I wasn’t fast enough to claim the review for Duke Nukem Forever for our site, but on playing it, I realised I still had a few things I wanted to say about it. So I figured I’d jot out a few thoughts that crossed my mind as I kicked some alien ass. Check out our full review here.
The game has a pretty lengthy legacy behind it, and with such a long development time people have built up an unreasonable set of expectations, one which no game – or almost any product, really – can meet. It seems unfair, then, for the general response to be “it’s been 14 years in the making, how can there be flaws?” The game has undergone a frankly ridiculous number of engine and staff changes, and obviously, computer technology has advanced exponentially since the initial announcement in 1997. The fact that it’s out at all is an achievement, and with the constant problems it’s unclear how much Gearbox had to work with when they took over development last year. My guess is that much of what we see today is the result of Gearbox’s team, which should all but put the “14 years for this?!” complaint to bed.
Props to fellow Capsule writer Michael Marr, who handled the review for the game and didn’t judge it solely on the time it took.
That said, the game has some flaws, but nothing game-breaking. I found movement to be a little stiff and unresponsive, the graphics are a few years behind what we’re used to, and some lines of dialogue are clunky.
No doubt the worst mistake the game makes is in hinting at clever ideas, then undermining them. The health system is the perfect example. Duke doesn’t lose physical health when he’s attacked; instead, getting hurt lowers Duke’s Ego. He can rebuild his Ego by checking himself out in the mirror, lifting weights, winning at air hockey, hitting on chicks, or by defeating enemies and bosses with special execution moves. This makes for some interesting health mechanics, where you need to stay in the fight to replenish your Ego – very Duke Nukem. If there isn’t a fight going on, reflective surfaces and heavy items can help him get his mojo back. It sure is more fun than health packs.
Unfortunately, this unique system is rendered completely unnecessary by the video game cliché of regenerating health. Simply stay out of danger for a few seconds, and your Ego is fully charged again. Crouching behind a bench, avoiding enemies, is not what the Duke would do. This is just one of the missed opportunities for the game to stand out.
It has been argued that the current video game climate has outgrown Duke Nukem’s immaturity in his 14 year absence. I’d argue that the industry needs the Duke right now, to serve up some satirical self-evaluation. Games are too preoccupied with epic stories, action and graphics at the moment, and the Duke himself parodies the countless hardened, space marine heroes we’re so used to. Master Chief, Marcus Fenix, and everyone in Call of Duty are one-dimensional, hardened douchebags anyway, and fairly immature as far as “developed” characters go. The Duke pushes much further in the same direction, but does so with a self-awareness that makes him a far more compelling character than he (or his creators) would ever let on.
But you know what? Just play it, and have fun. Don’t get offended, don’t do as Duke does, and don’t expect the world from the game. Just have fun. Is that too much to ask?
It’s unlikely that the industry jokes on the 14-year development cycle will ever completely fade away. But the Duke’s a big boy – he’ll shrug it off, grab a beer and a babe and kick a pig’s face in. And that’s why we hail to the self-appointed king.