By YukoAsho 6 Comments
I've said most of what I have to say about Duke Nukem Forever in my review, so go look at that if you'd like to see my detailed thoughts about the game itself. This is going to be more personal. My memories of Duke Nukem 3D were of the PlayStation version, Duke Nukem: Total Meltdown. The frame rate was choppy, atrocious in some spots, but what kept me coming back was the imaginatively-realized dystopian sci-fi world. I played through the entirety of the three main eps and much of the PlayStation exclusive episode, enthralled by this game. Eventually, I'd play the other two exclusive PlayStation games, Time to Kill and Land of the Babes, even dipping my toes in Duke Nukem 64 (a somewhat censored version of DN3D) and Zero Hour, before eventually finding better versions of DN3D on the Saturn and PC and playing Manhattan Project. No matter how fun and crazy the other games were, though, it was DN3D that I most came back to. It was a witty, clever, innovative standard-bearer, carrying with it the promise of better things in the future.
A funny thing happened on the way to the future, however. Despite Broussard's claims to the contrary, the countless engine changes and the weird amalgamation of concepts stolen from other games over the years points at a crushing desire to be that standard-bearer once again, never realizing that what made that classic game so special was that it was the right game at the right time. It had its own ideas that made sense at that point in the first-person shooter genre's development. It was, for lack of a better term, a happy accident. These are the sort of things that don't happen all the time - that's what makes these games so special in the first place. It's not something you can force, and that just seems to be what happened here.
Duke Nukem Forever is an amalgamation of ideas taken from other shooters throughout the generations, but worse than that, it recycles the least important parts of Duke Nukem 3D while ignoring the things that made it great. It wasn't a Duke Nukem game - it didn't have a lot of action, its levels were neither fun to explore nor fight in, none of the insane number of interactive objects were fun to play with, and the humor was damning in its sheer flatness. It was equal parts puerile and dated, like watching an old Adam Sandler movie. In short, it delivers in no way on the promise of what fans wanted - a Duke Nukem 3D sequel.
It's often said that franchises are nothing more than cash-ins, offering nothing over previous games, but that's not always the case. An established franchise is a framework. It gives a general guideline of expectations, as well as room to improve, and even to deliver a pleasant surprise here and there. A good developer tending to a good franchise will neither drill the concept into the ground, nor will it completely rip out the guts and offend the fans. It's a delicate balance. It's funny then, that this game manages to do both at the same time.
I guess the moral of this whole putrid episode is that, while innovation is important, it can't be forced. There's no way to pump out innovation without iteration. Not every game is going to have new ideas, and getting wrapped up in trying to innovate only frustrates and, ironically, blocks innovation in its own way.
Cliff Bleszinski once said that games should be fun first and innovative second. After seeing the cluster that Duke Nukem Forever became in the search for the brass ring, I can't help but agree with Cliffy. Innovation happens on its own if developers are focused on fun.