duke flukem

Duke Nukem Forever was put up on a Steam sale last week, so I decided to take it up.  I’ve put four hours or so into it by now, and I have to say, I’m not impressed.

To be fair, I’ve only so far put a few hours into the game.  But already it’s flailing about like a frog reanimated with raw electricity.  The game runs on a heavily modified Unreal Engine 2, so much so that the increase in detail and model complexity almost makes it look like Unreal Engine 3 (which makes me wonder why Gearbox didn’t go with that out of the box).  This is probably the cause of issues, because I’ve had to scale back the game’s settings considerably.  While my system isn’t bleeding-edge, it’s not a pushover either, and the fact that the game’s high settings drags it down to 10 fps tells me something in there is overloading the processors.  This framerate drag can even leak into play at lower settings, but oddly at random times.  This can be corrected by just sitting and waiting for a minute, but you can’t always do that in heavy combat, and even so, having to stop and wait for the frames to catch up can really hurt the motivation to continue playing.

Interestingly, the skybox isn’t a clear image.  When looking around at normal magnification, it looks perfectly fine, but when you zoom in the view–even the basic “iron sights”-esque zoom–it’s quite obviously fuzzy, as if the developers didn’t intend (or want) the player to actually look at it.  This is a bit puzzling, because it wouldn’t have taken much more to fully detail the image, even on the off-chance of being looked at.

The shadows in the game behave oddly, to say the least.  When the focus point of the player’s view changes, it seems all shadows are redrawn, so that objects seem to glow.  This has distracted me on more than one occasion with thinking that the “glowing” oject was my obective when it was just a minor lighting glitch.  This even happens with some “permanent” objects, such as buildings and terrain, not just items that are sitting around.  I can only surmise that this is also a result of the heavy modifications made to the game engine.

Above: The shadowing issue in action.

Probably the worst design decision the team made was to graft platform and puzzle elements into the game.  In one stage, you come across a statue of Duke which must be used to reach the next floor of a building.  The statue’s hitbox is small enough that one can very easily fall off the arms, making the task tedious and annoying.  Later Duke must utilize a crane to continue his progress, and like most other puzzles in the game, the solution isn’t very clear.  At least six times in the first six chapters, I have had to look up YouTube videos to solve these awkward puzzles, and each time I felt stupid for not noticing the solution, even though it was badly designed.  Don’t get me wrong, these features can work in a shooter, but they don’t really fit into this game at all.  Duke  is all about fast and furious gunplay with weapons of absurd destruction.  Breaking the momentum with tedious puzzles and framerate issues can kill the game, and in this case, probably does for many players.

What strikes me as particularly funny is that another game feels more like Duke than…well, Duke.  BulletStorm is a game focused purely on gunplay, and capitalizes on this with skillshots that grant points for particularly interesting, unusual, or simply skillful kills of various flavors.  These skillshots make the game far more enjoyable by encouraging creativity with kills, while having almost zero emphasis on plot or puzzle elements.  I get the distinct feeling that BulletStorm is the game Duke Nukem Forever wanted to be.  It’s certainly the one I enjoyed more.