Contemporary Graphics Cards in Duke Nukem Forever

A new game with the old name. Good old ingredients in a new recipe. Duke Nukem Forever make become another milestone in the development of the genre, or be yet another short-term entertainment. Time will show what its destiny is going to be, but we are really interested to find out how greatly the most anticipated game of the summer 2011 may determine your graphics sub-system upgrade options.

by Yaroslav Lyssenko
06/20/2011 | 10:49 AM

The only time they really mean it: PEGI 18+


First off, we will not exercise in irony concerning the very long time it took Duke Nukem Forever to be made. After all, no less than three generations of gamers have ironized on this topic starting from the end of the last century. The only project that might be compared to Duke Nukem Forever in this respect is the legendary S.T.A.L.K.E.R. which, despite the numerous delays and postponements, managed to make it to shop shelves and win users’ hearts. So, what about Duke Nukem?


Well, the king is back. Everything we liked so much about the 1996 version is here and now once again. The new version has got a vigorous plot with loads of black humor, appropriate sarcasm, below-the-belt jokes and a lot of unconventional ways to kick those impudent aliens' ass.


A Wild West sheriff using an arsenal of mega-weapons to fight invaders from space was a spectacular fantasy that enjoyed a cult following in the end of the last century. But what has Duke got in store for us today? The aliens are defeated, Los Angeles is saved (although partially destroyed), and Duke is a recognized hero and favorite of the public. Where do we go next?

Duke Nukem Forever

If you’ve been expecting any changes, that’s not your game. Duke is back, and he’s the same age and image with his red T-shirt, sunglasses, flat-top haircut, and a pair of kickass boots.



In the process of the game you will fight a horde of aliens that are bent on taking the Las Vegas gambling business, and Duke is the only hero who can save the world, without much political correctness and humanism. Unfortunately for the aliens, they had chosen a wrong city. And, besides taking away all cute girls, they also infringed on the holy of holies, Duke’s favorite beer. That’s not something that can be easily forgiven.



The gameplay is full of fun and Serious Sam-like humor and each level is filled with various puzzles and interactive objects, like in the Portal or Half-Life series. You can play billiards, use gambling machines or taste some other traditional Las Vegas entertainment.

If you can still recall the old Duke, you will be glad to see some old tricks here. If not, you will surely like all those magnifiers and freezers but the main trick is of course trampling the enemy down with Duke’s boots. And just in case, there are always a couple of rockets in Duke’s pockets.

Game Engine

We were highly surprised to see ATI Radeon HD 3850 and Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS on the list of graphics cards recommended for Duke Nukem Forever by its developer. The cards are almost four years old, suggesting that the game visuals are far from the standards and beauties of the latest DirectX.

However, it is often the case that system requirements are set lower in order to cover a larger user audience. The game being a multiplatform project is yet another factor because it is the G80 and R600 processors that are responsible for graphics in such game consoles as Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360.

The game engine isn't something extraordinary. It is in fact the good old Unreal Engine 2.5 that has undergone some serious modifications in the hands of 3D Realms. The developers say that they didn't touch only those parts of the engine that were responsible for the event triggering and character scripting system as well as for multiplayer. The AI and the texture-mapping and model animation parts of the engine have been rewritten. The character models are based on normal maps and incorporate from 500 thousand to a million polygons.


It is textures that are a disappointment. The lack of details can be easily seen even on such simple surfaces as walls and floors at the popular resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. It is also sad that the game supports DirectX 9, so we can't expect such effects as tessellation or complex version 5 shaders. Instead, it makes use of version 3.0 shaders whereas the shadows and lighting are on a par with Doom 3.

Tesbed Configuration and Testing Methodology

We are going to test the graphics performance using the following universal testbed:

We used the following ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce drivers:

The ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce graphics card drivers were configured in the following way:

ATI Catalyst:

Nvidia GeForce:

The image quality in the game was set to the maximum.

The games configuration files weren’t modified in any way, because the ordinary user doesn’t have to know how to do it. We ran our tests in the following multimedia resolutions: 1600x900, 1920x1080 and 2560x1600.

Here are the cards that participated in our today’s test session.

Premium Category

Performance Category

Mainstream Category

We measured the average and minimum performance using Fraps utility version 3.4.5. Each test scenario was repeated three times and the average value of the three runs was taken for the analysis, as always.


Premium Category

Frankly speaking, we hadn’t expected today's superfast graphics cards to be so slow in a game whose basic code was written back in 2004. On the other hand, we can't say that the premium-class products from AMD and Nvidia do not cope with their job. The dual-chip Radeon HD 6990, although at first slower than the GeForce GTX 580, improves its standing and goes ahead at the higher resolutions. If you’ve got a GeForce GTX 590, you’ll have to wait for a new driver and/or SLI profile. The game didn’t produce any visual artifacts while running on that card, but you can see that it only makes use of one out of the two GPUs.

So, these graphics cards deliver high performance, especially if you don't use high resolutions.

