Fourteen years. It took 14 years for Duke Nukem Forever to go from idea to finished product. Fourteen years of work by passionate individuals, some of whom wanted to finish the game so badly that they found ways to continue working on it even after its apparent demise. And after all that time, their efforts have amounted to a game that, while not as terrible as some critics would have you believe, is a relentlessly average disappointment that feels like a bland echo of its 15-year-old predecessor, Duke Nukem 3D.
As problematic as the game is, however, some problems stand out more sharply than others. Problems that, when they appear, send the game spiraling down from just “average” to “terrible.” And in the interest of prolonging the critical dogpile that the game’s found itself under during the last week or so, we’ve pulled together a list of our very least favorite ones for your perusal.
(Oh, and in case you're interested in DNF's story and haven't played it yet, you should be aware: SPOILERS AHEAD.)
1. The Holsom twins show up
Appearing just minutes after the game starts, the Holsom twins neatly embody about 70 percent of what’s wrong with Duke Nukem Forever. Concocted as an extremely timely Olsen twins reference by people who find blowjobs inherently funny, they’re ditzy, annoying and spout clumsy innuendoes in cloyingly childish voices. And that might not have been so bad, if every other woman in the game didn’t look, sound and act almost exactly like them.
So, OK, nobody’s ever accused Duke Nukem of taking a particularly progressive stance toward women, and harping on him for it is like complaining that Jaws eats too many swimmers. Even if the uniformly crass objectification doesn’t rankle you (and it clearly doesn't rankle a lot of gamers), there’s something eerie about the Holsom twins that makes them unacceptable as sex objects. Even ignoring the cutesy voices and idiotic demeanor, they’re really strangely animated, from the way they giggle through gritted teeth to their stiff, robotic walk.
Couple that with their corpselike stares and the way they stick around for way too long (delaying DNF’s supposedly over-the-top action so you can watch them comment on the news), and they set the stage perfectly for the dull stroll through Duke’s casino that makes up the game’s second level.
2. Jumping in front of a mirror
Even for what could be considered a two-year-old game (production originally halted in mid-2009), DNF isn’t exactly pretty. When jumping in front of a mirror, though, would it really have been so much trouble to make Duke move his arms? Just a little?
Above: We’d make a Riverdance reference, but we’re afraid that would be too topical and fresh for this game
3. The falling elevator
All right, so you’ve made it through the uneventful casino stroll, you’ve punched your way through the Duke Cave, and you’ve shot down alien dropships in the overlong stationary-turret sequence. You’ve got a gun now, and you’re ready for some badass alien-killing.
Too damn bad. First you’ve got to pull a handbrake and stop an elevator from falling!
The elevator-brake sequence is a strange, dull roadblock in what’s supposed to be an extreme first-person shooter, but it might not have stood out so badly if the game had made it clear exactly what the hell it is you’re supposed to do. Pulling the lever just slows the elevator and overheats the brake, at which point it disengages and the elevator starts falling at full speed again.
Aside from a view of the Vegas skyline out the windows to the right, there’s no real indicator of your progress down the shaft, so success or failure can feel completely arbitrary. You’re just falling and pulling a lever, and whether you live or die depends on some accident of luck and timing. That’s not fun. It barely even counts as a quick time event, and at best it’s just an annoying bit of filler standing between you and the game’s action. At least it’s short, and not something that’s ever repeated again (which tells us that the designers at least understood that something was wrong with it).
4. The second Battlelord fight
So far, the examples we’ve cited take place in the game’s first few levels, which might give the impression that we didn’t get very far into Duke Nukem Forever. Not so! While most of DNF’s terrible stuff is crammed into its first few hours, there are a few uniquely awful things that pop up late in the game, and the fight against the second Battlelord atop the Hoover Dam is one of them.
Above: His entrance, however, is easily the best
Easily the most frustrating boss fight in the entire game, the second Battlelord confronts you on what amounts to a long, narrow arena filled with cars you can take cover behind. After a while, though, he’ll start aggressively chasing you and kicking cars out of the way, forcing you to run scared through cover-free areas to grab ammo while the Battlelord unloads his oversized minigun/rocket launcher into your back. While that’s happening, annoying aliens with jetpacks will shoot at you from the air, and if you manage to whittle the Battlelord’s health down to zero, you’ll stab him in the neck via a quick time event – and then he’ll get back up, at full health, and chase you even more aggressively than before.
So yeah, it’s difficult, frustrating and unfair. But it’s a boss fight, right? Modern games hold our hands too much and have turned us into mewling crybabies, right? Well, when Duke Nukem 3D threw a grossly overpowered boss at us, it didn’t make us sit through any fucking 30-to-45-second loading screens every time we died. There's absolutely nothing old-school about that. It also didn’t have weirdly consistent texture pop-in issues, which kick in every time Duke comes back to life here.
5. The physics puzzles
Every so often, DNF puts the action on hold so you can tackle a Half Life-style physics puzzle. These involve such exciting actions as throwing barrels into a shipping container to make it tip over and form a ramp, or throwing barrels onto a crane to make it tip over and form a ramp.
Above: Lots of barrels and ramps all around, really
At first, this seemed kind of cool, because we haven’t seen a high-profile game use puzzles like this in quite a while. Then, after playing through them, we realized why that is: they're boring.