The difficulty level, too, holds things back. The FPS genre has changed considerably while this game was in production, and the plastic surgery scars where the circle-strafing fragfest of old has been augmented to more closely resemble today's shooters are plain to see.
Even on normal difficulty, enemies hit hard and are often able to kill you in a few seconds. It's a game that demands nimble movement and heavy firepower, yet the bulging weapon inventory of old has been replaced by a Halo-style two-weapon limit, often leaving you without the right tool for the job.
Duke's health recharges rather than relying on health packs, a concession to the unbalanced damage, yet this in turn demands a shoot-and-hide approach to combat that turns the game into a cover-shooter without a workable cover system. Duke's style all but demands a hell-for-leather approach, yet you're continually penalised for indulging in that aspect of the character. Instead, you lurk and scurry and backpedal away from every encounter.
Boss battles are particularly egregious, cramming you into restrictively narrow strips of gameplay real estate and then spamming you with enemies and rockets until you squeak through on sheer luck, or find a lucky spot where enemy fire mysteriously fails to hit you.
The game is disturbingly in love with first-person platform jumping, and many of the most annoying sections revolve not around shooting enemies but leaping from pipes and boxes, unsure as to where Duke's invisible body is. There are lengthy, clumsy underwater sequences that make Lara's aquatic excursions seem like the pinnacle of game design. Whether you fall into electrified water, off the edge of a rotating cog or simply run out of air while trying to wriggle Duke through a submerged doorway, the fact that loading times run anywhere from 30 seconds to a full minute makes every unfair death sting even more.
Despite the legendary length of time it has spent in production, Duke Nukem Forever feels terminally unpolished and often unfinished in too many key disciplines to be given a passing grade. When the best new idea on display is running over enemies with a forklift truck, something has gone horribly wrong.
There are some glimmers of the old magic. Instead of a shield, Duke has his ego, which can be permanently enhanced by doing Duke-style things. Pick up a dumbbell and do some bicep curves? You get more ego. Use a PC to look at girly pics? More ego. Admire yourself in a mirror? You get the gist. It's a neat gag, and the idea of someone like Duke literally using his arrogant self-belief as a shield suggests more satirical wit than the rest of the game delivers.
Some gameplay sections also come close to recapturing the simple charms of 1996. A sequence which sees Duke rampaging across desert highways in a monster truck, stopping off at alien-infested ghost towns and gold mines to refuel, maintains a decent rhythm and is a lot of fun. A section where a miniaturised Duke navigates a kitchen by clambering along shelves, hiding behind jars of mayo and leaping over a hot grill on burger bun trampolines is conceptually clever, if blighted by the game's bizarre fascination with first-person jumping.
These are fleeting moments, however, and taken as a whole, Duke Nukem Forever has little hope of ever coming close to the current shooter benchmarks. Even at its best, the game falls far short of its peers and often fails to improve on its now-ancient (yet still brilliant) ancestor.
Multiplayer, an area where a modern Duke game should easily outstrip its past, is poorly handled. Potentially decent maps are ruined by laggy, jerky gameplay and the brazen lack of fresh ideas - deathmatch, capture the flag, king of the hill - means there's no reason to waste your online time for more than one match.