Let Sleeping Dukes Lie

When I was but a lad of 14, I used to play a lot of shareware games. It was much easier to convince my parents to pony up $2 for a disk full of PC games than it was to get them to blow $50 on another NES game. At the time, I was very much into games like Commander Keen and Jill of the Jungle. It was also about this time I played a little game by Apogee Software called Duke Nukem. It was pretty typical of PC platform shooters of the time, but I will confess to enjoying the crap out of it and its sequel. I liked the game’s catchy title and the main character’s crew cut and really didn’t think too much about it after that.

Imagine my surprise 5 years later when Apogee (now 3D Realms) drops another Duke Nukem game. This time, it’s in 3D, the graphics are better than Doom’s, and there are scantily-clad women. Also, he swears. Then I remember I’m 19, and these things aren’t really all that new to me. I regard Duke3D’s more lascivious offerings as an interesting novelty, and move on to more important things. Like blowing up aliens. Even back then I remember rolling my eyes at some of the jokes. Pigcops? Really? And with no other accompanying animal-stereotypes? I was at least expecting to kill some rabid were-weasel lawyers.

It does bear saying, though, that the joke where he threatens to rip off a boss’s head and *OMG S-WORD* down his neck and then does (complete with newspaper to read) may have been the hardest I have ever laughed. If you’re going to go over the top, go all the way.

After that, well, you’re all familiar with the story. Poor ol’ Duke got cancelled and sold to other companies and cancelled and put through the most spectacular development hell any of us have ever heard of. I was incredibly worried the day Duke Nukem Forever came out last month. I was about 12% sure the world was going to end. Conversely, after the Worst Development Cycle Ever, I was over 90% sure Duke Nukem Forever was going to be really terrible.

It wasn’t terrible. It was worse than that. It was disappointing.

What A Difference 15 Years Makes

One of the things that struck me about Duke Nukem Forever is that despite having a new graphics engine (or two, or three), the game hadn’t really changed all that much. With the exception of the new Railgun, the weapons were pretty much unchanged from Duke3D, and they swapped out Duke’s old scuba gear and jetpack for, er, a beer. That’s right, a beer. It makes you tougher, just like in real life. Yes, that’s it. They’ve also cleared Duke to use the F-bomb, which he surprisingly uses less than I thought he might. So many games use swear words as if they’re a feature, as if the first letters were all capitalized and the whole word is emphasized with pauses around them even in mid-sentence. It’s annoying. Duke’s use of profanity is at least moderate and somewhat amusing, but everyone else in the game uses it the way the rest of the industry does. It is annoying.

The pigcops were the first thing that was really different that I noticed. In the old game, they were what looked like very well-kept wereboars dressed as police offers. They ran around and shot at you. In this one, they shoot at you, but they also climb all over everything and can jump great distances to tear your face off and possibly kill you in one hit. Which was all well and good except every time you died, you got chucked out to a loading screen where you would wait around a minute for the level to reload. This happened a lot. With the pigcops, with environmental hazards, with explosives wielded by both you and the baddies. I think I even died of pure frustration once. This load screen almost made me quit playing. I think I probably spent a full 25% of my time with Duke watching him load. Needless to say, in a market full of games where you can roam around a giant city and things are preloading all around you and you rarely (if ever) see a load screen, this is double extra unacceptable.

Wait, You Put What On The Walls?

Then there’s all the Offensive Content everybody is in such a big uproar about. I’ll admit, it’s a few smidges racier than its predecessor, but (once again) this material is just sort of…. there. You see nipples. You are presented with the option to spank a girl. You are allowed to smack breasts the aliens have grown and attached to walls (known as “wall-boobs”). I understand these are very offensive to some people, and I fully support their right to feel this way. I personally find them more confusing than offensive. Walls are mammals now?

I’m Here To Chew Gum And Play Horrible Mini-Games… And I’m All Out Of Gum

No, my problems with Duke Nukem Forever run much deeper than simple counter-misogynistic rage. You see, Duke Nukem Forever could have been a really good game. Problem is, somewhere along the way, they decided to add in lots of weird little extras to the game. Wall-boobs. Pinball machines. Inexplicable RC monster truck races through a casino. The most frustrating game of billiards money can buy. And then they forgot they were living in 2010 and implemented them using a graphics/physics engine that was really not ready for such skylarkings. So, in short, we wind up with a bunch of terrible little extras having spent lots of time that really should have been spent on the stuff in Duke Nukem Forever that really could have used some improvement. Like, for instance, horrendous load times. I’m also extremely disappointed that they implemented an awful little mockery of Balls Of Steel. That alone would have garnered a poor review. I loved that game (especially Mutation!)

Additionally, I really didn’t care much for the level design. Why do so many games make me become an amateur electrician in order to proceed? Duke Nukem Forever was chock full of that kind of level and lots of worse variations on it. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they would have been fun. Sorry, finding a dark barrel in a darker room hidden behind a bunch of stuff to put on a lever, then repeating a bunch of times until the lever works and pigcops come to kill me so I have to do it again (waiting a minute or two between deaths) is not fun.

Another 15 Years Is Probably Okay

I heard today they already have a sequel in the works to Duke Nukem Forever. I sincerely hope they’ve learned their lesson this time, but I kind of doubt it. It’s not as if they were handed a completed game from 1996 and were told to simply upgrade the graphics engine. Terrible development cycle or not, Duke’s keepers made a lot of bad decisions right here in the future, whether they want to believe it or not. There were a few moments of brilliance, but so much frustrating dreck that I can’t even really remember them.

So, yeah. Leave Duke Nukem Alone. Really.

Look on the bright side: it was a lot better than Fable 3.


  1. Shilling says:

    “It’s not as if they were handed a completed game from 1996 and were told to simply upgrade the graphics engine”.

    Actually that is pretty much exactly what happened to Gearbox. They claim to have made the game playable for release but not to have altered any of the content. Who knows how true that is – but lets hope that a Duke game made by Gearbox from the get-go is a whole lot better and goes about it with a fresher attitude (and I mean towards game design and characterization, not just towards women).