Duke Nukem Forever Reader Review
I liked The Expendables.
What I liked about it was we've come to that acceptance that a brainless action movie isn't a bad thing anymore. Sure, we have Inception which shows us blockbuster movies can be high-brow and as deep as the San Andreas fault, but you don't always WANT to be intellectually challenged. Sometimes you just want to kick back with some good friends and sit in a theatre and watch big pretty explosions.
Gaming today is littered with the ilk as well - Halo, Gears of War, Bulletstorm, Dead Space, FEAR... sure, most of the heroes have the depth and complexity of a single-celled organism. Sure, the plots are so weak they couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag with the aid of a chainsaw. And sure, much like their real-life counterparts, they have the acting capacity of a block of rotting tofu. No offence to the tofu.
But lest we forget, in 1996 we were graced with Duke Nukem 3D. Duke himself was a parody of a dying breed of action heroes, as Arnie and Stallone were beginning to hit the limits of their genres and settled into formulaic setups. Where they had become complacent, Duke mocked them. To a world still struggling to come to terms with how movies were pushing the boundries, Duke was doing the same with the video game industry - and boy, did the conservative parenthood of the era hate it! Which was part of the charm as well - my grandfather hated it! Therefore, as a teenager, I loved it.
The thing is, we've changed. We're not so easily shocked or offended (despite what the Daily Mail may want you to believe) and we HAVE Gears of War, Halo, Dead Space et al. And despite some small appearances, this is the first proper Duke game since Duke Nukem 3D - a whopping 15 years later!
Let's clear this up here. In no way is Duke Nukem Forever a bad game. It's not the best game out there, it's not the worst game out there or even released this year. It's a perfectly servicable eight or so hours of brainless fun.
It's all typically retro in its attempt to shock us. From the opening, you're prompted to piss into a urinal and it gets steadily more silly from there. The humour is crass, crude and obnoxious and I used to love that - but then, I remember we have Bulletstorm. Which IS funny. Loud. Crude. Obnoxious. And infinitely better written.
Gameplay wise, it is a confusing mish-mash. If you play this as Duke Nukem 3D, the game will punish you. But it hasn't got a cover-based system like modern games, so firefights are shoot stuff and then run away for your health to automatically regenerate. Duke is an egotistical dick and this style of play just doesn't click. Also the two-gun setup, I understand, was to add something "modern" to the mix - but when certain situations require certain guns, and you have to hope that correct gun is in the vicinity, you may have missed the point a little of why people use the mechanic in the first place.
It's not as pretty as a modern game - but then, this is what 3D Realms left behind, not what Gearbox made, so we'll have to accept this is a 2008 game being released in 2011. It's not as slick, or as polished. It's got glaring bugs. The load times are inexcusably long for a game of this type. The difficulty spikes are all over the place, which suggest things may have been rejigged around at some point. Turret sections provide some relief, but the driving sections handle with all the grace and poise of a man with his penis stuck in a paper shredder. Buffing the ego meter is sometimes a case of trial and error, even when you know what to do, when and why. The story is implausible, the voice acting is inexcusable, and the vulgarity makes it almost entirely impenetrable.
So as a game, it's a bit pants. But it's hardly a surprise - we knew all of this was coming. Besides, that's not the point and, despite being a bit pants, it's hardly the walking disaster that we were expecting.
What is unforgivable, to me at least, is that Duke Nukem 3D was such a controversial thing, pushing the limits. In the last 15 years, we've had more movies and games that could have infinitely feeded a funny, controversial and humourous side-swipe at the genre it inhabits. Maybe the length of development ensured that any references were removed in case they lost relevance, but it feels like such a shame. But Forever doesn't push any real boundries - despite the subject matter, it's safe. And that is like a kick in the balls to me. Holy crap did I want to be offended and insulted, but it's just not got that bite anymore.
Thing is, I think Forever is a game that takes itself too seriously - almost to a degree of mocking itself, but never quite going the whole hog. It's a game of many parts but no cohesive whole. It's not retro, and it's not modern. The humour is crass and obnoxious, but it doesn't offend or shock. It's at times beautiful, at others downright ugly. At times too easy, other times infuriatingly hard. It's not a pisstake, it's just taking the piss.
But perhaps that is the genius of it. As I said earlier, perhaps this isn't the point - maybe we shouldn't have expected a great game or a shit game. The Expendables was hardly ground-breaking or new either, and just as confused about its purpose, but it was a brainless action movie with huge name stars all coming together - taking it seriously, but almost in a mocking tone, as if it was sending the genre up purely by trying to be serious. And we watched it. And enjoyed it. And they're working on a sequel now as well! A new lease of life for some stars who really should be spending more time on the golf course than in a battlefield.
And this is what Duke Nukem Forever is. It's the gaming equivalent of The Expendables. It's not smart. It's not great. Things go boom, things make loud noises, the aliens are there, the guns are there. It's not going to win any awards, but it isn't really trying to either - it just is what it is.
The name alone is worth more than anything inside, and as long as people are playing as Duke, they're happy. They're just happy to go along with it, and enjoy it, and consume it, and at the end toss it aside and move onto something else entirely. It's a game designed to be enjoyed, perhaps only once, and then forgotten. Quick, consumable entertainment - and whilst the price tag is a bit steep for a game made that way, need I remind you this is much what Call of Duty does these days?! For a tenner more, I may add.
Maybe the multiplayer will provide some nice relief. It might give me a reason to buy it (I admit in my cheeky way I've been playing someone elses copy as his place, so perhaps I'm less inclined to be insulting...). But we've had a blast. It's junk food. It's a deep fried Cadbury's Creme Egg. It's so wrong it's almost right. It's trashy, it's gooey, it's an abomination and people will look at me now and think, "What the hell? Deep fried WHAT?!" - but, somehow, it works as a functioning game for the majority of the time. Nothing more, and nothing less. And I think expecting anything else says more about us than it does about the game.
After 15 years, that it's okay is perhaps the biggest surprise of all - because it could have been a very different experience. It's got Duke Nukem in it. And it's taken almost Forever. It's here, and whilst it will never set the world alight, its existence marks the end of the longest-running joke in the industry. And now, Gearbox can probably get on with making a Duke Nukem game the way they want to - not the way they were required to after buying the rights.
Here is hoping. Really, we need Duke now more than ever.