Duke Nukem Forever: Why It’s Not OK To Make Crappy Games

If you’re a gamer, chances are you’ve at least heard about the recent release of the long-awaited sequel to the old Duke Nukem shooters, entitled Duke Nukem Forever. DNF spent years being catastrophically mishandled by its original developer, 3D Realms, until the studio finally shut down and the game was officially scrapped. Last year, however, Gearbox Software and 2K Games decided to pick up the license and finish the game, to the joy of nostalgic gamers everywhere. After fifteen years of rumors and development hell, DNF finally arrived on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC in early june.

However, critical response to the game has been underwhelming at best and downright vicious at worst. The consensus in the gaming press seems to be that the game is a half-finished nightmare of poor gameplay and weak writing. Judging by the videos and the reviews, the game takes all that is worst about the first person shooter genre and stretches it over several hours of lackluster entertainment. Dull visuals are combined with lame puzzle mechanics and boring turret sections, and even the basic shooting portions are being described as mediocre. And that’s just the gameplay alone. Duke Nukem’s famously oversexed antics are dragged by their heels into the modern age, and the results are as bad as you might expect. The humor of the previous games has apparently decayed so much in the intervening years that it simply reeks when exposed to fresh air. In light of such aggressive mediocrity, one has to wonder why this happened.

Let me start by confessing that I have never played the original games, nor have I played the new one. I don’t have a dog in this fight. It’s not as if I had it out for DNF; if I had my way, every game would be great, and I would play them all, and be happy. I have done my best to become acquainted with the new game without playing it, because I refuse to subscribe to the smoldering bullshit that the developers have ironed out and attempted to sell for full retail price. To me, this game isn’t just a poorly executed attempt to revive a once-respected franchise, though it certainly is that. Rather, DNF is an affront to the gaming world, a disgraceful example of what happens when a developer smells blood and dives in for the kill without bothering to offer a product worth the time and money of the customer.

Duke Nukem Forever is a unique game because despite the overwhelming press it received prior to release, it really only appeals to a very particular demographic of gamers: those people who played the previous games who are also still interested in the new ones. Fifteen years is a long time for fans to wait, and the game’s audience has surely declined in that time. Those years have had the effect of filtering the remaining audience down to a group of gamers who are legitimately invested in the game as a source of nostalgic pleasure and as a strong entry into the modern gaming canon.

And in truth, these are the people who seem content to distill whatever enjoyment is available from a broken title like DNF. The internet currently abounds with apologists who claim that the game didn’t have to be good by modern standards, because it only exists as a function of nostalgia. To me, this is the same as saying that it’s OK if the game sucks, because it was the butt of so many jokes to begin with and the fact that it’s been released at all is amazing. But for a medium that struggles daily to maintain its credibility as an art form, such excuses for this lapse in quality are unforgivable. This kind of thing rarely occurs in other forms; the closest analog I can think of is the Star Wars prequels, though the circumstances were slightly different. No one really knew what George Lucas was doing with the lotion in the bathroom, but we at least knew that he would eventually emerge anew. He did, and the backlash against his self-indulgent FX-wankery was considerable. But his reputation, and film as an industry, will survive a few bad sci-fi movies.

Video games are not afforded such forgiveness. We’ve all seen the news reports. Some self-proclaimed “expert” shows up on Fox and tells the world that this week’s newest war simulator will have children gunning down their schoolmates in no time. Considering the outright sexism of the new Duke Nukem game, one can only imagine the festering rot that will spew forth if and when the news media chooses to rear its ugly head on this one.

And that’s really the crux of the issue. It is inexcusable for a respectable publisher to release a half-baked bore of a game to an eager and loyal fanbase, especially when the game leaks offensive bile every time the protagonist opens his mouth. Yes, because video games are an art, they should be allowed the license to shock and offend in the same ways that a medium like film has done for decades. But until important ideas like sexism are engaged with in meaningful, insightful ways, video games will never receive the respect they deserve. DNF’s publishers have committed the same sin as EA’s notoriously childish marketing team: by releasing an unfunny, unintelligent game, they have once again made the entire gaming world look like a pack of drooling adolescents. And if we as gamers continue to facilitate this kind of behavior by buying their shitty games, that’s all we’ll ever be. TC mark

image – Duke Nukem Forever

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  • http://twitter.com/laputanwmachine Thomas Johnson

    1. Respectable and Games Publisher do not belong in the same sentence.
    2. Hint: Pulp and prurience have been part of emerging genres since the dawn of time: literature, film, comics, recorded music.
    3. Looks like it’s about time to record my drunken rants as articles for TC. I need the beer money.

