Duke Nukem Forever

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Duke Nukem Forever
North American cover art
Developer(s)3D Realms[a]
Publisher(s)2K Games[b]
  • Mike Wardwell
  • Geoff Gordon
  • Matthew Newman
  • Brian Hook
  • Valenta Wensloff
  • Kristen Haglund
  • David Riegel
Composer(s)Eric Von Rothkirch
SeriesDuke Nukem
EngineUnreal Engine 1
(2001 prototype build)
Unreal Engine
(version unknown) (Retail release)
  • Windows, PS3, Xbox 360
  • OS X
    • WW: August 18, 2011
Genre(s)First-person shooter
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer

Duke Nukem Forever is a 2011 first-person shooter game developed by 3D Realms and published by 2K Games for Windows, Mac OS X, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.[3][4] It is the fourth main installment in the Duke Nukem series and the sequel to Duke Nukem 3D (1996). Players control Duke Nukem as he comes out of retirement to battle an alien invasion.

Duke Nukem Forever endured a severely protracted development that lasted more than 14 years. Announced in 1997 following the success of Duke Nukem 3D, it was widely anticipated, but underwent several delays. Its director, George Broussard, failed to present a vision for the project, and the team switched game engines and restarted development several times; by 2001, Duke Nukem Forever was being cited as a high-profile case of vaporware. In 2009, having exhausted its capital, 3D Realms downsized and ceased development. Scott Miller, 3D Realms' co-founder, attributed the failure to the repeated engine changes, understaffing and a lack of a strong development plan.

In September 2010, Gearbox Software announced that it had bought the Duke Nukem intellectual property from 3D Realms and would continue development. Duke Nukem Forever was completed by Gearbox, Triptych Games and Piranha Games and released on June 14, 2011.[5][6] It received mostly unfavorable reviews; critics criticized the graphics, dated humor and story, simplistic mechanics, and unpolished performance and design. An additional episode, The Doctor Who Cloned Me, was released in December as downloadable content. In May 2022, an unfinished version of Duke Nukem Forever from 2001 was leaked online.


Duke Nukem Forever is a first-person shooter. Players take control of Duke Nukem and navigate a series of levels which take place on Earth and beyond. The game allows players to interact with various in-game objects, including water coolers, urinals, and whiteboards, which allow players to draw their own images. The gameplay is similar in some respects to the first-person shooter games of the late 1990s and early 2000s, with each level culminating in a boss battle in which Duke has to fight and kill a large, significant alien.

Unlike the previous games, Duke can only hold two weapons at any one time, in a manner similar to the Halo series, although pipe bombs and laser tripwires are considered inventory items and as such are not limited by this restriction. The PC version allows Duke to hold four weapons in the single-player campaign. Items that have an effect on Duke can be picked up by the player; these items are steroids, beer, and the holoduke. Steroids increase the strength of Duke's melee attacks by a great deal for a limited time. Beer makes Duke much more resistant to damage, but blurs the screen. The holoduke creates a hologram of Duke Nukem that looks and acts in a very similar way to Duke, but often says slightly twisted versions of his one-liners. While the holoduke is in effect, Duke becomes invisible and the AI characters do not recognize his presence. The jetpack also returns, but only in multiplayer.

Instead of the health system featured in the previous Duke Nukem games, in which health would be depleted when Duke was injured and would only increase upon finding a health pack, drinking water from fountains/broken fire hydrants, urinating, or using the portable medkit item, Duke Nukem Forever employs a system involving an "ego bar". The ego bar depletes when Duke is attacked; once it is fully depleted, Duke becomes susceptible to damage. Dying will result upon taking too much damage and cause the game to reload the last checkpoint. If the player avoids further damage, then the ego bar and Duke's health are restored. The player can increase the size of the ego bar (thus increasing the amount of damage Duke can take) by interacting with certain objects throughout the game (for example, a mirror), and by defeating bosses. The game employs a save system that is solely based on checkpoints.


Twelve years after he saved the Earth from an alien invasion, Duke Nukem has achieved fame, becoming a successful businessman and celebrity multimillionaire. After playing a game based on Duke Nukem 3D, he arrives on the set of a talk show for an interview. On his way to the show, Duke witnesses a news broadcast announcing that aliens have invaded. Unlike previous encounters, the aliens initially appear peaceful and at first seem to pose no harm to the humans of Earth.

