If John Romero's Daikatana taught us anything it's that long gestation periods don't always mean particularly good games. Romero's first person shooter took around three years to develop (a notable amount of time to release a game then) before it finally hit shelves back in 2000. In many respects the story of Duke Nukem Forever and Ion Storm's commercially failed shooter tread a similar path. Both saw deadlines come and go and both can pin most of their problems on ambitious game engine switches.
In the end Daikatana never benefitted from the changes that were made and in truth, after nearly a decade and a half in development, neither does Duke Nukem Forever. The bold changes which were designed to keep Duke ahead of the curve and in front of it's competitors instead leave it feeling a horribly outdated mess. Its a real shame because as sophisticated as some games have become in recent years there would always have been room for Duke.
Unfortunately though even the bad taste and childish humour can't save this one.
Its easy to see why Duke Nukem Forever took so long to develop. The first person shooter genre has changed massively in recent years to become probably the most competitive on all the major formats. With such a lengthy time in production its had ample opportunity to see what the rest of a very crowded marketplace has done. It shamelessly tries to steal bits from other games and cobble them together into one seamless whole. It is probably why the game took so long to finish as each new game did something new that they felt the need to cram it's idea into their own title. Needless to say it doesn't work.
If you want a condensed history of the genre then you probably can't do much worse than plough through this game. From the real world setting (which Half Life did much better, much earlier) to tight corridors via one-the-rails shooting gallery sections, Duke pretty much covers itself across all bases. In doing so however its ideas are hidden beneath a game which is very difficult to like.
The Ego system (the game's health bar system) fits the game and the character perfectly. Looking in mirrors and interacting with the world Duke can top-up his health by doing, Duke like things. Unfortunately, and its a case of the game stealing from it's peers, the recharging health bar renders one of the decent parts of Duke Nukem Forever obsolete. This and the weapon system are one of the biggest bones of contention for this game and kill off one of the things which could have saved it.
That bone of contention? Duke Nukem Forever crucially doesn't feel like a Duke Nukem game should. The 3D realms title from 1996 took great pleasure at throwing enemies at you and letting you get stuck in with a whole arsenal of cool weapons to try. Try that here and you'll quickly end up with your backside kicked extremely hard. There is nothing wrong with a difficult game but here you are limited to just two weapons at any one time (a frankly unforgivable decision for a Duke game) and that makes your job just that little bit harder. In the end the whole thing degenerates in the usual shoot, run for cover formula.
However none of that really matters because the loading times will kill your desire to have another crack at a level. For a game that is so hard the loading times have to be quick. You can frequently find yourself staring at a loading screen after just thirty seconds of gameplay. Even someone who grew up with Commodore 64 loading times will have their patience tested here.
Deep down anyone who kept half an eye on the farce of a development that Duke Nukem Forever went through would have known it was going to end like this. To their credit Gearbox have at least managed to salvage something from the mess and end one of the biggest jokes in gaming history. However it's not much of a game. It looks and feels dated and fails to come anywhere close to matching the original title's humour and gameplay. A real shame, but a predictable one nonetheless.