking It Out 1

My Duke 3D retrospective was pretty epic. Sure, it’s not too much longer than my earlier ones but I put a lot of time into it. Tons of research and tons of gaming. Not only did I play through the entire 4 episodes of the Atomic Edition multiple times on several different platforms but I also played through the entirety of Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project and Duke Nukem Forever. While I’m not going to write full reviews of them I figured I’d give a little more of my impressions of both games while they’re still fresh on my mind.

Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project was released on PC back in 2002 while Duke fans were still very much waiting around wondering where the fuck Duke Nukem Forever was. While there had been a few other Duke Nukem related games on other platforms Manhattan Project was the first time Duke’s original fanbase on PC were catered to outside of expansions for Duke Nukem 3D itself. I remember reading reviews of it in various gaming magazines and on a few of the sites I read at the time as being fairly positive, particularly considering it was released as a budget title. Researching Duke’s many offspring for my Duke 3D article I figured I might finally give Manhattan Project a try and learning that it was available on Xbox Live Arcade sealed the deal.

Dumb billboards and gibby goodnes, yep, Duke Nukem!
“Dumb billboards and gibby goodnes, yep, Duke Nukem!”

Manhattan Project is a side-scrolling platformer that, in the most basic sense, plays a lot like the original pre-Duke 3D Duke Nukem games. Platforming, shooting enemies, collecting keycards, backtracking, etc. Combine this gameplay with the updated oneliner-spouting, babe loving Duke and lots more obvious influence from the weapons, enemies, and environments of Duke 3D, and that is pretty much Manhattan Project in a nutshell. It’s a relatively simple game all in all – there’s only ever one babe to rescue and one keycard to track down on any one level though it still does a decent job of trying to make the levels not feel too linear. The weapons are decently varied and feel pretty satisfying to use and the mountains of quippy dialog from Jon St. John keep things lively. The humor is still pretty close to that of Duke 3D though there is a slight negative shift in the tone of some of the jokes and the way women are treated – that is the jokes are sometimes a bit sillier and the women are definitely more sexualized and objectified.

Don't mind me, I'm just hanging out...
“Don’t mind me, I’m just hanging out…”

One of the more interesting things about the game is that it was one of the first “2.5D platformers” I’d ever heard of. That is, a 2D platformer done entirely in a polygon based engine that leverages its 3D capabilities to do interesting things with planes, camera movement, etc. It’s a little rough around the edges in that respect but mostly only because the developers seemed to be having a little bit too much fun with some of those aspects as some of them, particularly changing perspectives and changing planes, quickly wear out their welcome and start feeling gimmicky. One thing that particularly annoyed me was that you could only shift planes at designated locations but I’d occasionally bump into other spots where it looked like I should have been able to and no, I’d have to backtrack to just the right spot. The camera can also occasionally do some silly things too but all and all it’s perfectly serviceable.

Now with breathtaking 3D technology!
“Now with breathtaking 3D technology!”

The platforming itself sometimes bothered the shit out of me as the collision hit boxes seem totally off or at least massively oversized which meant sections that involved avoiding insta-death obstacles (spikes for instance) could be highly frustrating. Thankfully such sections were pretty rare so other than a couple of instances of repeating the same section 20 times it wasn’t a deal breaker for me. The story was, as you might expect, practically nonexistent, mostly only setting the scenes from stage to stage, giving Duke a good excuse to shoot some pigs in the face and rescues some babes. The XBLA port is well done but it is definitely a “port” more than anything with no real updates to the rather outdated visuals or anything else not directly related to making the title work right on an Xbox 360.

Overall, I’d recommend the game if you’re a big Duke fan and it sounds at all appealing to you, otherwise I’d give it a pass. Part 2, wherein I get into the much more interesting Duke Nukem Forever, coming soon!

As usual my Xbox 360 screenshots were stolen from elsewhere. I had to cherry-pick these few out of the PR releases as few of them did a great job of representing how the game ACTUALLY looks.