Duke's talk show appearance is cancelled to allow television stations to cover the alien invasion, and Duke retires to the "Duke Cave", his home. There, he receives a call from the president and General Graves of the Earth Defense Force (EDF). The president orders Duke not to harm the invaders, and adds that he is in diplomatic talks with the alien overlord. Duke obliges this request, but he and Graves remain uneasy about the whole situation from the start. Before he can leave his chambers, he is attacked by hostile aliens who are swearing revenge on Duke.

Duke is forced to disobey the president's orders and fight his way through the alien hordes in an effort to save Earth. While fighting through his casino, Duke witnesses the aliens abducting women, including his two live-in pop star girlfriends. Graves tells Duke that the women are being held in the Duke Dome, and that the aliens have a vendetta to settle with Duke. He also warns Duke that the aliens are using the Hoover Dam to power a wormhole so more aliens can come through. Duke travels to the Duke Dome, using a wrecking ball to damage the building to gain access. Inside, he finds swarms of Octabrains and the missing women, who have been impregnated with alien spawn; Duke's girlfriends die after giving "birth" to alien babies, infuriating Duke. Duke finds the Alien Queen in control of the Duke Dome and kills her, but is wounded in the process and blacks out.

After regaining consciousness, Duke fights Pigcops and aliens in through the Duke Burger. Soon, he travels to the Hoover Dam in his monster truck; after battling through the dam, he finds his old friend Dylan, mortally wounded. He tells Duke that the reborn Cycloid Emperor is at the dam, and that the only way to shut down the portal is to completely destroy the dam. Before dying, he gives Duke his demolition charges and wishes him luck. Duke places the explosives and destroys the dam, but the currents nearly drown him.

Duke is revived by an EDF soldier, and awakens to find the portal gone. The president, who was also at the dam, rages at Duke for ruining his plans to work with the Cycloid Emperor, revealing that the president was actually intending to have the aliens kill Duke and he would cooperate with Cycloid Emperor so he could control the Earth, and that he has ordered a nuclear strike at the site of the dam to wipe out the remaining aliens, intending to leave Duke there to die as revenge for foiling his plans. The Cycloid Emperor emerges and kills the president and his security detail, revealing that he intended to kill the president after the deal. Duke kills the Cycloid Emperor and is rescued by Graves just as the nuclear bomb explodes.

The game ends with a satellite surveying the detonation area and listing Duke Nukem as killed in action, to which Duke replies off-screen, "What kind of shit ending is that? I ain't dead. I'm coming back for more!" In a post-credits scene, a short video depicts a press conference, where Duke announces his intent to run to be the 69th President of the United States.

The Doctor Who Cloned Me[edit]

In the downloadable content The Doctor Who Cloned Me, Duke wakes up after the nuclear explosion and finds himself trapped in a strange laboratory while video recordings of himself declaring his bid for Presidency play on monitors. After escaping, Duke discovers that not only are the aliens continuing their invasion, but his old nemesis Dr. Proton (the antagonist of the original Duke Nukem game) has returned and is building an army of robotic Duke clones to fight the aliens and conquer Earth himself.

Duke infiltrates Proton's laboratory in Area 51 by posing as one of the clones. Eventually, Proton spots him and attacks Duke but he escapes and is reunited with Dylan (revealed as still alive). With Dylan's help, Duke locates and kills Dr. Proton. General Graves then communicates with Duke to inform him that the aliens are being bred by an Alien Empress that is nesting on the moon. After finding a teleporter leading up to the moon, Duke commandeers a moon rover and destroys the Alien Empress, saving Earth and its women once again.


In 1996, 3D Realms released Duke Nukem 3D. Set apart from other first-person shooter games by its adult humor and interactive world, it received positive reviews and sold around 3.5 million copies.[7] 3D Realms co-founder George Broussard announced the sequel, Duke Nukem Forever, in April 1997, which he expected to be released by Christmas 1998. The game was widely anticipated.[7] Scott Miller, 3D Realms' co-founder, felt the Duke Nukem franchise would last for decades across many iterations, like James Bond or Mario.[7] Broussard and Miller funded Duke Nukem Forever using the profits from Duke Nukem 3D and other games, turning marketing and publishing rights over to GT Interactive.[8]

Rather than create a new game engine, 3D Realms began development using Id Software's Quake II engine.[7] They demonstrated the first Duke Nukem Forever trailer at the E3 convention in May 1998; critics were impressed by its cinematic presentation and action scenes, with combat on a moving truck.[7] According to staff, Broussard became obsessed with incorporating new technology and features from competing games and could not bear for Duke Nukem Forever to be perceived as outdated.[7] Weeks after E3, he announced that 3D Realms had switched to Unreal Engine, a new engine with better rendering capabilities for large spaces, requiring a reboot of the project.[7] In 1999, they switched engines again, to a newer version of Unreal Engine.[7]

