Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: Duke Nukem: The Doctor Who Cloned Me (DLC)

Well this came out of nowhere. In less than a week we had announcement and release of the first single-player DLC for Duke Nukem Forever. Now when Duke Forever launched back in May it was met with bad to luke-warm reception from most critics. I personally enjoyed it and found it very fun and one of the better games of the year so far. 7 months later I have dialed it back a few notches and noticed several flaws with the game, I still like it however. So I was very excited to see where the story brought us next. Well as I'm writing this I have not yet played the game. Nope, looking at the download screen. Being bored. Hit the jump for the actual review.

  • Duke Nukem: The Doctor Who Cloned Me
  • Developed by Triptych Games / Published by Gearbox Software
  • Reviewed on 360 / Available on PC/360/PS3
  • Extra Info: DLC (Duke Nukem Forever)
  • PEGI: 18+ / ESRB: M
  • Reviewed by: Tobbii Karlsson

The first thing you'll notice about TDWCM is that the infuriatingly long and far too common loading screens are back (at least the console version by Piranha Games), it's a shame since I was hoping two DLC packages as well as separate update in they would have fixed this, the problem is constant even if you have the game installed on the hard drive, really annoying and not a good start. The loading times are super-long even if you're just reloading a checkpoint after you died, then there's the problem of the games levels being split into minor parts so you get more loading times than a game would usually supply. But, at the same time it's the retail game's fault, not the DLC on it's own, so I will sort of let it slide this time.

What I can NOT let slide however is the fact that the level design feels even more linear here than in the original game. The disguised corridors have been traded for literal corridors, underground laboratory corridors none-the-less. I've had this complaint about many first person shooters lately. Remember Doom 3, GoldenEye 007 or even Duke 3D? The level design there worked so that the entire level was a small free-roaming area, backtracking and exploration was key in order to discover everything and make it through, this is the way to do small levels. We want alternative paths, secret areas and big arenas to fight our enemies in. But we don't get that any more, instead games go for the linear approach, even a pure-classic shooter like Serious Sam 3 fell into this trap. It's worse in TDWCM than it is in Duke Forever, unforgivable given that linearity was one of the main complaints Duke Forever received.


The game starts off quite promising with Duke being captured by Doctor Proton, the villain from the original two Duke Nukem games, it sets up the story of Duke being cloned for Proton to use as a personal army against the aliens quite well and the pacing is nice. But about an hour into the story it really starts lacking, it gets slow and dull and nothing happens for a good while. In the middle of it all you spend a good ten minutes in a training room without any challenge what-so-ever only to then ger thrown into combat with Duke clones that basically kill you in one to two hits. It's uneven both in terms of storytelling and it terms of difficulty is what I'm trying to say. The writing itself is quite alright though, the lines are funny and there are a few good references here and there. The problem is that there's not a whole lot of opportunities for it to actually get noticed.

If I may spoil a minor detail, the first NPC you meet Duke accidentally kills and only proclaims "Oops!" about, it's actually not funny as I felt a bit bad for him. I thought maybe he would reveal the clones to me or some other exposition detail, but instead he was just random gore-fodder. But actually, the game even failed at that as the guy just disappeared into thin air when his death animation meant to play. Speaking of animations, that's one of the worst aspects of this game. Duke Forever was criticized for it's lackluster visuals, while I disagree with some of those claims the animations are probably the best example of how bad the game looks. Everything in this game looks stale, whether it's the sultry women or the robots, they both look equally stiff and devoid of life. There are some improvements in visuals when it comes to the environment, but apart from that the game looks and feels, not old, just really cheap, which might be worse.


But linear level design, unfortunate pacing and sub-par presentation can all be remedied by gameplay, right? Well TDWCM plays a lot like Duke Forever did, in fact, it's almost identical. Now I should mention that since I'm playing on console I did not get the luxury of having Duke's expanded inventory. On PC Duke can carry four weapons at a time, on console he can carry two, this was added to PC in a patch because of players being angry about the two-weapon-limit. Here's the thing, I'm also really angry about that, and still am. It's stupid, this is not a realistic gritty shooter that we need to feel the heat of battle in, it's a fun classic run-and-gun experience with giant aliens that we slam in the nuts and call ugly, there's no justification for limiting Duke's inventory space to the same amount as a Counter-Strike player. I really hope Piranha gets their act together and port the PC patch to consoles, a four-weapon-limit is still a limit, but at least it's something. Speaking of things I didn't like in the original Duke Forever that is back. Regenerative Health. I need to take a moment here to fully explain why I dislike the concept of Regenerative Health so much. It's not that i's unrealistic, it's not that it's not ye-olde I'm used to as an old FPS gamer.

