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Duke Nukem Forever

Rip it a new one?

So this review is a little late, but given the company we're in that's probably acceptable.

For a video-game buff Duke Nukem Forever is interesting to play, but all too rarely enjoyable.

It fizzes with ideas that once upon a time would have been novel - perhaps breathtaking - but poor implementation and the passage of time simply make them feel staid and worn-out. This is a game that should be sitting on the same shelf as Half-Life and Doom 3, not Bulletstorm and latter-day Call of Duty, and unfortunately these are the modern yardsticks it must be judged by.

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It doesn't help, of course, that the game's opening levels are universally the poorest sections of the game. After early poo-chucking hi-jinks (the game's only true belly laugh) the lengthy saunter through Duke's boob-filled day tries to be Half-Life but is instead an unfunny slog, while the combat that peppers the lengthy trawl through the Ladykiller casino and the streets of Vegas simply isn't a patch on that of later levels.

Then, sadly, the glimpses of greatness that crop up later on - your monster truck burning its way through the Ghost Town, the satisfaction of a perfectly placed pipebomb during a Hoover Dam pig onslaught or the fun and games of a shrunk Duke in DukeBurger - get lost in a torrent of other problems.

For one, there are points - generally boss confrontations - when the game is ludicrously punishing. The way Duke extends his potential Ego shield through gazing at porn or pumping iron is genuinely the neatest thing in the game, but the speed at which it's ripped away a mighty foible.

When you're going into battle with the dam-top Battlelord for the tenth time, on the console version suffering a painful load-time with each demise, you know you're being punished through no fault of your own.

It's true gaming pain, mirrored frequently throughout the play-time and underlined during the vinegar strokes of the game when Duke must swim underwater from air bubbles to air bubbles like an increasingly desperate (if somewhat more macho) Sonic the Hedgehog. The difficulty levels waver throughout DNF as much as the graphical quality (so on 360 the whole gamut between poor and passable) and every play session is invariably bookended by frustration.

With such a great character as its lead (and Duke Nukem is genuinely a great gaming character) DNF also drops the ball through its woefully misjudged attempts at humo(u)r. There's no texture to any of the gags, it's just a swirl of blondes, blowjobs and foul-mouthed marines.

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You can't help but feel that Duke Nukem himself should be the joke of the piece, but ultimately 3D Realms, Gearbox et al. approach him with all the earnestness of a MasterChief with a hard-on. And the sexy ladies? Well I'll just say that in the old days, when they were made out of pixels, I didn't mind kicking the pregnant ones to death so much.

Another non-sequitur, and a strong indication of the game's age, is the game's fascination with first-person platforming. This perhaps fine back in the days of the original Half-Life, the game that undoubtedly had the most influence on Mr Nukem's adventure, but in the modern day too often feels like unnecessary and fiddly padding. It's not all bad, adventures as the shrunk Duke are sometimes quite fun, but platforming pops up far too frequently and entirely wrecks the flow of the game. You'll honestly find yourself asking 'Your pace, my ass. What's the difference?' (Sorry.)

It would be entirely wrong to say that there's nothing to be enjoyed in Duke Nukem Forever, to my mind many of its reviews have been far too scathing, but at the same time anyone who buys it at full price would be right to feel short-changed. It's a messy creation that somehow feels simultaneously rushed and over-laboured: the result of Gearbox's late-game edits meeting over a decade's worth of pipedreams and half-realised ideas head-on.

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