By 2000, Duke Nukem Forever was still far from complete; a developer who joined that year described it as a series of chaotic tech demos, and the staff felt that Broussard had no fixed idea of what the final game would be.[7] As the success of Duke Nukem 3D meant that 3D Realms did not require funding from a publisher, they lacked deadlines or financial pressure that could have driven the project. Broussard became defiant in response to questions from fans and journalists, saying it would be released "when it's done".[7] By 2001, Duke Nukem Forever was being cited as a high-profile case of vaporware, and Wired gave it the "vaporware of the year" award.[9]

At E3 2001, 3D Realms released another trailer, the first public view of Duke Nukem Forever in three years. It received a positive response, and the team was elated, feeling that they were ahead of their competitors. However, Broussard still failed to present a vision for a final product. One employee felt that Miller and Broussard were developing "with a 1995 mentality", with a team much smaller than other major games of the time; by 2003, only 18 people were working on Duke Nukem Forever full time.[7] In a 2006 presentation, Broussard told a journalist the team had "fucked up" and had restarted development.[7] By August 2006, around half the team had left, frustrated by the lack of progress.[7]

According to Miller, the Canadian studio Digital Extremes was willing to take over the project in 2004, but the proposal was rejected by others at 3D Realms; Miller later described this as a "fatal suicide shot".[10] In 2007, 3D Realms hired Raphael van Lierop as the new creative director; he was impressed by the game and felt it could be finished within a year, but Broussard disagreed.[7] 3D Realms hired aggressively to expand the team to about 35 people. Brian Hook, the new creative lead, became the first employee to push back against Broussard.[7] In 2009, with 3D Realms having exhausted its capital, Miller and Broussard asked Take-Two for $6 million to finish the game.[7] After no agreement was reached, Broussard and Miller laid off the team and ceased development.[7]

In September 2010, Gearbox Software announced that it had bought the Duke Nukem intellectual property from 3D Realms and would continue development of Duke Nukem Forever.[11] The Gearbox team included several members of the 3D Realms team, but not Broussard.[11] On May 24, 2011, Gearbox announced that Duke Nukem Forever had "gone gold" after 15 years.[12] With 14 years and 44 days between announcement and release, it holds the Guinness world record for the longest development for a video game.[13]

In 2022, Miller released a blog post on the Apogee website about 3D Realms' failure to complete Duke Nukem Forever. He attributed the failure to three major factors: understaffing, the repeated engine changes and the lack of a good development plan.[10] On Twitter, Broussard responded that Miller's claims were "nonsense", described him as manipulative and narcissistic, and accused him of blaming others. He blamed Miller for the loss of 3D Realms and the Duke Nukem intellectual property.[10]

Marketing and release[edit]

Promotion at E3 2011

The Duke Nukem Forever launch trailer was released on June 2, 2011.[14] A playable demo was released on June 3, 2011.[15] Duke Nukem Forever was released in a special "Balls of Steel" edition, with items including a five-inch bust of Duke Nukem, a 100-page artbook, a comic, stickers and poker chips.[16] Themes and avatars were also sold for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.[17]

2K Games launched a website titled "Boob Tube" to promote the game. On May 19, 2011, a Flash game was released on the website, Duke Nudem, whereby players shoot targets against a woman; if successful, clothing is removed from the woman until she is topless.[18] 2K released a "Duke Nukem Forever Soundboard" for iOS, includes a number of Duke Nukem's phrases to be played back.[19] Duke Nukem Forever was made available a day early on June 9 from all retailers after the street date was broken.[20]

Downloadable content[edit]

Duke's Big Package[edit]

In North America, the video game retailer GameStop promised exclusive in-game content for customers pre-ordering Duke Nukem Forever. The exclusive content, known as "Duke's Big Package", allowed the player from the start of the game to access "Big Heads", the "Ego Boost", and custom in-game T-shirts. A code printed on the final receipt could, at the time of release, be activated over Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and Steam.[21][22]

Hail to the Icons Parody Pack[edit]

Duke Nukem Forever: Hail to the Icons Parody Pack contains three new game modes, and four new multiplayer maps, each with new weapons. It is available on the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, and Steam. It was released on October 11, 2011.[23]

The Doctor Who Cloned Me[edit]

