Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Fail To The King, Baby: Duke Nukem Forever review


Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non- Functional. 

Format: 360, PS3, PC (version reviewed)
Developer: 3D Realms/Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Players: Single Player + Online Multiplayer

Everyone should play Duke Nukem Forever. Not because it's a good game, which it isn't, but just to get it out of your system. It's an easy habit to slip into, wanting to recapture your youth, because the good times are so much easier to remember than the bad, while even those good times have probably been repurposed by the desire to believe that everything was better and more fun ten years ago than it was. So when Randy Pitchford's evidently successful marketing campaign - the game, despite fiercely negative notices, began its shelf life on top of the sales charts in many countries - was based entirely around the return of this figure symbolising the freedom and lack of restraints of adulthood, it's hardly surprising that plenty of punters were ready to cheer him on.

Duke Nukem Forever, fourteen years in gestation, needs be played by everyone because it will put firmly to rest the idea that everything was better 'back then', if such a time ever existed as Forever remembers it. It's a reminder that we're better, more sophisticated people than we were, that freedom and immaturity are not one and the same, and that what we long for from youth is what we no longer need in adulthood. In truth, Forever is a remarkably lousy game by any era's standards, lacking the focus and technical precision of modern gaming or the thrillingly reckless ambition of days gone by. Hell, Duke Nukem 3D was already dated in the nineties, but the lead character's quips and postmodern sense of humour, relatively new for games at the time, earned it a stay of execution. No such luck this time.

The game has predictably attracted a great deal of controversy, as Duke 3D did in the past, although since almost every aspect of this game is replicated near-verbatim from its forebear, it's difficult to be offended by anything other than the laziness. Yes, there's alien rape (topped off with the choice between killing the girls yourself or watching them die from their ordeals, leading to a facepalm-worthy "You're fucked" line) and a strip-club level with graphics so garish and item-hunt gameplay so arduous that the only thing that will have hardened by the end of it will be your fist, as it is planted firmly through the screen. It's devoid of any wit or punchlines, steadfast in the belief that there's satirical value in merely representing these things - just as modern Simpsons mistakenly believes that any vaguely ridiculous situation is funny if certain characters appear as part of it - without giving them any sort of purpose. It's too half-hearted and insincere to be worth getting outraged about, and ultimately just comes across as a pitiable plea for attention.

If the game or its lead character had a more defined sense of identity, then perhaps these things would feel more egregious, or worthy of the disgust they aim to elicit. But despite Randy Pitchford's cheerleading for Duke's return, all the character turns out to be is a disembodied voice throwing out dated one-liners stolen from old cult movies - Army of Darkness for one, which gets the pleasures of immaturity spot-on, is lessened by its unintentional association with this game. Snarky references to the weaknesses of successful modern gaming franchises, meanwhile, feel nothing but hypocritical. Duke might sneer that battle armour is for pussies, but has borrowed its regenerating health. He hates Valve puzzles, but only mentions so whilst in the middle of putting his gamers through one far more laborious than any of Half-Life's interminable physics-based distractions. 

He does curls, plays pool, looks at porn and drinks beer (getting resoundingly hammered after a single can, the lightweight) to increase his health/ego, acting as though these are things that make him more worthy than the competition, despite such activities having been background distractions in countless games in the past. That's really the only place that Duke's values hold any sort of pleasure, as a fleeting gag to be noticed once and never again. Given any sort of prominence, their inanity soon becomes a bore. The same can be said of the character himself, whose appeal doesn't survive the opening seconds of the game, which involve holding down a button to piss into a urinal and then literally throwing shit around. The developers would no doubt defend themselves by saying it's all a bit of fun. The problem is that it isn't. It's tiresome.

There's a chance that some may find some appeal in the decidedly archaic style of gunplay, which brings back strafing and shooting down large beasties with a range of elaborate weaponry. The problem is that any of those people could go back to a real game from the nineties and find far more sophisticated mechanics at work in games like GoldenEye, more diverse and careful level design in any of id Software's games (Quake, Doom) or even earlier Duke games (which were praised for their range of secret areas and multiple paths - no such joy here) and with none of the ill-fitting modern elements that Forever attempts. 

Those early games allowed you to hold a range of weapons at once so you could adapt to any situation and express yourself a little in how you played, while modern games use a limited selection to introduce a tactical element and bring some realism to the challenge. Duke is stuck neither here nor there, pretending to be a throwback whilst cramming ill-fitting pieces into its design to try and seem relevant in the modern shooter scene. Your two-gun limit in a design meant for several means you can be stuck with entirely the wrong arsenal a situation calls for, whilst the regenerating health is a source of endless frustration in a game which rarely provides you with adequate cover and whose enemies can take you down in seconds. (So much for the manliness, Duke). At least the vehicle sections are no worse than in any other modern game, although that's hardly high praise considering how loathsome they generally are.

Perhaps a Duke game not assembled from over a decade of piecemeal gameplay, constantly refitted to suit changing tastes and times, might be able to provide a worthwhile alternative to the overly-serious modern alternatives. Yet everything in Forever has been done vastly better and with more panache elsewhere, most notably in the Serious Sam franchise. From the patchwork graphics, hideous in both art direction and technical quality, to agonisingly slow-moving and repetitive gameplay, this is not so much a throwback to the games of the past as a throwback to everything that was wrong with the past. The 'humour', if it can even be so called, is embarrassing and the character a one-note joke stretched out over fifteen hours without a punchline. 

In business terms, 2K and Gearbox might have made a canny short-term decision to sellotape the game together and cash in on its infamy, yet over a longer period, a release this misjudged and cynical may end up costing them. Duke Nukem Forever is a game neither of its time, nor a time gone by. It's the quintessential middle-aged pretender, pathetically trying to cover up his irrelevance under a velour suit and toupé, forcing himself to ignore that he's not one of a kind because he's special, but because he's so painfully naff. The game's sole amusing joke is its title, the Forever trying to disguise intransigence as cool defiance when it doesn't even have the balls to grow up. [ 2 ]


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I disagree.