By Demoskinos 47 Comments
May 7th 2009 a day that many will remember as the day Duke Nukem almost died. After 12 years of highs and lows the news that 3D Realms and Duke Nukem Forever were in dire trouble trickled across the Internet. Many met the news by succumbing to the gnawing feelings of apathy that had every so slowly built up after heartbreak after heartbreak.
The faithful few Duke fans left lamented the death of their hero and his fall from grace. Seemingly being labeled as forever as the joke of the video game industry. No matter what side of the coin you were on that day it seemed as if Duke was gone forever. Fast forward to May 2011 and since then Gearbox Software helmed by Randy Pitchford coming of the outstanding success of Borderlands snatches up the Duke franchise and as of this writing the game has gone gold and we are exactly 17 days away from an actual retail release.
So whats the whole point of this diatribe you say? Well, lately I’ve heard numerous people both in the press and amongst the unwashed masses of gamers themselves making off the cuff remarks on how Duke Nukem Forever is going to be horrible.Don’t get me wrong everyone has a definite right to have an opinion. In this case however I just feel that people are barking about something that they would have hated regardless. Gearbox has been pretty transparent that they are finishing Duke Nukem Forever for exactly two reasons.
The largest of the reasons being all the hard working men and women that worked at 3D realms that worked on this game for so long. Randy Pitchford of Gearbox got his start at none other than 3D realms and Duke 3D was in fact his first project. It goes without saying that for many there are seemingly deep emotional ties to the Duke franchise.
I’ve heard phrases like “this game is so 1999” being used in conjunction with describing the games design. And quite honestly... they are right. Duke Nukem Forever is a 2011 game with the soul of a 1999 game. This fact alone is what makes the game so seemingly polarizing. I’m sure many will look at the game as being archaic and badly designed. Especially after coming off of games like Call of Duty Black ops and Halo Reach both games that are good in their own rights.
Duke however isn’t from that ilk of game. Modern shooters strive to be big budget and cinematic and have progression in multiplayer and huge set peices and the biggest baddest graphic engines. Duke however is about the game. Oddly enough, 1999 was the first time I got my hands on Duke Nukem and I was 14yrs old. Now yes, looking back at 14 I really shouldn’t have been playing Duke and it wasn’t from lack of my mother trying to stop me from playing it either.
Regardless, I was fascinated by the game. It was’nt the first FPS game I had played those honors go to Goldeneye 007. However, it was the first FPS game captured my attention so readily. A good portion of what attracted my 14yr old mind to the game is the obvious gratuitous boobs and violence. I never proper owned a copy of the game and honestly never even played the PC version as I was only ever able to play the N64 version of the game. I had wondered for years afterward if my attraction and fond memories for the game were simply as shallow as the violence and the overt sexuality the game pushes.
Luckily Microsoft released Duke Nukem 3D on XBLA a wonderfully adapted PC port that seemingly kept the original PC game in tact. About this same time i was shelved in bed for about a week as I was recovering from a surgery to repair a hernia. I was excited to try the game out again and see if my childhood fascination with the game held up a good 9 years later.
I suprisingly tore into the game with a intense vigor with a smile on my face eager to get to the next level. What hit me in the days to come is exactly why I like Duke Nukem and why the game has stuck with me as a seminal game.I think first and foremost the level design is what really sets Duke Nukem over the top for me. Unlike modern shooters that keep pushing you forward to see “the next big set peice” many FPS games of this era like Duke and Doom before it were surprisingly as much about exploration as they were shooting baddies.Having a huge playground with tons of secrets to explore was always one of the joys of the shooters of the era. I remember watching my cousin play the game and showing me secret doors and switches that I would have never found otherwise. The back and forth of finding secrets and sharing them was a staple of gaming at that time.
No matter if it was impressing your friends in Mortal Kombat with the secret fatality you found or finding a secret room in Duke Nukem the community mind share of the local gaming scene was a fun thing to be part of.The other part of Duke Nukem that I find holds up for me at least that separates it from Doom and other games of that generation that had similar exploration parts is that Duke Nukem was and still is funny.
The literal take of some of the jokes like mutant pigs that just happen to be “cops” were honestly pretty funny. Duke himself is a parody unto a parody of every 80’s action star conglomerated into a single person. His lines are intentionally cheesy and completely and overtly ripped from other movies. Being so mired in 80’s and 90’s movies like Army of Darkness,They Live and Die Hard among others its obvious that Duke’s largest fan base most likely wasn’t born anytime after 1990.
In the 15 years since Duke 3D was released game design has obviously and significantly progressed and for the better. Among the shuffle into true 3D and the arms race to have the most realistic graphics with the most features I think some of the elegant parts of video games were lost. Games that are not afraid to be nothing more than just a game. Epic games alongside People Can Fly recently released Bulletstorm to much fan fare. Now while I don’t know if the guys at Epic or PCF are Duke fans I can say I think they felt much the same about the state of games. Bulletstorm was a fantastic game and while it still has many of the modern game tropes it also felt like a distinct callback to games like Duke Nukem that were’nt afraid to be silly and fun for the sake of being fun.
The obvious reality is that games are never going to be the way they used to be. That's quite alright in my book. All mediums progress and grow and change is good. And since we’ve spent the last 15 years playing games like Halo, Call of Duty, Rainbow Six and others its no surprise that a game like Duke Nukem feels lost in time. I can’t speak for every Duke fan out there but I can say that I don’t expect Duke Nukem Forever to go toe to toe with the other big games this year. Hell, I don’t expect it to even sell all that well.
I’m just glad that this game exists, period. If all I get is a 5-8hr journey down memory lane this time in splendid HD I’ll be pretty content. Duke Nukem Forever is the embodiment of 1999 game design and thats all it really needs to be. A quick hello to the yesteryear of what games used to be. All the fanfare glitz and glamor will be gone as soon as the salvo of big hitters start banging down the proverbial floodgates. I will be glad I had my time with Duke. He is like the friend I drifted away from. Sure, we might not have much in common anymore and we don’t hang out but its good to say hello to an old friend that you used to know.
And that's why Duke Nukem Forever (probably) isn’t for you. You might have just moved on or you might have just never been around when Duke was and that's okay. For us that do well, we’re all ready to kick ass and chew bubblegum and well... you know the rest or maybe you don’t and that's okay.