Duke Nukem Forever was never going to be Chinese Democracy. That isn’t to say it couldn’t have been a decent release after a decade of delays; the problem is that Duke creator 3D Realms was never as talented or interesting as Guns N’ Roses. Duke Nukem 3D was not Appetite For Destruction. At best, it was Limp Bizkit’s Three Dollar Bill, Y’all$, a crude product of its time that was novel—Duke’s level of interactivity was roughly as forward-thinking as rap-rock—and more popular than it should have been.
The comparison extends to the present: Duke Nukem Forever has just about as much merit as a new album of Fred Durst songs. But it isn’t bad because it’s the story of a deranged, misogynistic, alien-fighting meathead who happens to be the most beloved man on Earth. It’s bad because it’s stupid, ugly, and mean.
Forever was originally slated for release in 1999, and it plays like a shooter of that era. The slower, stickier shooting that’s typified the genre since Halo is absent, replaced by the fast-and-wild gunfights of yore. In Duke’s jerky tour through Las Vegas during an alien invasion, you spend a fair amount of downtime trying to navigate precarious, awkward jumps on pipes and scaffolding, or trying to solve a puzzle to open a locked door. It’s a far cry from the scripted-spectacle corridors found in Killzone or any other shooter. But in spite of all the delays, much of the game still feels incomplete. Sequences like Duke’s strip-club dream, where players go on a dildo-and-popcorn scavenger hunt, are filled with unintentional awkward silences, dead-eyed characters, and a general lack of detail and activity.
The play is beside the point, though. There’s a place for trash: Violence, gross-out humor, and the cheapest sex you can find, a.k.a. the 13-year-old-boy Holy Trinity, can produce great entertainment. Or even art—just look at GWAR or No More Heroes. But while Duke Nukem Forever’s creators have a sense of humor, they have none about themselves. An Olsen-twins parody, a waitress saying her favorite pie flavor is “three one four”; these are just embarrassing once you realize there’s no wink with the nudge. Forever goes beyond tastelessness and on to offensive about a third of the way through. One scenario: Duke discovers a room full of nude, weeping women warped by aliens, their lower halves transformed into what look like giant pulsating penises. You have to kill them, or monsters will burst out of them. Duke says, “Sorry, babe, it’s better this way.” And that sums it up best. Even if some of the action is fun, even if the game is a historical curio, even if a Duke one-liner is chuckle-worthy, it doesn’t matter. Duke Nukem Forever is horrible.