Saturday, 2 July 2011

Duke Nukem Forever or: How I Learned to Stop Bitching and Like the Game

Duke Nukem Forever has received a negative reception? Well this is as surprising as the average man suddenly developing a desire to own an expensive sports car on the eve of his 40th birthday. It was as inevitable as fatalism that the game was going to be chastised more than a pet undertaking a mischievous dog course; it took fourteen years to make after all. The production took longer than booting up a laptop powered by the processing power of Kanye West’s modesty and since it has been in more hands than Smurfette, it would have been nothing short of a miracle to avoid it being an overhyped flop. Expecting it to succeed is like expecting Duke not to attend ‘bring your homosexual teenage Swedish daughter to work’ day at his local strip club.

Quite why the knickers of so many have decided to play the classic Hasbro game is beyond me, Duke Nukem Forever isn’t a bad game. It isn’t perfect, but since you are probably downloading music whilst leading this, neither are you. I found the game to be a more thoughtful and enjoyable take on games such as Halo and Call of Duty. Unfortunately since the ideology of democracy indicates the opinion of the majority is correct, I obviously have no idea what I am talking about. Regardless, I will look at some of the common complaints leveled at the game.

What the critics say

Bad level design. The most notable complaint of this comes way of Eurogamer: “Duke Nukem Forever is linear to a fault, and huge chunks of the game are spent simply walking from one fight to another through uninspired corridors."

Gameplay Issues. Of this Kotaku said:"Old-school shooters, and this is definitely trying to be one of those with its basic AI and lack of cover mechanics, always had two great things going for them: speed and a ridiculous arsenal of weapons... Forever eschews this in favour of a plodding pace and two guns"

Sense of Humor. One sequence in which Duke encounters abducted women who have been forcibly impregnated with aliens, having to kill them before the alien's birth does so, was received negatively, being called "outright revolting" and turning Duke into a "thoroughly detestable psychopath" by 1UP and Destructoid respectively.

Graphics and loading times. One other common criticism was leveled at the game's technical side including inconsistent graphics and overly long loading times with Game Trailers calling it "unholy" with GameSpy finding the console version to take up to 40 seconds when loading.

Now whilst under normal circumstances I am as pious as a pelican I will now provide a similar list, but one that provides reasons as to why gamers and critics alike are being more fastidious than an obese man complaining about the quality of the food at a humanitarian aid effort for the starving.

What Iron says

Level design. So the level design is too linear? It is quite interesting how this wasn’t an exigent issue when reviewers were handing out five star ratings to Call of Duty and F.E.A.R. like tissues to wankathlon contestants. Almost every modern FPS has become what I call The Mantelpiece Shooter; dragging you from one ridiculous sequence to another like an overzealous hunter showing off his latest kills. DNF actually attempts to be more entertaining than simply watching a silent soldier slowly and agonizingly die from the fallout of a nuclear warhead.

Duke Nukem is actually far more interactive than those aforementioned games, you can extend your health bar or ‘ego’ by interacting with the environment and objects in it in a Duke-like way; it encourages you to search your surroundings rather than just blindly get from one objective to another as though the protagonist is saving the world during his lunch break. There are very few ‘true cut scenes’ that break up the flow of the gameplay like you are driving the world’s least fuel efficient 4x4.

The level themes are varied too; i.e. urban, completely alien, Wild West styled and military/industrial. Admittedly they aren’t as inspired as Duke Nukem 3D (Mission Impossible based ‘It’s Impossible’ and ‘Pigsty’, which takes place during that Terminator scene), if the game had dropped the Wild West and the later Hoover dam segments (a fucking underwater level and the scuba kit does not appear in this game) like the limbs of a Jigsaw victim then it wouldn’t have been the worst thing. However all the levels serve a purpose, never once does a level feel like it was shoe-horned in because the developer suddenly realized they were one continent off target for their seven continent total. Well none except for the strip club level, because as Socrates might have said “when don’t tits feel shoe-horned in?”

Gameplay. Darwinism states that all life forms have to attempt to adapt or face extinction. The same is true about video games, it has to be this way or else we would still be playing the NES game Wrestle and convincing ourselves it is an accurate depiction of wrestling. Which smoothly leads me to the main criticism of DNF’s gameplay, “it’s not Duke Nukem 3D.” The point is that it carries over the spirit of the series, but adopts a more modern approach (not always to its benefit). Ten weapon arsenals and health packs have been replaced by weapon limits and regenerative health, in an attempt to add tactics to the game; which feels as cynical as the teacher talking to his students about his favorite 50 cent track. Contextual mini-games such as the pinball machine are fun and a good way to break up monotonous shoot ‘em up sequences, but are often frustrating to use for they are as user friendly as a masturbation machine for vicious Rottweilers.

