The fact that you're reading this means that at some level, you're interested to know what somebody else thinks of a game. This is a fundamental requirement in the interaction between gaming press and the public they serve; remove the interest, and need for the site is removed.
Duke Nukem Forever, therefore, is a threat. For the most part, it's an utterly terrible game; the digital equivalent of Frankenstein's monster dragged out of a swamp after six days in the sun. The bloated and buggy shell of a concept already well past whatever acceptable window may have existed for scat and fart jokes – presumably around the time the president of the most powerful country on earth got away with using a cigar as a sexual aid.
So while it's a choice of flushing either the game or money away, it matters little because Duke Nukem Forever will sell faster than My Bloody Valentine iPhone wallpaper. It suffers from a condition previously only found in Call of Duty and various annual sports franchises; it's simply too big to pass up, irrespective of whatever caveats anyone can attach to it.
The development curve, or rather "flat line", has been well documented. Fourteen years in the desert however fails to transform Duke into a prophet. There's no future vision, no innovation to speak of, and no hint that moving the release forward several hardware generations has had any beneficial impact on the title. Even the plot remains the same – Earth invaded by aliens, Duke has to fix it. Although none of the original Duke titles were particularly strong on such a trivial requirement as a coherent setting, so perhaps that can be forgiven.
From the opening boss fight consisting of the kind of dodge/fire/reload arena gunplay that might have been considered advanced in Quake II, to the endless corridor traversing scenes with a bizarre requirement to include as much irrelevant platforming as possible, Duke has all the appeal of a Wii shooter. There may be a scant concession to modernity in the auto health regeneration, but even this feels like a last-minute addition as there's no cover system to speak of. Lurching between enemy encounters and any quiet spot can find breaks up the action, leaving little recourse but to charge at well-equipped aliens with predictable results.
Duke's Ego system does present a shimmering star in an otherwise occluded constellation of mediocrity. By posing in front of a mirror, or playing a number of mini-games, Duke's Ego Meter will permanently increase, which acts as a catch-all health system. By snatching defeat from the claws of minor success, one of the many developers saw fit to make these mini-games about as painful as humanely possible. Pinball, for example, features paddles that respond about half a second after they're triggered. The basketball is horridly inaccurate, and despite the pool table not actually adding any Ego, it could have at least allowed angles and force to be determined. As it stands, it's literally just smashing balls around a table. The worst part of it all is that it's impossible to determine which developer to blame for this nonsense, there's simply too many to point the finger at.
For all the benefits this additional Ego lends to gameplay, most are removed by the controls, which have the viscosity of peanut butter. Duke will use every bit of that additional Ego if he can't move three feet without being stuck in an invisible wall, or shot from behind by an alien before he's afforded the luxury of turning around. Even environmental objects that can be picked up and thrown suffer from overly enthusiastic clipping, not that it's ever really a requirement to use them in the heat of battle anyway. Somewhere along the line, the fundamental constraints of gravity and freedom of movement were defined. Upon observing Duke's rigid and lifeless avatar in the mirror, the year 1998 seems like a likely candidate.
All concerns thus far could be alleviated – or at least offset – by a completely outrageous arsenal of top-end weaponry capable of ripping shreds out of the enemy in hugely satisfying gunfights. Sadly, Duke is limited to the same old selection from Duke Nukem 3D, and the ability to only possess two weapons at that. Duke Nukem, the man who (we're reliably informed during the torturously long loading screens) can bench 600 pounds, is incapable of carrying more than two weapons. This makes about as much sense as rolling out Lara Croft in a double-breasted suit.
There are islands of crude enjoyment to be found throughout the ten or so hour campaign, particularly with navigating various radio-controlled vehicles, or the parts of the game featuring Duke in miniature form leaping around cavernous environments. But overall, the pressing linearity prohibits the kind of breakthrough enjoyment found by simply exploring in Duke Nukem 3D. Make a mistake with any aspect of verticality and it's back to a loading screen for at least 30 seconds, at which point anyone less than a rabid fan might be somewhat lacking in enthusiasm to continue.
Multiplayer clocks in with tried and true Dukematch, Team Dukematch, King of the Hill and Capture the Babe; we see what they did there. In reality, the multiplayer lends little to the game in offering a scant collection of extremely basic maps. There's no shortage of people online to play against; whether or not that will still be the case in a month or two remains to be seen.
Of course, Duke has an intrinsic link to vulgarity, and Forever features plenty of smutty one-liners, nudity and toilet humour to satisfy the R18 rating. The real problem exists when examining it all in context; it worked in the mid-90s Zeitgeist because Stallone, Swartzenegger, Van Damme et al were regularly parodied. To release Duke in 2011 with the same approach to humour misses the point. Duke Nukem Forever is a parody of a parody, a step too far in a world that has moved on, and no longer considers the ability to throw human excrement shocking, or even edgy.
Some will be satisfied that merely having Duke's name attached to the box equals a safe punt. Those suitably enamoured in this respect may possibly be content long after the end credits roll. However, casting a critical eye to this title reveals serious fundamental flaws that Duke, by the mere virtue of being Duke, cannot possibly fix.
Perhaps if it had more development time...