It took 14 long years, but gamers can finally get their hands on 'Duke Nukem Forever'.
For those born after 1996, it's the sequel to 'Duke Nukem 3D', a raunchy, violent, but critically acclaimed and popular first-person shooter. It followed 'Doom', but took the genre to another level; instead of a generic Martian base, it's set in Los Angeles. Instead of brown, dreary corridors, you could interact with everything from toilets to pool tables to strippers. And instead of a faceless, mute space marine, it starred Duke Nukem: A man who looked like the result of throwing every 80s action movie star into a blender, with a set of one-liners ripped from all of them.
So when developer 3D Realms announced in 1997 that a sequel was on the way, fans rejoiced and waited eagerly.
14 long years later, 'Duke Nukem Forever' is finally available. But is it worth the wait?
The reviews have not been kind to the Duke. They range from brutal to, well, more brutal. But I think 'Duke Nukem Forever' is worth playing for a different kind of experience. You won't find me arguing that it is a good game - frankly, it is not. But it has entertainment value beyond being a game.
'Duke Nukem Forever' feels lost in time. This is to be expected from a game that spent over a decade in development. 3D Realms overhauled the technology behind the game more than once; constantly pushing it back, with only the odd screenshot here or trailer there to keep people believing that the game still existed. 'Duke Nukem Forever' made an incredible 12 appearances in Wired's annual Vaporware Awards list. And eventually, the run had to end... when 3D Realms finally gave up and closed down.
Even then, it wasn't over. In 2010, Gearbox Software took over responsibility for the game, fixed it up, and quickly pumped it out for release.
What Gearbox apparently didn't do was overhaul the game. The screenshots you see here make it look like a good-looking game, but they don't tell the whole story. It is not, on my Xbox 360, a good-looking game. At best, it can look a few years out of date; at worst, it is a blurry, stuttering mess.
Playing the game feels like being thrown back into the mid-'90s, and not in a happy, nostalgic sense. You're immediately reminded of every single advance in the genre the minute you start shooting. Does it have a cover mechanic, like Gears of War? Nope. Do the enemies team up and intelligently flank you, like Halo? No. Does it even matter where you shoot them, like GoldenEye 007? Not as far as I can tell. All you have to do is point at the enemy and hold down the trigger.
All the while, Duke is spewing one-liners that would embarrass Jean-Claude Van Damme. Look, I'm a childish guy. I'm cool with toilet jokes. But Duke's humor isn't so bad it's good, it's so bad it's just... bad. It makes me giggle to think that I ever found any of it funny. (And believe me, 15-year-old me thought 'Duke Nukem 3D' was hilarious.)
The individual parts that make up 'Duke Nukem Forever' are awful. But it adds up to an experience like no other. It's a step back in time: A look at what one of the world's most talented developers thought was the future over a decade ago. I can't say I've enjoyed playing it, but I can say that I do not regret the experience. It's less a game and more a museum piece; a sort of historic artifact.
As we waited for 'Duke Nukem Forever', we always wondered just what 3D Realms was spending all that time developing. 14 years on, we have our answer. It isn't good. But the satisfaction of finally experiencing it is enough for me.