Duke Nukem Forever review

  • Gunning down aliens is still fun
  • Shrinking, driving are neat changes of pace
  • Improves noticeably toward the end of the game
  • Visual glitches, blurry textures are common
  • Infuriatingly long loads between levels, deaths
  • Action punctuated with lots of dull stretches

The impossible has happened: After 14 years in development hell, Duke Nukem Forever is a reality. Long synonymous with endless delays and empty promises, this butt of countless internet jokes is finally, undeniably here. Whether that’s a good thing is another matter entirely.

Picking up 12 years after the events of 1996’s Duke Nukem 3D, the long-overdue sequel forces foul-mouthed cardboard-cutout Duke out of retirement to fight off another alien invasion. Or maybe it’s just the second half of the same alien invasion, seeing as how the aggressors are updated versions of the familiar Pigcops, assault troopers and Battlelords that menaced players in DN3D, now here to kidnap Earth’s women and make Duke look like a chump.

Of course, it’s all just a flimsy backdrop for silly, gruesome alien carnage and crude gags – or at least, it should have been. DNF starts off promisingly enough, with a current-gen re-creation of the final boss battle from DN3D, but quickly goes downhill when it’s revealed to be a game Duke is playing. Now retired and living in a 69-floor (hurr) Vegas casino/monument to his own ego, Duke has to travel downstairs and try to appear on a talk show before the alien invasion happens, at which point you have to run to his secret “Duke Cave” to initiate a lengthy conversation and a turret-shooting sequence. All of this, incidentally, will take around 20-30 minutes to play through, and it’s peppered with dated pop-culture gags and annoying NPCs.

Above: Ha ha, remember when Christian Bale yelled at that guy? Like two years ago? 

So, OK, that’s just the intro. Lots of games take a while to get off the ground, and given DNF’s surprisingly long run time – anywhere from 12-16 hours, depending on how good you are at staying alive – it’s a pretty small chunk of the game. But it’s also an introduction for some irritations that stick with the game throughout, like textures that are either slow to pop in or just plain blurry; inexplicable visual stuttering; women who are uniformly depicted as squealing airheads; and occasional stabs at lame jokes.

Oh, and the load times. Easily the worst thing about Duke Nukem Forever, the loading screens that pop up after every death or transition to a new level tend to take 30 seconds or more. And while they’re a minor irritant at first, you’ll eventually learn to fear them. Late in the game, after your fourth or fifth death at the hands of the same cheap-ass boss, they’re an infuriating roadblock that makes playing through the game significantly more frustrating. (And in case you’re wondering, installing the game to the 360’s hard drive did nothing to shorten them.)

Above: Also, we’re pretty sure alien motherships shouldn't look this blurry in 2011

When the shooting finally starts, things definitely improve – but even then, DNF’s a mostly average shooter, with rare moments of brilliance. Decapitating pigcops with a shotgun is fun, sure, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before – and even if that’s all you really want from the game, you’re probably still going to be disappointed.

Some early reviews have said that DNF hasn’t really changed since the days of Duke Nukem 3D, and that’s partly true. The enemies look and behave more or less the same as they did in DN3D, and while a few unspectacular alien guns have been added to Duke’s arsenal, the weapons you’ll actually want to use – which range from shotguns and pipe bombs to shrink rays and freeze rays – are nearly identical to their DN3D counterparts. (A couple of the non-weapon items from DN3D return as well, specifically the Holo-Duke decoy and a bottle of steroids, and they’re joined by beer – which makes Duke tougher – and Duke Vision, which enables him to see in the dark.)

Above: Actually, wandering around blind here might be less creepy

At the same time, DNF actually has undergone a lot of changes from DN3D. It’s just that they feel like strained attempts to fit in with modern shooters, and very few of them are for the better. Where Duke once was able to carry a full arsenal everywhere he went, he’s now limited to just two guns at a time. Where he could previously soak up bullets like a sponge, he’s now at the mercy of his “Ego” health meter, which is quick to recharge, but so fragile that it can’t take more than a few hits before he’ll need to scramble for cover. (You can permanently add onto it by finding “ego-boosting” items, however, which helps a little.) It's all very Halo, and it diminishes the feeling of being an overpowered, steroid-pounding badass.