Duke Nukem Forever: The Doctor Who Cloned Me includes a new single-player campaign which features the return of Duke's nemesis from the original Duke Nukem game, Dr. Proton.[24] It includes new weapons, enemies, and bosses. The Doctor Who Cloned Me also includes four new multiplayer maps. The DLC was released on December 13, 2011.[25] It holds a score of 52/100 on Metacritic for PC[26] and 58/100 for Xbox 360.[27] GameSpy rated it a 1.5/5,[28] OXM rated it 4/10[29] and Eurogamer rated it 5/10, writing: "Duke's trying his best, but there's still too much of the past hanging around and holding him back."[30]


Critical reception[edit]

On the review aggregation site Metacritic, Duke Nukem Forever has a score of 54 out of 100, indicating "Mixed or average reviews".[31] Criticism focused on the long loading times, clunky controls, offensive humor, and overall dated design. Elton Jones of Complex named it one of "the most disappointing games of 2011".[51] Jim Sterling, review editor for Destructoid, said that it was "like a disease"[35] and named it the "shittiest game of 2011".[52] Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, creator of Zero Punctuation, named it the second-worst game of 2011 after Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.[53]

Many critics disliked the level design and shooting. Kevin VanOrd of GameSpot felt that the "joy of that game's shooting has been flattened" with "little sense of impact", finding the overall design "tedious". He called Duke Nukem Forever a "bad, boring, bargain bin kind of game".[41] Eurogamer wrote that that "few of the locations [inspired] the sort of exploration and excitement that made Duke 3D such a memorable experience. Duke Nukem Forever is linear to a fault, and huge chunks of the game are spent simply walking from one fight to another through uninspired corridors."[37] IGN criticized "the frequent first-person platforming segments that make up an unnecessarily large percentage of the story mode", although they stated the "shooting sections are simple fun".[46] GamesRadar concluded that the "world-record development time has produced an ugly, buggy shooter that veers back and forth between enjoyably average and outright boring, with occasional surges of greatness along the way".[44] GamePro felt that "Unexpected moments ... are really the game's biggest strengths. But they're few and far between."[39] X-Play gave the game one out of five, criticizing the graphics, load time, number of enemies onscreen, the multiplayer, the game's "creepy, hateful view of women",[50] and the hive level, with Adam Sessler saying that "this is all played for laughs".[citation needed]

Many reviewers questioned the design choices in comparison to Duke Nukem 3D, with Kotaku writing: "Old-school shooters, and this is definitely trying to be one of those with its basic AI and lack of cover mechanics, always had two great things going for them: speed and a ridiculous arsenal of weapons... Forever eschews this in favour of a plodding pace and two guns."[54] Noting its negative mix with modern shooter conventions, The Escapist agreed: "Having been almost cryo-frozen for more than a decade, then awoken and peppered with modern touches, Duke Nukem Forever feels so out of place."[55]

Another common criticism was with the game's lack of technical sophistication, including inconsistent graphics and unacceptably long loading times, which GameTrailers called "unholy";[45] Eric Neigher of GameSpy found the console versions took up to 40 seconds to load a level.[43] Neigher also criticized the game's multiplayer mode as unplayable without serious lag spikes.[43] Edge commented that "the myriad technical shortcomings – particularly prevalent on the console ports – only get worse the further you progress into the campaign",[36] a view echoed by Game Revolution: "when they started on the design, that tech was already outdated".[40] The PC version has since been patched to greatly decrease loading times and to add two optional inventory slots.[citation needed]

The use of the series' trademark humor received a mixed response. In one regard, some critics such as Team Xbox praised the voice work of Jon St. John, who did an "excellent job as always with Duke's persona",[56] while others such as Machinima.com[57] appreciated the comedic gameplay tips and pop culture references; however, the same critic also noted that "parts of the narrative and dialogue show clear evidence of the game's elongated development. Many pop culture references refer to media in the early 2000s, with one-liners co-opted from 'guy' movies like Old School, Highlander, and Commando, which in itself could cause blank stares from most of the current potential audience."[57] Australian gaming website PALGN felt the game was "saved only by its humor and nostalgic value".[48] Official Xbox Magazine UK thought that the humor "isn't so much offensive or misogynistic as just suffering from an adolescent fixation with boobs and crowbarred-in innuendo". Joystiq noted that the game's multiplayer mode "Capture the Babe", involving "spanking a woman into submission", "really is as painful as it sounds".[47]

