" Duke Nukem Forever"(Xbox 360; Rated M; $59.99) is a shame, because somewhere in here is a good game. Somehow, after a storied 14 years of development, a small city's worth of developers, and an unprecedented level of anticipation for a sequel to a 15-year-old game, it feels unfinished.
Most of the Duke's reputation rides on the crude humor that "Duke Nukem 3D" brought into the PC gaming lexicon, and 15 years later, that humor remains intact. The humor is, in fact, cruder and ruder in "Duke Nukem Forever" than it ever was in "Duke Nukem 3D," owing equally to an audience less susceptible to shock and the possibilities afforded by the current generation of consoles and PCs. That it is often misogynist is no surprise, because that's just Duke; that it crosses the line into making a punch line out of women getting killed is kind of revolting.
Still, while the "humor" might have inspired the lasting image of Duke, it's the freedom that "Duke Nukem 3D" offered that made the game stand out. Playing it wasn't about simply winning, it was about exploring vast, interestingly designed levels with lots of opportunities for interaction.
There are parts of "Duke Nukem Forever" that offer that same sort of thrill. Walking into a room and seeing Duke's pinball machine is an exciting moment, because "Duke Nukem" veterans know it's going to be playable. You can play pinball, lift weights, drive RC cars and get behind the controls of very large contraptions with very large guns. There is a lot that Duke can do other than run and shoot.
The problem is that until you find these moments, there are long stretches of walking around bland environments with nothing to do. There's plenty of running and gunning, but even in the action-oriented levels, slow-moving puzzles are thrown in that upend the pace of the game. Whenever you're starting to have fun, you can almost be assured that something is going to cut in, turning the experience into a boring slog.
It's unfortunate that the developers thought they had to resort to the sort of humor that goes beyond satire into the realm of bad taste. For a character like Duke Nukem, however, being boring is a far bigger crime. - MS
Racing and a movie tie-in
Of all video game genres, racing is maybe the least flexible in the big-picture sense. The basic experience is always the same - race your car (or truck or boat) against others cars (or 'bots or podracers) and get to the finish line first. Unlock new track. Rinse. Repeat.
Play enough racing games, and you start to appreciate titles that expand on the theme. " Cars 2" (DS/Mac/PC/PS3/X360/Wii; Rated E10, $49.99) is a fast and fun title that adds a generous amount of bonus gaming material to the usual racing experience.
The game is based around events in the "Cars 2" sequel, and shares the film's preoccupation with pyrotechnics. Whether in career or quick-race mode, weapons are a big part of every track/level. You can eventually unlock and race up to 35 different characters from the movie - including Mater or Lightning McQueen - and weapons are in loony, cartoony, Mario Kart style. Oil slicks. Skateboard bombs. Orbital lasers. This sort of thing.
Playing on PS3, I was impressed at how the designers mix familiar elements to maximize the game's fun quotient. For one thing, four-player split screen is supported in all modes. Considering the easy-to-learn control scheme, it turns out that "Cars 2" a great party game. (No online play, however).
Put some hours into solo play, and the game proves to be surprisingly deep as well. The spy missions in career mode are varied and creative, and track designs makes the most of exotic locales in Tokyo, Monaco, London and good old Radiator Springs. Additional play modes are unlocked later in the game, including a very fun capture-the-flag type event that moves the game into the realm of tactical combat.
All in all, it's a generous package for a movie tie-in title. Polished and professional, "Cars 2" is a solid option for fans of arcade and kart racing. Put in the hours, and you'll unlock even more pleasant surprises. - GM