The last post I wrote was talking about Duke Nukem Forever, and this one is too -- it's almost as if no time has passed! We can just continue on as if this blog didn't languish for the entire summer. With anyone else you might rightly suspect he spent the season soaking up the sun and engaging in a variety of healthy, outdoor activities. It's true! You might suspect that.
When I finished DNF the first time, my overall reaction was relatively positive. I could recognize that it wasn't a good game, but perhaps my fondness for the original Duke Nukem platformer and Duke Nukem 3D helped me find the fun in there. I had an okay experience with it. I went back to it recently in an attempt to wrap up the last four achievements (yes, yes, I know, achievements don't matter. It doesn't make me love them any less), and I'm finding it very difficult to make excuses for it anymore.
1) The game is ugly. I have an HD TV now, and games that used to look good on my ancient and doddering SD now look great. It doesn't have that effect on DNF, though, and instead it calls attention to how grainy and outdated the graphics really are. It's not just technically, either, but artistically too: everything is grey and brown and ugly. I love Gears of War, another game that goes for the grey-drab brown-muck approach, and even the blandest location in Gears is a work of beauty compared to DNF.
2) The game excels at nothing. DNF feels like Dr. Frankenstein's creature, stitched together pieces of other games -- and that's what I sort of liked about it! I liked the variety: you're driving an RC car, you're miniaturized, you're running fetch quests in a strip club, you're firing a turret from the side of a helicopter, you're throwing explosives at a giant boss, you're run-and-gunning through a lab. The downside of this is that none of those things I mentioned is done particularly well: the RC car controls sluggishly and makes you long for Half-life 2's air-boat (remember when we thought that part was bad?), the miniaturized sections are full of one-hit instant death traps, the inclusion of the fetch quests is a real head-scratcher, the things you're firing at from that turret consist of one or two guys at a time along what's supposed to be a warzone but hilariously isn't, etc. etc.
3) The game's performance nearly makes it unplayable. Everything stutters and hitches, even when installed on the 360's hard drive, and loading screens are incredibly long. You read that sentence and you think you know how long these loading times are? They're longer than that. You get several checkpoints in each part of a level, but often you'll have ten or fifteen minutes of gameplay before you'll reach another one (and it could be longer than that on harder difficulties), and you need to sit through the same ridiculously long loading screen every single time. That miniaturized section I mentioned in point two, with all the one-hit instant deaths? That would have been almost enjoyable if you didn't have to sit through minute-long loading screens every time you failed to see what you were meant to do and instead guessed incorrectly.
4) The game is not funny. This is really the most grievous sin a game can commit when it has nothing else going for it and is supposed to be funny, but I can't help but think they really missed what made Duke entertaining in the first place. He was funny in the other games because he was an action-movie type fighting aliens and saving our babes in the seediest of places. Here the world apparently worships Duke, and after the third or fourth Duke-branded location the novelty had really worn thin. And a note: coming up to a boarded-up location in a mine and saying 'I wish I had a crowbar,' is not the height of satire. Yes, I enjoyed Half-life. Don't remind me I'm not playing it unless you're able to MINE the reference for hilarity. See what I did there? I wasn't funny. Just like DNF!
So I've shelved it for now. There are just too many good games out there to waste any more time on this one. At a certain point even my attempts to get every last bit of value out of the games I buy has to be abandoned in the name of keeping my sanity. At least I'll still have Duke Nukem 3D.