Better never than late

You know, it feels weird to be writing this, but I’m disappointed that Duke Nukem Forever has turned out to be unrepentant, irredeemable drek. I turned my nose up to Duke Nukem 3D back in the day because it seemed crass and childish, but after playing Forever last year when it resurfaced at PAX Prime, I had a change of heart. I mean, yeah, the series and its hero are crass and childish, but so are a lot of games these days. At least Duke could claim to have gotten there first. And, really, in retrospect, Duke 3D was pretty mild and inoffensive — a little swaggering bombast serving as the patina atop an occasional harmless boob joke and a non-stop string of empty movie references. Hell, that pretty much describes the entire Metal Gear Solid series in a nutshell.

What I liked about Forever, at least at first glance, was the very datedness that critics initially decried. The action has a slow, deliberate weight to it, and the level structures seemed to hearken back to a time before railroading corridors and rhythmic set pieces. I actually miss old-school shooter design quite a bit and wouldn’t mind playing something that felt like a BUILD/Marathon/Doom engine game in high definition. Unfortunately, that’s not really what Forever turned out to be.

Watching my coworkers plod their way through the game, I’ve been struck by how generically contemporary it seems. There was one shootout environment in particular (against brain-dead monsters with no apparent A.I.) that made me wonder if it was a Covenant stage or a Flood level. I’d have been perfectly happy with a game that played like a relic from 1998 with lots of random ridiculousness thrown in and a non-stop string of droll movie quotes and macho epithets, but that’s not what we got. Instead, it’s a poor man’s Halo-alike whose attempt at a sense of humor is downright mean-spirited and cruel rather than wry or ironic.

I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re one of those people who still feels compelled to buy a new game every week, grab Child of Eden instead of Duke Nukem Forever. On the sliding scale of vices, I figure a simulation of dropping acid is ultimately a lot less harmful than a gleeful celebration of naked misogyny.

19 thoughts on “Better never than late

  1. I was always a Doom fan myself back then, and found Duke’s general manner of being and stolen lines a bit cheesy. Perhaps it was because I had seen most of those movies that Duke was (allegedly) lampooning, I found that Duke was actually much, much dumber and offensive than those films, but not in an obviously ironic way. Duke came across more as his makers trying to out Action Hero the Action Heroes, and instead in their failure made a sad clown, instead of a deliberate caricature.

  2. There are turret sequences and regenerating health, but you also ride in mine carts and use jump pads.

    This game is fuckin’ WEIRD, man.

  3. It’s too bad the game is apparently so bad, because well… over a decade of development just seems like such an immense waste of time and money. That’s obvious, but for once, I actually feel a bit of pity for these guys who worked on it for so long (I realize not all of them worked on it the whole time), and all they have to show for it… is a finished product, and not much else. What could have been an albatross taken off their neck has to be somewhat negated by the poor reactions.

    On a completely unrelated note, I just stumbled somehow on those old ‘San Francisco Portraits’ from… a long time ago. I know you’ll facepalm at the thought of them, but they gave me a chuckle or two.

  4. Yeah, I’ll admit: for a short time between when it was given over to Gearbox and when it was released, I was actually interested. Previews of the game made it sound like Half-Life 2 to me — a tightly designed First Person Shooter/Adventure that takes you through several types of experiences… only with boobs.

  5. Careful what you say about duke, you wouldn’t want to be blacklisted like the PR firm threatened via tweet (article on ars technica).

    • The culprit of that tweet has publicly and privately apologized, and I’m willing to write it off as a case of social media making it a little too easy for someone to broadcast a furious, regrettable flash of anger rather than the insidious machinations of a malign industry.

  6. Jeremy, this is the perfect opportunity to tell you about the 2004 vintage copy of GMR I found in my car last night. It’s literally been sitting in the back of my car for seven years! Anyway, curious, I flipped through it, and found an article you’d written about Halo 2. In it, you mentioned all the other huge franchises – Half-Life, Doom, Metroid – getting sequels in 2004 as well, and suggested that Duke Nukem Forever would’ve made it a full house.

    Anyway, just interesting that I discovered this on Forever’s launch day. I’d never read the article before, because I’m not into Halo, and only perused it because I saw your name attached to it…a name I certainly did not recognize 7 years ago.

    • There’s apparently a sweet spot some time before 13 years, because Mother 3 apparently turned out fine.

  7. Jeremy, you’re the first person in the gaming industry I’ve seen decry the generically *contemporary* aspects Duke Nukem Forever, rather than the more dated ones. I’d imagine you’re not alone in thinking that (and it certainly makes sense), although I haven’t found anyone else who’s posited that view yet…

  8. “I actually miss old-school shooter design quite a bit and wouldn’t mind playing something that felt like a BUILD/Marathon/Doom engine game in high definition”

    Serious Sam 3 is coming!

    • I know Serious Sam captures the “hordes of mindless monsters” element of the ur-FPS, but does it capture the free-roaming openness? That’s what I miss (and why I loved ODST).

  9. Anyone who thought, at seeing the title, ‘That’s wrong, it should be better Nate then lever’ get a cookie from me.

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