I was 12 when Duke Nukem 3D was released.
12 is exactly young enough to appreciate the series' low-brow humor, yet old enough to adore everything else about the game. Digitized strippers circa 1996 were catnip to my pubescent mind, and even though I had yet to see Roddy Piper's brilliant turn in They Live, when Duke's gravelly baritone spit out "I'm here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I'm all out of bubblegum," I instinctually knew that I was experiencing the pinnacle of pixelated awesome.
In my nostalgic mind, Duke Nukem 3D is a classic.
By contrast, the first draft of my review of Duke Nukem Forever consists of 300 pages of the words "FUCK YOU" scrawled over and over in 72-point Comic Sans.
Hit the jump for the second draft.
I'm contractually obligated to find some positive in everything I cover, so I will grant that developer Gearbox Software has stunned everyone by actually finishing Duke Nukem Forever. Development on the game started nearly 15 years ago, and in that time it had become an industry-wide punchline. My former employers at Wired awarded it the yearly Vaporware crown something like 10 years in a row.
The fact that a new Duke Nukem game is sitting on store shelves right this moment kinda blows my mind. For that, if nothing else, Gearbox deserves propers. Way to go Gearbox! Woo! Yippee! Cue the dancing girls and balloon animals! Weeeee!
Now let's get to trashing the thing.
There are three areas in which DNF fails (and by "fails" I mean "explodes on the launch pad, injuring thousands and killing a family of ducks"). The first area is technological, and given the game's genre (read: cinematic first-person shooter a la Call of Duty) that is a pretty big strike against the title.
It's not just that the graphics in DNF look bad, it's that they look their age. Textures are blurry, models pop into and out of view at random and for the most part, the game looks like it could be released on the original Xbox. I could ignore aesthetics issues if the gameplay was good, but at best the entirety of DNF feels like a collection of ideas (poorly) stolen from earlier, better shooters.
Why does Duke only carry two guns, instead of the arsenal he was packing in '96? Because that's how Halo did it.
There's something to be said for adhering to respected genre conventions, but that last example alone forces players to spend inordinate amounts of time backtracking and juggling weapon load outs for no good reason outside of "because that's how Halo did it."
Quick time events, on-rails sections, vehicular combat; DNF borrows all of these, and none seem to have any substantial gameplay or storytelling purpose. The entire game is like this, really; just a collection of gameplay tropes lashed together purely because they proved lucrative at some point over the last decade.
Admittedly, the actual first-person shooter sections are serviceable, but the "shoot aliens, find door, advance" gameplay is no more complex than the original Half-Life, and far less fulfilling.
The most depressing part of this whole thing is that when you compare DNF and Duke Nukem 3D, the game from 1996 comes out ahead. It looks a bit worse, granted, but for pure exploration, level design and gameplay nuance, Duke's original incarnation is miles ahead of his latest title.
- 2K Games
- Fellatio. Instead of Bellagio. Get it?
So, the graphics are shit and the gameplay is rehashed shit, what's next? Oh right! Duke's patented "humor!"
If you guys have been reading my stuff for any period of time you'll know that I subscribe to the idea that censorship of any kind has no place in comedy. Rape, racism, abortion, homosexuality, the Holocaust; all of these can be funny given the right joke.
Unfortunately, DNF doesn't know any of the right jokes.
I offer two examples to illustrate my point:
Example 1: There are packs of cigarettes in the game whose label features a leather-clad man beneath the word "Faggs." Get it? Because the British call cigarettes "fags" and homosexuals are called "fags" and ... I can't even explain this thing without wanting to hit somebody in the face.
Example 2: One of the game's areas features underage girls who are pregnant as a result of literal alien rape. How do you resolve an unwanted pregnancy? Abortion, of course. And how do you perform an abortion if, instead of a trained medical doctor, you are a pastiche of 80s action hero clichés? Obviously, you shoot the girls until they explode into a hail of bloody chunks. Then, if DNF is any indicator, you casually stroll away while quipping none-too-clever abortion jokes to no one in particular.
There are some severely creepy psychological issues in the whole "hyper muscular man uses renowned phallic symbol to destroy young, overly busty nude woman carrying alien fetus" thing, but by even mentioning such concepts, I run the risk of giving the game far too much credit. The set piece is a provocative stunt by developers who have lost all sense of where the line between "edgy" and "we are all terrible people" should be, nothing more.
No one would accuse me of being the most sensitive guy on the planet, but there were moments where playing this game actively made me feel bad as a person. Say you were having a conversation with your grandfather and instead of praising the Dallas Mavericks, he claims the Heat lost the title because "though the negro has athletic hips, the hot weather in Miami makes their whole species lazy." DNF exudes that same aura of "I wanted to like you, but what the fuck did you just say to me?"
- 2K Games
- Uh ... cock is a funny word? I guess?
This brings us to the third area where DNF fails: Its basic concept.
In 2009, I wrote an article for Wired on why the death of Duke Nukem was a good thing. At the time the game's original developer had been shuttered and it seemed as if DNF would never see store shelves. I claimed that in the new millennia the concept of a protagonist cobbled together entirely of 80s action hero clichés, even if he is supposed to be a parody, is just so incredibly dated as to be totally irrelevant.
In hindsight, the concept itself could work if you had really clever writers, but DNF seems to have confused "wit" with poop jokes and pictures of augmented breasts. That kind of thing might have been funny when I was 12 and too dumb to know any better, but I'm pushing 30 now. Duke's antics are no longer hilarious for the same reason I no longer listen to Limp Bizkit: I grew up.
Some Internet folk argue that this game's offensive nature is purposefully over-the-top in a stab at satirizing the shooter genre itself. I argue that those people are desperately trying to justify their childhood affection for the character, or lessen the subconscious guilt they feel for actually enjoying Duke's childish misogyny. Alternately, that they are all stupid jerkfaces who smell like butt.
Duke Nukem 3D was satire. Duke Nukem Forever is an attempt to appeal to the stereotypical "angry teenage male" gamer with provocative shock tactics.
Maybe there is a demographic that will adore the "humor" in DNF enough to forgive its bullshit gameplay. Maybe they're fueled by equal parts nostalgia and Axe Body Spray. Maybe they find Seth MacFarlane funny.
If you think I'm being a cultural elitist here, so be it. I don't watch Spike TV, I don't use the word "bro" without intense sarcastic overtones, and I've never been accused of date rape. I'm sorry for that, it's just who I am.
Still, I'm hoping Mercury readers would more likely fall into my "cultural elitist" camp than whatever segment of the population might enjoy DNF. If you ladies and gents are half as intelligent and urbane as our ad sales would suggest, I'm begging you, stay the fuck away from this game.
Your $60 would be better spent on food carts, vintage lunchboxes, or a bag of tiny beard combs. Anything but Duke Nukem Forever.