The problem with Regenerative Health is how lazy it has become, it's become an excuse for developers to create characters that kill you in two hits rather than have your character actually being able to take a few hits, this is because you can just get the health back in a few seconds, meaning that developers think they need to make those enemies tougher to add a challenge. That's not true, if you're going to use Regenerative Health you need to let us take as much damage as we used to be able to take. Comparing Duke Forever to Duke 3D for a few seconds here. In Duke 3D a health at 100% would be depleted by a single enemy in maybe 10-15 hits. In Duke Forever that enemy would kill a fully leveled "EGO" in 2-3 hits, it forces you to always be in cover and if you even dare to mess up once you need to reload your checkpoint. What's the point of health, if I can't take any damage, that is my question. This issue has only gotten worse as we got used to Regenerative Health this generation. I just fear that future games like Doom 4 or TimeSplitters 4 fall into this trap. Don't be scared of actual health-bar developers, it makes the game more fun if you can actually take a punch. Borderlands did it great, in that game Regenerative Health was something you had to equip through Shield Items and the regular Health system remained intact, learn from that!


Thankfully there's more to Duke Forever, and more importantly TDWCM, than fighting enemies. The vehicular parts and the platform puzzles are actually the better parts of the game, they work great and are sometimes quite clever. In this game you drive a purple RC car, a schoolbus and something I don't wish to spoil because it's one of the most awesome vehicles in a game. That is awesome and something that really put a smile on my face. The boss fights are also very fun, so that's good. The game is pretty long as well, clocking in to about 4-6 hours depending on how good you are. That's not too shabby for a simple downloadable expansion pack. However, I can't help but to feel like this campaign should have had online co-op. Normally I'm highly against the concept of adding co-op to a singleplayer game, but for this scenario it could have worked really well. There are various points in the game where you fight alongside NPC's that could have been a fun ride if you had a human being with you as at least one of them. TDWCM adds two new weapons, the Empregrenader and the Expander. They're quite fun to toy around with, especially the Expander which does just what you think it does, stretches your enemy until they go BOOM! I can honestly say that they first time I did that my jaw dropped and I say silent for a while, that's the kind of thing I want out a Duke Nukem title.

Now while this have sounded pretty negative, there is a silver lining. About 2½ hours into the game I thought I was done, then I found out that I was only about half-way throughout the story. The second half of TDWCM is far superior to the first half, while the linearity and other issues I've mentioned remain, they're toned down to a much more okay level. In fact, the final boss of TDWCM was a whole lot of fun, as was the entire level, it was even quite unique. Too bad the first half of the add-on pack takes us through some really dull environments with some really dull things going on. The DLC also gives us four new multiplayer maps, I've only been able to play one called Sky High as it's the only one I found anyone else playing. It was actually really fun, the style reminded me of the old Counter-Strike map Office, only if it was made for Quake III Arena. So there's that. "My Digs" is still pretty useless with nothing new added and I could not see any new customization options for the character in multiplayer. I do recommend you grab the "Hail to the Icons" pack however as it comes with some really fun new maps, but that's a whole different DLC package.


The easiest way to describe Duke Nukem: The Doctor Who Cloned Me is with the words "Not for everyone". If you felt that the original Duke Forever was crap, then you might feel that this game does some things better. Even if I personally disliked the first half of the story, I can't even attempt to not notice the steps towards a better game this add-on pack helped, and that's coming from one of the people who protect Duke Forever. In the end, a 5 hours campaign with at least one new fun multiplayer map is without a doubt worthy of 800 MS points, or 9,99 Dollars/Euro if you're on PSN/Steam. If you have Duke Forever, give it a try, you might like it. As for me, I was left a bit disappointed by the add-on, but I do feel that Duke might be returning to true glory sooner than I anticipated. Just get rid of the Regenerative Health, Weapon Limit and the linear levels and I'll be very grateful.


Final Evaluation:
6/10 - Not For Everyone

Tobbii Karlsson played Duke: TDWCM for a total of 4½ hours during the single-player campaign.
1 further hour was spent on multiplayer mode. Tobbii beat the game once.

2 comments:

  1. The general opinion is that this DLC is actually better than the main campaign. I enjoyed them both equally but then I love DNF.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Stemot
    I think the main campaign was better, the first half of this DLC is such a let down.

    ReplyDelete