One particular section that received considerable criticism is the hive level, in which Duke encounters abducted women who have been forcibly impregnated with aliens. Duke has to kill them before the alien's birth does so. Both the level itself and the inclusion of disembodied, slappable "wall boobs" were listed in GamesRadar's "8 worst moments in Duke Nukem Forever".[58] OXM noted that it "doesn't mesh with the rest of the game's tone at all", and the fact that Duke remains unfazed and continues to crack jokes about the situation was considered "outright revolting", which led to labelling Duke a "thoroughly detestable psychopath" by 1UP and Destructoid respectively.[34][35] Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, in his Zero Punctuation review, found that the level is "as jarring a shift of tone as you can get without splicing five minutes of The Human Centipede into the middle of Mallrats".[59]

Quite a few critics cited the long and fragmented development time as a major factor in the finished product. In a positive review PC Gamer noted that "years of anticipation will spoil Duke Nukem Forever for some", adding, "There’s no reinvention of the genre here, no real attempt at grandeur... Check unrealistic expectations at the door and forget the ancient, hyperbolic promises of self-deluded developers", and concluded, "Don’t expect a miracle. Duke is still the hero we love, but struggles to keep up with modern times."[49] Game Informer, while disappointed in the game, concluded "I'm glad Gearbox stepped up and finished this game, but after hearing about it for 12 years, I have no desire to relive any of it again. I’m now satisfied in my knowledge of what Duke Nukem Forever is and ready to never talk about it again. Welcome back, Duke. I hope your next game (which is teased after the credits) goes off without a hitch."[38] Giant Bomb however concluded that for those "part of that faction that finds yourself so fascinated by this whole project that you need to know how it ends, I recommend you play Duke Nukem Forever for yourself. But I'd practically insist that you do so on the PC and try to wait for a sale. If you're not willing to play a sloppy, cobbled together first-person shooter just because it has some kind of weird historical meaning, though, just forget this ever happened and move on."[60] Jake Denton of Computer and Video Games wrote that parts of the game were fun to play and listed it as one of the "5 most underrated games of 2011", while admitting the game's overall faulty structure.[61] Also Joseph Milne of FPSguru.com featured the game on his list of "Top 5 underrated games" at number 4 on the list.[62]


According to research firm NPD, Duke Nukem Forever sold 376,300 units in its first month (sales results do not include digital copies).[63] Take-Two Interactive, the parent company of 2K Games, revealed in July 2011 that the game sales were half of their initial expectations.[64] However, in an earnings call on August 8, 2011, Take-Two stated that Duke Nukem Forever would prove to be profitable for the company.[65]


In the years since release, Duke Nukem Forever has been cited as one of the worst video games of all time, mainly attributed to its extremely long and arduous development cycle. The Escapist, in their 2016 list of the 8 worst video games of all time, called the game "an example of what happens when the hype is far greater than the quality of the game",[66] and the game was listed on the Kusoge of the Year Wiki[c] as one of the worst games of 2012.[d][68] In a retrospective, Destructoid stated that reactions at the time "ranged from negative to 'I guess it could have been worse,'" and that much of the game's failure was down to its imitation of the first-person shooter contemporaries at the time and that the game "lack[ed] self-awareness."[69] In another retrospective, Screen Rant explained the negative reaction to the game as a result of the time it took to come out, rather than any specific aspect of the final game, with the series's sense of humour being more frowned on than in the eras of its previous entries.[70] Apogee Software founder Scott Miller many years after release called Duke Nukem Forever "the game that destroyed 3D Realms", in response to an earlier build of the game leaking online.[71]

Early build leak[edit]

On May 9, 2022, an unfinished version of Duke Nukem Forever from 2001 leaked online.[72] Broussard confirmed its authenticity on Twitter, stating that he did not know who had leaked it and that "there is no real game to play",[73] in contrary to the claims of the leaker, who said the game was largely complete albeit with many levels missing enemies and objectives.[74][75] Miller, in a post on the Apogee website, stated that "anyone expecting much of a playable game will be disappointed".[71]

The leak includes a remake of Duke Nukem 3D's first level that ends with a sequence taken from the television series Twin Peaks.[76] Writing for Ars Technica, Sam Machkovech found that the gunfights were "surprisingly solid", with "punchy sound design and powerful weapons", and resembled the Soldier of Fortune series.[76] He wrote that the leak included large environments, such as casinos, built to realistic scale, and "play out like a confused team coming to grips with brand-new engine technology, simply building out larger-than-usual levels without yet getting to the crucial stages of balancing".[76]


  1. ^ Additional development by Triptych Games, Gearbox Software, and Piranha Games
  2. ^ Published to Mac by Aspyr
  3. ^ Kusoge (クソゲ) is a Japanese term translated as "shitty games", literally, "Shitty Game of the Year Wiki"
  4. ^ Duke Nukem Forever released in 2012 in Japan.[67]


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