Worse, the shooting’s been broken up with faintly annoying seesaw-physics puzzles (i.e. throw some heavy barrels into this shipping container to make it tip over and form a ramp you can climb), which crop up almost as frequently as the unnecessary, button-mashing quick time events.  And where Duke once had the choice of paying strippers to flash him, or cruelly blasting them into gibs, he’s now forced to put up with the company of numerous invulnerable NPCs – almost none of whom are strippers – who don’t even have the decency to flinch when shot.

Above: See?

The real clincher, however, is the impact you now have on your environment. While DN3D filled its levels with interesting, incidental objects that invited experimentation and destruction, DNF mostly settles for giving you a lot of things to poke at – like answering machines, calendars, playable pinball machines and a couple surfaces you can draw on – and leaving it at that.

A perfect example of this is the toilets. In Duke Nukem 3D, it was possible to find a toilet, piss in it, blow it up with a pipe bomb and drink the resulting geyser of water for health. Maybe you’d even blow up the wall behind it, if you were lucky, and find a hidden cache of cool stuff. This time around, toilets are indestructible, and good only for a useless, one-note pee joke and maybe – maybe – the occasional floating turd that you can grab and fling around uselessly. That’s kind of interesting, I guess, but throwing shit simply isn’t as much fun as breaking shit.

Above: Hooray(?)

That’s all disappointing, but again, DNF does have some cool moments, most (but not all) of which come toward the end of the game. A handful of the levels shrink Duke down to the size of an action figure, for example, which turns otherwise unremarkable environments into enormous jumping puzzles, filled with similarly tiny enemies (or, more menacingly, full-sized ones that aggressively try to stomp Duke flat). One of these levels even gives you a little RC car to pilot, although driving it through floor after floor of a burning casino gets kind of tedious, especially considering you’ll have to frequently stop and figure out some puzzle to clear the way for your ride.

More Info

Release date: Jun 14 2011 - PC, Xbox 360, PS3 (US)
Jun 10 2011 - PC, Xbox 360, PS3 (UK)
Available Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Shooter
Published by: 2K Games
Developed by: 3D Realms, Gearbox
Franchise: Duke Nukem
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs, Use of Alcohol
PEGI Rating:
Mikel Reparaz

After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.

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  • Darkbiochains - June 13, 2013 5:42 p.m.

    I loved the game I hope they make another Duke Nukem. I think they should ether make a longer one with more girls in it. or upgread all the old ones and put them all on one dics.
  • mothbanquet - April 21, 2012 6:50 a.m.

    Played the demo, hated it. Bought the full game for an amount that I'd buy anything for and y'know what? I'm having a fucking blast. It's old-school tough, some of the gags are hilarious and a lot of it's surprisingly well put together. Just go into the game expecting the worst and you'll find yourself pleasantly surprised is all I'll say.
  • raptorak - July 10, 2011 3:30 a.m.

    You are all making the same mistake of playing it on a console - try the PC version if you can, load times are short and the game plays a LOT better.
  • lhjwamangoo - July 1, 2011 7:09 a.m.

    I'm playing on xbox 360. Except loading time it's awesome as fuck. Duke deserves at least 7 or 8. If bullshit like crysis2 got 8, duke should get 9 or 10.
  • v8ninety - June 20, 2011 8:08 a.m.

    DNF was always going to be up against 12 years of hype and expectations, I think we should be happy that the game finally got released and that we got a chance to play as Duke one last time maybe. Sure the game is not great but I'm still going to play through as I've waited so long for this.
  • CRASH - June 18, 2011 2:13 a.m.

    Great game. Problem is not the game but the people buying it. Games come out now so fast and so frequent that people expect something new every title. I was good with the game play and graphics. It felt like it was supposed to. A trip thru friggin town stompin alien asses with the King. Hail to the king baby.
  • bigpig47 - June 17, 2011 10:59 p.m.

    you wanna know the problem about this? THEY REVIEWED IT ON THE 360!!! If you want to play the real good kind of duke you need to play it on his kind of battleground and you wanna know what that fellow gamers? well you guessed it, it is the pc obviously.
  • KainStrider - June 17, 2011 7:47 a.m.

    Seems to me like you had too high of expectations for a product that spent a decade and a half in development hell.
  • hughesta - June 17, 2011 3:05 a.m.