Performance Category

It is Nvidia’s Fermi architecture that dominates this market sector. The GeForce GTX 570 and GTX 560 Ti beat their opponents at the two lower resolutions. As for 2560x1600, you will need to overclock your GeForce GTX 570 or 560 series card to get a playable frame rate.

AMD’s products are somewhat slower, yet make the game playable, too. The Radeon HD 6950 can be overclocked to deliver over 60 fps at the highest resolution, for example.  The rest of the cards are worse. The Radeon HD 6870 falls behind the GeForce GTX 560 Ti in average frame rate by at least 12%. The Radeon HD 6850 shouldn't be recommended for playing this game at the maximum settings because it only delivers 50 fps in the Full-HD mode.

Mainstream Category

If you cannot afford expensive hardware, the choice of a graphics card for playing Duke Nukem Forever is obvious. Depending on your brand loyalty, you can choose either the AMD Radeon HD 5770 or the Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti. Both can deliver 60 fps and more at the lowest of the tested resolutions. With some lowering of the graphics quality settings, these cards can also ensure a playable frame rate at 1920x1080. Oddly enough, the outdated engine of the game turns out to have very high system requirements.

If you want to run Duke Nukem Forever on a low-end graphics card, you will have to give up FSAA or FXAA as well as certain special effects. Even AMD’s latest product Radeon HD 6670 cannot cope with the game at the highest graphics quality settings.

Graphics Quality Tests

We used the following settings for this test:


Despite its respectable age, the game engine generates high load for the GPU. However, you won't be captivated with spectacular visuals even if you enable the highest settings possible.


The situation resembles the 1996 version of the game which used to be inferior to other titles in visuals, but offered other advantages instead. Duke Nukem Forever seems to have not been meant to be an eye-candy, either.

Take note that the speed of the CPU does not affect the frame rate much.


The visuals get better with enabled FSAA, and we can see the differences between the antialiasing algorithms well enough. Thanks to the smaller area of application the FSAA mode provides a speed boost of 10-15%. On the other hand, we must admit that the game engine is not always good at choosing the part of the 3D scene to be left intact.

Again there is no need for a fast CPU.


The overall image quality doesn’t change much after we switch to lower-quality textures and shadows. Textures are rather lacking in quality irrespective of the setting. There is almost no difference between the ultra and high texture mode. Lowering the quality of shadows is more conspicuous as some objects lose their shadows right away. The lack of FSAA shows up in the weapons and Duke’s hands.

Here, the CPU seems to have a higher effect on the frame rate. The game runs 3 to 8% faster on the faster CPU.


Considering the high frame rate in this mode, we guess that few people will want to play at the Medium settings. The differences in image quality are negligible and can hardly be spotted with a naked eye. The most conspicuous of them are the lack of shadows from NPCs and the protagonist. You can easily do without them, so the Medium settings are going to help you improve the frame rate by 10-25%. You can also get some more speed by overclocking your CPU.


This seems to be the only game mode which differs dramatically from others. The visuals are far from appealing here. However, you may try to play it, especially if you don’t care about post effects, motion blur, filmgrain, etc. The CPU doesn’t affect the frame rate in this case.


Can Duke Nukem Forever make a competitor to highly professional titles such as Battlefield, Call of Duty and Crysis? Well, no. It does not even come close to these recognized bestsellers. The new game in the Duke Nukem series does not even try to compete with them and targets, oddly enough for its 18+ rating, a much larger audience.

Like a decade and a half ago, Duke Nukem is a breath of fresh air in a rather stale world of first-person shooters which is overcrowded with WW2 games and special troop missions. It does not offer anything really new or revolutionary. It is just a simple and easy game you may want to play for a couple of hours after your work, just to relax.

Today’s graphics cards are quite good helpers on your mission of kicking aliens' ass. The GeForce GTX 580 is the best, beating the Radeon HD 6990 even. The game’s engine doesn’t work smoothly with multi-GPU solutions as yet. Neither the GeForce GTX 590 nor the mentioned Radeon HD 6990 can run it properly.

The affordable Fermi-based solutions are also better for playing this game than their AMD opponents. The GeForce GTX 560 Ti will suffice if you do not care about high resolutions like WQXGA. It doesn’t mean that AMD products are hopeless, though. The Radeon HD 6950 and the Radeon HD 6870 can also be used to enjoy Duke Nukem Forever.

The entry-level products find the modified Unreal Engine 2.5 rather difficult to run. You can only get a playable frame rate with a Radeon HD 5770 or a GeForce GTX 550 Ti. The latter’s rather high performance might be expected but the old Juniper-based card is quite a surprise.

Today’s games do not care much about your CPU, Duke Nukem Forever being a good example. At the maximum graphics quality settings we had roughly the same frame rate irrespective of the CPU. So, investing into your graphics card would be a better option than purchasing a new CPU if you want to upgrade especially for this game.

Now, don’t forget to pour yourself a glass of whisky and light a cigar. The king is back and we're up to some hot fighting indeed, waiting for new Blood and Shadow Warrior.