Duke Nukem Forever is a decent enough shooter when it works, but a complete mess when it doesn't. (Single-player review)
Duke Nukem Forever takes place about 12 years after the previous game ended. Duke is now a super celebrity, world famous and adored by millions thanks to his legendary victory over the alien menace. But now, when everything seems to be going well, the aliens return to earth to once again kidnap and impregnate the women folk, and Duke Nukem must save the day using his charm, wits and lots of explosives. If the plot seems familiar, it is because it is the exact same, paper thin plot we've seen 15 years ago, but by now it stopped being funny, and made a 180 degree turn into the realm of the sad and annoying.
The story itself has almost nothing to do with the majority of the game, and only effects the initial hour or so, when the player is still not so sure whether the aliens have come in peace, or are back to their old ways. After the first part of the game, the story flies out the window and all that's left is a by-the-book first person shooter that borrows heavily from every major action game in the last decade or so. Not only does the game copy these games, but it has the nerve to make fun of them for the same elements it borrows. For example, Duke encounters Master Chief's armor at some point early in the game, and utters the line "Power armor is for pu**ies" making fun of the regenerating armor from the Halo series; yet Duke's health (or Ego) regenerates in the exact same way.
There isn't a lot to be said about other aspects of gameplay in DNF. You spend the majority of the game shooting at the same four or five enemy types with unimpressive and unoriginal weapons. Even the unique weapons, like the "Freeze ray" or "Shrink ray", are taken straight out of Duke Nukem 3D. The fact that Duke can only carry two weapons at a time also cripples the shooting a little bit; it means that Duke usually uses the same three weapons that enemies drop, and the big, more fun weapons are kept for specific segments, when the game drops one in your way.
Other, more diverse segments of the game include driving a monster truck through a bland desert environment, stopping every few minutes to find a tank of gas for the car (which of course leads to more shooting), and first person platfroming. Every time Duke is shrunk to miniature size, he must navigate his surroundings by jumping, climbing and jumping some more, usually above some sort of hazard. There aren't a lot of games where jumping from ledge to ledge in first person perspective works properly and DNF is no exception; it can get really difficult to figure out your next move, especially in the larger areas, or judge the distance of a jump.
Not everything is bad in DNF though, and there are some nice little touches that make the game feel a bit more worthy of its title. Instead of health, Duke's life bar is filled with ego, which fits his persona quite well. There are some objects scattered in the world that interacting with them permanently boosts Duke's ego, such as lifting weights or looking at dirty magazines. It's too bad that these objects are scarce in later levels, and tend to repeat themselves. There is even a short level in a strip club, but since you can't throw dollar bills at the strippers for a quick show anymore (unlike in Duke Nukem 3D), it feels a little redundant.
But no amount of semi-nude dancing AIs can save a game with graphics as ugly as Duke Nukem Forever's. Textures are bland, flat and ugly, and the human characters look more like automatons than actual humans. Enemy design is taken straight from the previous game in the series, and lack variety; Duke basically fights the same four monster types over and over, which contributes to the game's sense of repetition. The game's out-dated graphics come as no surprise once you consider the fact that it has been in development for so long, but there is no excuse for the boring environments and dull level design. The game's entire visual presentation feels rushed and uninspired, which is weird considering aforementioned fact.
When it comes to sound, the game does improve a bit, especially in the soundtrack department. DNF's music is well suited for the dumb-down and repetitive action, with all-American hard rock music highlighting the big set pieces. As far as voice acting goes, Duke's one-liners are fun to listen to thanks to the fact that Gearbox brought on the same voice actor from all those years ago, so they maybe repetitive and slightly annoying, but they are pure Duke. Other characters are less impressive, since they don't benefit from the nostalgia factor, and most of them sound (and look) pretty lousy. All in all the game's presentation is pretty lacking, both visually and audio-wise.
Duke Nukem Forever isn't the great game it should have been, not by a long shot. The marks of time are clearly visible, both in the out-dated graphics and the stale and chauvinistic humor that was funny a decade ago. The action, while fun at first, is repetitive and never offers any sort of challenge to the experienced FPS gamer. Even the driving and platforming sections peppered throughout the game can't save Duke from falling beneath the mediocre line and landing straight in the bargain bin, where he shall remain… forever?