    Well I personally loved this game, and think it deserves at least an 8 out of 10.
  • HowdyCowboyCheesesBurger0911 - June 16, 2011 5:41 p.m.

    1up it an F. Fuck 1up
  • DrRock - June 16, 2011 3:52 p.m.

    Mikel's review reads exactly how I feel about the game. Lazy game design. Shitty game mechanics. Grade school humor and it wasn't even funny. If I was reviewing it I would've given it a 4 maybe a 5 just to be generous. I really only played this game for the achievements and luckily most were easy enough to get. The horrible attempt at pinball and air hockey are utter garbage. I can only imagine the amount of time it took to program that stuff in just for it to be shit. Good review anyways.
  • nomnom52 - June 16, 2011 7:34 a.m.

    So, it's kind of similar to the GT5 situation?
  • jasoncarter - June 16, 2011 5:11 a.m.

    Bought it, am loving it, what else can I say. I've lost faith in reviews. Excuse me while I go give someone else the finger.
  • lilspooky - June 16, 2011 5:04 a.m.

    I'll get it when its on sale on steam...a six, ouch!
  • LIKEUCARE - June 16, 2011 4:35 a.m.

    The game is disappointing, yes... but its not abyssmaly bad though. My biggest gripes with this game is first... the highly consolized feel of the game. Second gripe, only two weapons carry-able which is a huge fail considering for an old school game. Third gripe, regenerating health... seriously, can't this shitty mechanic simply vanish? It's pathetic and lazy of developers! Fourth gripe, checkpoints... no quick-save/quick-load. 'Nuff said! Fifth gripe, no openness game play style like the good old Duke 3d, DOOM and even Quake 1. These games weren't badly linear like today's game... you could backtrack in the same level before advancing to the next. This Duke game lacks that... way too linear. So... 12-14 years for this... disappointing, very... but I still bought that Balls of Steel Edition just to own that piece of history. Hopefully, I'll be able to have some good fun with it for a little while... until Serious Sam 3 comes out. ...and I'm all out of gum...
  • radcliff007 - June 16, 2011 1:12 a.m.

    i'm kinda ejoying it......must be the nostalgia.the loading times truly do suck though
  • super0sonic - June 15, 2011 9:54 p.m.

    le sigh. I miss the vaporware DNF already :<
  • aaron171 - June 15, 2011 9:17 p.m.

    i saw this coming. when a site (or in this case, sites)hype up a game, even a game that's been in development for fourteen years, its pretty safe to say that the game is not going to be great, or that the game is going to get a mediocre review. look at Brink. they hyped that game up so much (maybe in thinking IGN...whatever still the same concept) then when they reviewed it they gave it a mediocre review. im not saying that this game sucks, i havent gotten the chance to play it yet, but im sure its better than what some reviews say
  • Turbonutter - June 15, 2011 9:03 p.m.

    I think this game is getting the raw deal by reviewers. Regurgitated junk like Cawadoody #1749 gets 9's across the board, but Duke gets 4's and 6's? It's far from perfect, but c'mon...
  • mahajinx - June 15, 2011 5:41 p.m.

    Wow, people really 'ripped this game's head off and sh**ted on its neck'... Honestly, not what I expected. I still can't speak for myself, so far I've only played the PC demo (and it was entertaining enough), but in spite of all the horrible reviews, I'm still giving it a shot. I played the original Duke back in the day, and I remember him as a wise-cracking steroid-pumped sexist macho guy with adolescent charm and silly one-liners. And if that's what this game delivers, then mission accomplished. Also, as CitizenWolfie stated (and I agree), Gearbox probably just 'wrapped it up', for the sake of finishing the damn thing already and putting it out of its development misery. And if they continue the series on their own terms and from ground up, I'm sure the next game(s) will be much better. As for the long loading times, blurry textures and popups, bad models and lip sync, I'm sure all of that is annoying (if you're that nitpicky, that is), but I comfort myself with the idea that the game is after all running on a heavily modified Unreal 2 (yes, TWO) engine, and given how dated that engine is nowadays, I think it all turned out satisfying enough. Anyway, since I often tend to skip playing games due to other obligations, and even whole years pass until I finally get around to them (in which case I really don't care about the 'dated graphics' anymore), I'll just pretend that this new Duke WAS completed AND published 10 years ago, I just didn't have the time to play it! ;) So - hail to the King, baby! :)