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Duke Nukem Forever

Gaming's prodigal oaf has returned

For years, these words - which, with some assembly, form a review of Duke Nukem Forever - appeared on OXM's big list of 'Things Unlikely to be Seen in Our Lifetime', nestled between watching Elvis perform live in the food court at Pease Pottage service station and a delightful weekend break to the lost city of Atlantis.

Nevertheless after a development more troubled than Russell Brand's childhood, and with twice as many inappropriate one-liners, Duke Nukem Forever is finally here. It's a bit of a surprise there's even something playable on there when you drop the disc in the tray - Forever has transcended its status as a game and become a myth, which gives the first couple of hours of play an unreal feeling as you familiarise yourself with mechanics that, according to the laws of probability, shouldn't exist.

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Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Duke Nukem Forever isn't a relentless shooter in the way many were expecting. Vast swathes of this 15-or-so-hour game are spent clambering around, prodding gentle physics puzzles, driving vehicles and interacting with unique objects dotted around the world. This is a game of enormous variety and while some sections feel totally incongruous - and the pacing can shift from Bognor to Baghdad in an instant - the upshot is you're never doing the same thing for too long. The cardinal sin of game design is creating something boring, and Duke Nukem Forever definitely sidesteps that banana skin, but anyone expecting a relentless Call of Duty shooting gallery is going to have to take off their Digi Camo and step away from the FAMAS.

The old school approach is in many ways refreshing. It is also, however, often unforgiving. The bosses in particular are an example of creaking 90s game design - their mere existence is enough of an anachronism without them being outrageously powerful, belching smaller baddies and requiring sustained hammering from explosive weapons before they'll hit the deck. It would be less of a problem if the loading times weren't so excruciating every time you die. Michelangelo finished the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in less time than it takes this game to chuck a few textures and polygons together.

It's not even like they're good textures and polygons. Duke Nukem Forever isn't outright ugly, but it's startlingly inconsistent. As an example, at one point you can photocopy your, thankfully clothed, bum and the juxtaposition between the crisp reproduction of Duke's hiney and the Vaseline-smeared mirage of a copier it rests upon is jarring in the extreme. Portions of this game genuinely look like they date back to the previous millennium. Then you stumble across a blink-and-you'll-miss-it reference to 2010 film Inception and a little bit of your cerebellum makes a bid for freedom through your ear canal.

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Where Duke Nukem himself slots in is harder to pinpoint. For the most part, the game isn't so much offensive or misogynistic as just suffering from an adolescent fixation with boobs and crowbarred-in innuendo. We say 'for the most part' with good reason, though. There is one colossally misjudged sequence early in the game where the combination of nudity, body horror and, at the end, a particularly unpleasant one liner makes for a genuinely harrowing experience. The Alien Hive level, which is filled with whimpering, tortured, semi-naked women and doesn't mesh with the rest of the game's tone at all and, in the context, Duke's trademark flippancy makes him seem like a total sociopath.

It's rare that any game provokes such a pronounced reaction, but unfortunately in this particular case that reaction is outright revulsion. Technical issues can be adapted to and even forgiven, but we weren't expecting anything this morally distasteful, even from a Duke Nukem title. Never again, please.

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