I've been a fan of Duke Nukem since he was a sidescrolling sprite in the early 90s. Duke Nukem 3D was an exceptional step forward in first-person shooter technology, still more fun and playable than many of the games that exceeded its technical capabilities. Not long after, Duke Nukem Forever was announced. Then, we received a bunch of games that weren't Duke Nukem Forever. Some of them were fun, a few of them outright terrible, but all of them nowhere near the game we knew we would get someday.
3D Realms closed their doors for a while, but what nobody realized was that a small and dedicated group of programmers basically holed up in someone's house for a few years working away on Duke in all their spare time. Somewhere down the line, Gearbox and 2K Games come on the scene to pick up the scraps and get the game out to the public. Upon release, it was critically lambasted for being...uh...Well, a Duke Nukem game. There's no telling what people were expecting, but I got exactly what I expected.
Duke Nukem Forever brings you back to the old days where you could have just as much fun goofing off in the environment as you could blasting away at everything. You can play an oddly programmed pinball game. You can pound a beer. You can chomp a stogie while you shoot. You can play pool in another really weirdly programmed minigame. You can lift weights. You can shoot hoops. You can hock a frisbee off of a skyscraper. There's a whole mess of unimportant things to do, and all of them are more engaging than, say, spending an entire chapter of a (totally overrated) game looking for friggin' plants in Arcadia (Yeah, you heard me, I don't like Bioshock but I love Duke Nukem Forever. Sue me.)
Duke is king of the world after saving the world a billion times, and he owns a huge monument to himself/casino in Vegas, which immediately comes under attack by pissed off aliens. The president is clearly a jerk who hates Duke and probably has something going on with the aliens, but Duke tells him to get bent and joins up with military buddies (including Dylan, easily the most obnoxious character in the game) to load up on ammo and guns and get some intel. He gets shrunk down for a chapter or two, goes driving around, shredding aliens with his monster truck (The Mighty Boot), passes out and dreams a full stage in a strip club, and blasts his way to the source of the big alien menace.
Is it a perfect game? Hell no. But is it an honorable attempt from a bunch of people making a game from someone's house for no pay over a few years? You bet your ass it is. From having spoken to some of the developers over the years, Gearbox's contributions to the game seemed pretty minimal, and it shows. There were more modern additions that infuriated classic Duke fans, like regenerating health and a weapon carry limit, but That's hardly a bother after a while. And sure, it takes a while for Duke to actually get to the Duke Cave and start kicking ass, but that's because the designers actually wanted to set up a world for the character as opposed to dropping you into a battlefield and just saying "RAMIREZ, HIT THAT GUY WITH A THROWING KNIFE FROM 50 FEET WE'RE OSCAR MIKE." Otherwise, it feels exactly like the game I wanted it to be 15 years earlier. Old-school shooting, tough-as-nails bosses, first-person platforming (okay, I understand why most people hate that), and a ton of goofy quips and outdated cultural references. The graphics aren't perfect (but graphics hardly matter to me as long as they aren't a chore to look at), and the aiming took a little sensitivity tweaking for me to feel perfect, but technically it works, although the load times bring me back to playing the Commodore 64.
The only truly indefensible part to DNF is that some of the jokes can really come off anywhere from wrong-headed to totally reprehensible, depending on your mindset. I won't go into details, but there are a few things in the game that are particularly read as misogynistic, which can easily be construed as such, although from having spoken with Kristen Haglund, one of the games writers, it seems like she was responsible for much of that content and wrote it more as a mockery of such ideas than something people would actually find amusing (slapping wall boobs? come on now). Does it work in execution? Not really. But I'm not going to get up in arms about a game starring a lampoon of macho sexist action movie stereotypes.
Long story short (too late), Duke Nukem Forever is a flawed but fascinating piece of history. Totally fun and functional as an FPS with old-school shooting mechanics, puzzles, platforming (ugh I know), a goofy sense of humor, some pretty huge stages, and a lot of goofy sidetracking to be had. For me, the biggest flaw was the release of Bulletstorm a few months prior, which carried the same mood and sense of fun, but frankly did it better than any game in years. The difference is, I'm the only person who bought Bulletstorm, so nobody knows thing one about how good it really is, but that's a game for another time.
As it is, I think Duke Nukem Forever is a damn fun game, full of anti-wit and fast action. I'm not sure what people were expecting from this title, clearly something a little more earth-shattering, but with realistic expectations, you get a great 90s style shooter, but on modern platforms.
I feel like I'm rambling at this point and I probably am, plus I doubt anyone has read this far on my defense of a universally lambasted game that currently seems will never get a proper follow-up thanks to all sorts of legal disputes. In the meantime, I can be found on Twitter getting to the last stage of Ninja Gaiden (this very day, no less!) as @Brakywaki, as well as Brakywaki on Screwattack, where I've been a moderator for quite a while, and most importantly, curently accepting submssions for Youtube Hell in this year's Screwattack Gaming Convention, which can be likened to a three-hour acid trip fever dream mixed with a concussion and any other brain-destroying maladies, and if you have any gold to submit, I'll kindly direct you here: http://www.screwattack.com/news/sgcs-youtube-hell-2015-now-open-submissions
Until then, keep your feet on the ground, and keep blasting those alien bastards out of the stars. And ALWAYS BET ON DUKE.