james debate
james debate

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Developed by 3D Realms, Gearbox Software
Published by 2K Games
Genre First Person Shooter
Platform PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Mac OSX

Well here’s a headline I never thought I’d see. After 14 long years the highly anticipated and much ridiculed continuation of the Duke Nukem series has arrived.

duke nukem forever

Not to dwell too much on the absurdity of the protracted production cycle that has become the stuff of comedians and journalistic scorn, but this really is one of those stories that falls into the category of “too ridiculous to be true”.

Originally due out before the turn of the millennium, 3D Realm’s obsession with the cutting edge led to repeated delays as the developer sought to shoehorn into the game the latest in first person shooter vogue. When Halo came out, they decided they needed regenerative health (which has since become the norm), when Half Life 2 came out, they decided to include physics puzzles and driving sections. Time and time again this game was torn up and reshaped the name of some misguided pursuit of perfection.

3D Realms were digging themselves into a hole. With an approach and time scale like this, not only would it have been impossible to ever live up to expectations, but with so many complete overhauls and updates, the chances of the end product being even vaguely cohesive or polished was pretty low. It had become pretty much assumed that this game would never see the light of day, and when Gearbox Software bought the IP and pledged to finally release the game this year, there were many who felt that it should have stayed that way.

To an extent these fears may have been well founded, but as it turns out, not as much as some would have you think.

Duke Nukem begins in a suitably bombastic style, with plenty of crude humour and pop culture references to go around, and it sets the tone straight away. Urination, fellatio, pot shots at various celebrities all mark the opening segment of the game, and for fans of the series, it’s pretty fun. However, once the shooting begins it becomes apparent at just how dated a product this really is. This game is really 14 years old and it’s noticeable. The graphics may have been brushed up a bit, but it’s all so rough around the edges, and the shooting mechanics themselves feel unrefined. Add to this a rather inelegant and undeveloped series of features from regenerative health to a clumsy interface and unnecessary driving sections which lead one to wonder if there’s much else here aside from the jokes. The only positive innovation to be found is Duke’s “ego” meter, which fills as the player engages in various Duke-like activities, and I’ll leave you to guess what they might be.

The crux of this criticism lies on the uneasy marriage between old school game play and the staples of modern shooters, and what makes it particularly strange is just how unnecessary a debate it is. Love him or hate him, the defining feature of Duke is that he is an anachronism, a remnant of 80s action genre films, complete with outdated sensibilities, arrogant swagger and witty, but often crude one-liners. This being the case, it is somewhat bizarre that the game would be so desperate to integrate modern features of video games which simply don’t fit, rather than embracing the archaic simplicity of its video game forebears as it does the cinematic.

Ultimately there’s too much time here spent trying to imitate more serious first person shooting games, entirely missing the point of what made Duke Nukem so great to begin with. The true character of Duke Nukem came from the ability to do humorous and fun things, unusual and often pointless though they may be. In Duke Nukem 3D one could use sinks and toilets to regain health, give dollar bills to strippers, use candy machines, ride roller coasters and generally interact with your environment in ways that were quite unique at the time. The environment was really a bigger attraction than the shooting game itself. Such an element is clearly not as special in this day and age as it was 20 years ago, but without it all you really have is a mediocre shooting game with some off colour jokes.

Classic Duke silliness
Pop culture references

Misses the point of Duke

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