By Steparnicus 27 Comments
So after watching the Quick Look today of the Duke Nukem DLC, the question of "where do they go from here" really made me start to wonder.
I'll admit it right from the top here; I was a really big fan of Duke Nukem. I remember how Duke Nukem 3D blew my mind when I first played it; the puerile humor was pitched just right for me as a young adolescent, and the “edgy” elements were quite the talking point between me and my friends. The shooting was solid for the era, and I had my fair share of enjoyable Dukematches. The macho stupidity of Duke and his B-Movie quips was somewhat endearing at the time, and his representation as a hero was something I accepted and agreed with to an extent.
In the lead up to the release of Duke Nukem Forever, having occasionally dipped into the saga of its development hell, I found myself quite excited to finally play it. I even played through Duke Nukem 3D in its entirety the week before it finally shipped. However, I wasn’t for a second expecting a quality product, but a little glimmer of hope still remained.
As we all know, Duke Nukem Forever wasn’t a good game; but it was by no means a terrible game. It was all it could have been: a mash up of half-realised ideas, strung together in a disjointed way that can only be expected of a game developed over 14 years. Video games in general evolved over the course of its development, let alone the first person shooter genre itself. This left Duke Nukem Forever feeling painfully dated at its core, meaning anything they tried to add to bring it up to date just came across as a disappointment. Even having the experience of Duke Nukem 3D fresh in my mind, it all just felt wrong.
Two games in particular last year proved that you can be dumb, but still have quality gameplay and genuine comedy. Namely, Saints Row the Third and Shadows of the Damned. Saints Row had dildo jokes, Shadows of the Damned had a dumptruck full of dick jokes, and both games had egotistical, larger than life protagonists. Both games also had their fair share of pop culture references, all of which we would come to expect from a Duke Nukem game. Both games were also fun to play, but had the odd snag along the way that detracted from them somewhat.
What was it about these games that made them appear on Game of the Year top 10 ten lists, but left Duke Nukem so far of the mark it was untrue? Is it possible to make a good Duke Nukem game?
One major thing to note is that it’s okay to be juvenile and crass; you just have to be smart about it. In Saints Row, there was the general feeling of being knowingly inane, and pulling it off to an extent that was so exaggerated that it became funny in itself. All the one liners and various set pieces of silliness were pulled off with a pinch of irony that made you distanced from what was happening and allowed the player to sit back and find it amusing. Comparing the autograph sequences from SR3 and DNF alone will give you an idea of how it’s done right and wrong respectively. In SR3 there was the benefit of having Josh Birk, the intentionally cringeworthy character deliver the “would you like me to sign your breasts” line that flops. Compare this with Duke Nukem’s autograph moment that has you, the protagonist, delivering a flimsy steroids gag that just plain shouldn’t have been saiIn Shadows of the Damned there was a similar device used through the character of Johnson, who was on hand to offset the garish actions of the over the top Garcia (fucking) Hotspur, in a way that the player could identify with….and be a pretty cool floating, burning skull who also happens to be a gun and a motorbike in his own right. I think a problem that Duke has is that he is a larger than life character in a pretty bland world, there needs to be more personality injected into his surroundings and the characters he interacts with to make him seem relevant. There needs to be the ability to relate to or indeed distance the player from the world that the game is creating that will allow the lewdness feel more pertinent, something that was sadly missing from DNF.
Aside from the obvious clumsy and dated elements of DNF’s gameplay, the game checked the boxes of what a first person shooter should include (mainly, shooting dudes) it just didn’t do it well. Shooting things just didn’t feel good, the movement was vague and the feedback of shooting bullet sponge after bullet sponge really didn’t work well at all. Not to mention that in DNF, all the action set pieces were tacked-on at best and very easy to fail, and had a distinct lack of flair or humor to them. There was no jumping out of a helicopter to the sound of Kanye West to murder a penthouse full of people, instead there was pulling the brake on a falling elevator to the sound of repeated failure. In Shadows of the Damned and Saints Row, we can see the two extremes of either having a good, focused experience, or a range of well honed varied experiences put together. DNF seemed to want to tow the line between both, having linear corridor shooting mixed with disjointed vehicle sections trying to give a sense of a bigger world. In order to make Duke better they really need to tie it down to one or the other, or it will smack of being spread too thin. (Oh and no ‘underwater’ sections, not even ironically.)
In my opinion taking leaves out of these respective games' books could help Duke Nukem become better. They were great examples of games that had common values with what made Duke Nukem enjoyable in the first place, but did it in a way that works. I'm not saying that I want to see a Duke Nukem GTA clone or turn it into a 3rd person shooter, I still want it to be Duke Nukem; but I want to see it done with flair, and to give the franchise the follow up to Duke Nukem 3d that we all deserve.
I think a great set up for the next Duke Nukem game would have an explosive beginning, where Duke ends up falling, and he would have to fall hard. It would be a great narrative device as it would parallel the feeling among the gaming community at large. Imagine seeing Duke start off in a world where he is no longer “The King”. It would be great to see his downfall start at the hands of a charismatic antagonist, be it a larger than life villain or a new hero to taking him off the top spot against a new threat. Then you can build from there both through narrative and through gameplay, to take Duke from the gutter back to greatness, be it through a focused and tight experience like Shadows of the Damned (minus janky big boner sequences) where the core shooting and level design are responsive and coherent; or through a more open ended experience where all the bizarre interactions and varied activities are realized together in a world that takes on a life of its own.
It’s just a starting point, and maybe I haven’t thought this through as well as I could have, but I know that there’s got to be some way to make a good Duke Nukem game ,and I really want a legitimate excuse to be able to bet on Duke again!