June 16, 2011
I raced home, barged through the door, and slid the case out of the GameStop bag… but then came to a sudden halt. Fourteen years is a long time. The reviews sounded pretty disheartening. After a moment of reluctance, that unforgettable bass line started coming back to me, vividly, as if it were just yesterday I was in second grade, installing the shareware episode of Duke Nukem 3D back on Windows 95.
Lights out. Volume cranked. It was time. I booted up the PS3 and braced myself for anything and everything; good, bad, or indifferent. Of course, I always forget about the customary System Software Updates… then the Game Installation… it took forever. Ha.
It’s hard to objectively critique a game that doesn’t try to be very objective. At all. Yes the missions are objective based, although, they aren’t presented as such. Keep in mind that I haven’t played more than a handful of FPS campaigns since Duke3D, and those that I have, probably none of them for more than an hour. This article will focus solely on the single player campaign, as that is where the true Duke essence is likely to be found.
First and foremost, DNF was not coming out to set a new benchmark for the FPS genre. Far from it. This game is pure, unabashed, 100% fan service. Any Modern Warfare veterans who get suckered into buying this expecting a COD killer will be surely disappointed, right out of the gate. Or pleasantly relieved, depending on which side of that gate you’re on. The graphics are subpar, gameplay is not much more than simply point and shoot, and there is virtually no story to be found. But now that we’ve got all that out of the way…
This is Duke Nukem Forever. For some, probably many, that may not mean a thing. But for those who understand, and can appreciate, the magnitude of that statement… you’re already sold, even though you probably know what to expect. If you’re blissfully ignorant enough to believe that DNF spent 14 years in development re-inventing the wheel, then just pretend it never came out and keep on wishing… someday, maybe in 2025, there may be a third coming. A full comprehensive review would only beat a dead horse. This is Duke3D disguised as one of today’s shooters. Cool, right? Unfortunately though, he has succumbed to many of the modern pitfalls of the genre as it is today. Carrying only 2 guns at a time?! Maybe the 1 through 9 keys selection board would be tough to translate to console controllers, but I miss having a full arsenal at any given time (and it’s been gone since Duke3D was one of the last to do it). The console players should suck it up and bite the bullet, this was meant for PC anyway. But again, herein lies the dilemma of the jaded old gamer… you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Not nowadays at least, and unfortunately, not with DNF. My only other real complaint is with the fact that there IS a campaign mode, opposed to the arcade-style episodic level selection of the original. I want to pick my world, difficulty, and then just start shooting relentlessly. But again, for those who want to complain with me… that’s what the original is still around for.
So the real question is… should DNF have actually been finished and now released? Or should it have gone down in gaming lore as ‘the one that got away’? No definitive answer there, to each their own. Today I’ll feel one way, tomorrow I’ll feel another. On one side, it’s the biggest (and most predictable) letdown since Chinese Democracy. But then again, and this bears repeating… it has finally come. The granddaddy of all the sequels. Even if it were the definitive FPS to End Them All, it still couldn’t have lived up to the hype, because Duke is an old hero who’s climbed into a new world. He’s skipped a few rungs on the way up though, perhaps on a ladder that he was never meant to climb in the first place. Mario, in comparison, has made at least 3 appearances in each generation on every Nintendo platform since the NES, plus he has the benefit of the ‘E’ rating with a family-friendly attitude. Duke was created (the two 2D games aside) at a revolutionary time for video games and he rose to stardom by going where no game had gone before in terms of content, attitude, and technology. The title ‘Duke Nukem 3D’ dates it stronger than anything else, making it’s mark at a time when “3D” actually meant something, not the gimmicky add-on that almost all of it’s uses are today. DNF is still, ultimately, Duke Nukem 3D. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite fit in the year 2011.
Perhaps another decade down the line, when technology truly reaches “the next level”, would have been the time for Duke’s triumphant return. But like I said at the beginning, this game is 100% fan service, and we’re getting to a point that most of those original fans are moving on. Video games have been, for many, a rite of passage into adulthood. And the older you get, the less you play. The legend of Duke Nukem was starting to fade away into myth. But with this final reminder, that it DID actually happen, they may now remember him… Forever.
And that guitar theme never, ever gets old.