However once immersed in the experience it is pure nostalgic fun, the lucid free flowing gameplay only being broken by encounters with the somewhat difficult Pigcops and the now seemingly weak weapons. Gearbox also made good use of physic based puzzles and intuitive platforming sections, though the vehicle sections have a special place in a Gulag reserved just for them. The characters are embarrassing however. They are either how the developers imagine the player (crass, sex obsessed, unintelligent) or they are serious characters such as the president who feels out of place as he rants about responsibility in a game where you punch a bipedal organic death-machine in the testicles.

The game doesn’t feature much in the way of a story except for; kill this, see breasts, have the government call you an asshole, so I’ve found pretending DNF is a parody of the 80’s action star renaissance is an effective replacement, with the old-skool Duke struggling to keep up with modern shooter clich├ęs and mechanics. Gearbox missed an opportunity because all of the short comings would have been looked upon with affection, and not being derided with a saliva producing mouth like an internet forum based IT.

Sense of humor. In the most delicious case of irony since Che Guevara’s face was first printed on a shirt, those that castigated the game for not being more like DN3D also criticized DNF’s humor. Those who played the former game will understand it was a pop culture swiping, sleaze-fest; which is exactly what Forever is. As for ‘euthanizing’ the captured and impregnated women, the ability to perform the very same action was also present in 3D. The player is never actually encouraged to commit this act nor are they informed they are able to do this; everyone who murdered the bound women did so of their own volition. So to be ‘shocked’ by a feature that is neither new nor mandatory is like playing World of Warcraft and being offended by the level-based taunts from other players.

There are two reasons for this criticism, firstly those that played Duke Nukem 3D upon its release are now old enough to not care about pixilated nude women and dick jokes. Out of a sense of entitlement we arrogantly seem to ignore the fact the game isn’t aimed at those that were twelve in 1996, but rather a new generation of juveniles. Though it should have focused less on sexual imagery, because with the advent of wide spread and fast internet access it isn’t going to have as much impact as a game that when released the average time it took to connect to the web and download pornography was directly disproportionate to the length of time a state of arousal lasted for.

The second reason is building block of the Orwellian state; political correctness. Critics are seemingly willing to pander to all forms of excessive equality by chastising anything ‘offensive’, regardless of the intent, out of fear of appearing uncouth. This has led to DNF being labeled as immature and outdated by the very critics who probably once hailed DN3D as ingenious. Are we to believe that the world has drastically changed in fourteen years, meaning that the Duke Nukem series can officially be classed as primitive? It seems doubtful; all that has changed is the willingness of people to laugh at something that isn’t politically correct. And besides what kind of humour is to be expected from a character who probably believes misogyny is a type of Japanese fetish.

Graphics and loading times. Ok, so the loading times are not something that I am able to defend. You can practically hear the rusty gears spinning whilst waiting for the bloody level to load. I’ve literally spent less time casting a vote. The game also suffers from textures not loading, with the first 30 seconds of a level often featuring textures that appears as though they’ve come straight from the burns unit. As for the graphics, do we really need to have this argument again? Graphics do not make a game, the same way that aesthetically appealing icing does not make a broken crockery cake edible. If a game appears to be a straight port from the drawings of a five year old than yes you may complain. But when the graphics are only slightly worse than average you are doing enough nit picking to officially be called a headlice comb.

So to conclude, providing you didn’t spend the entire fourteen years insanely waiting for the game like Miss Havisham, Duke Nukem Forever makes for an adequate experience in spite its flaws. The gameplay is generic but is varied, and coupled with Duke’s trademark humor and pop culture references it does make for an interesting game. The interactive world and mini-games shows the direction 3D Realms wanted to head with the game, however because they spent as long as they did it is no longer the groundbreaking event which was intended. Perhaps it would have been if it had been released fourteen years ago, so the best thing to come from the experience would be a lesson in punctuality.

It would be easy to write Duke Nukem Forever off as a dated shooter but I am unable to because I found the experience to be far more enjoyable than Black Ops. You’ll have noticed that I’ve mentioned fun and entertaining to the point of repetition, but it is most definitely a worthy recipient of those tags. To give a recommendation that The Redner Group wouldn’t respond angrily to; it is a deeply flawed game saved by its humor, entertaining variety, and nostalgia or in the context of the game; it is a mixed experience, like receiving a lap dance from Rosie O’Donnell.