  • Azza

    How can you lambaste a game without playing it?  I played it and loved it.  Never got to play the original, was always busy with Doom but the nostalgia, admittedly, still isn’t entirely lost on me.  Being of the age where I can consider myself amongt the first generation of ‘gamers’ and finding DNF full of laughs derived from brutish and sexist humour, I think it’s safe to say gamers may grow old, but we’ll never grow up.  Additionally, evidence would indicate that a certain amount of testosterone is required to appreciate DNF…my wife had no chance of appreciating any of the hilarious gems hidden in the game.  My advise to you is to not play the game…not only would you not enjoy it, but seemingly by your lack of testicles, wouldn’t get it’s humour either. 
    DNF probably won’t win any awards, was a bit linear and maybe a bit repetitive but it was  more entertaining than any game I think I’ve every played (that’s a lot) which made it worth the cost.

  • smh

    it’s hard to take this post seriously, as the author mentioned that he never played the game, so he doesn’t really have a strong basis for an opinion. However, he does make good points and reiterates what every critic has said.

    I’ve long been a Duke Nukem fan (was a huge fan of Duke 3D), and I tried to give this game a shot, but yes it was painful to play and felt extremely dated. I would’t necessarily give the marketing team all of them blame; their job is to sell copies of this game, not make the game. Gearbox clearly didn’t take production seriously, and gave a crappy product for the marketers to promote. This isn’t the last Duke game, as 2k is planning on releasing more. We can only hope that they take this project apart and rebuild it to what everyone actually expected.

  • Sarah

    I can’t believe you barely mentioned how egregiously sexist it is. And all you idiots saying you enjoy the “sexist humor” good luck getting laid. “A certain amount of testosterone is required to appreciate DNF”  OH REALLY? I’d say a certain lack of brain cells is required to enjoy it. You disgust me.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

      When are you NOT offended? 

    • Azza

      It’s ok, I make up for it by pretending to be offended by jokes about periods.

  • vagface

     “Let me start by confessing that I have never played the original games, nor have I played the new one.”

    Stopped reading there.

    • JWG

      I may be a complete fucking retard, but please read all these incredibly stupid shit I wrote about something I know nothing about.

      Dude’s got a future at IGN.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    This shouldn’t even be an article. 

  • God's gift to women

    “But until important ideas like sexism are engaged with in meaningful, insightful ways, video games will never receive the respect they deserve.”Why what why what the fuck? You want Duke Nukem to engage sexism in a meaningful way? Eat a tit and choke on a nipple. That’s like asking relationship advice from a pornstar.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Timberman/922794 Steven Timberman

    I spent two hours last week listening to BrainyGamer’s podcast on LA Noire but… this sort of faux-journalism doesn’t really belong at TC. If it went more academic it could be at one of the more respectable game-writing outlets (yes, they exist). Maybe if it went the other way and did a “Here was my own, personal experience with DNF” I could see it working.

    But this… ain’t doing it for me. Sorry man.

    One of my favorite game forums spent twenty pages on the ethics of rape humour because of DNF (if you’ve played it, you know why), and so its not like bad games can’t lead to great discussion.

    But to write an article about a game you haven’t played or a legacy you don’t understand? That’s just nonsense, pure and simple.

  • fulldamage

    Wait, so – let me get this straight.  This article exists because you found out some people on the internet were angry about a thing, and you decided to write an article criticizing what you hypothetically imagine that thing to be, mostly by reiterating what other people have already said.  

    Internet, sometimes you make me sad. 

  • jack

    wait did i go to the wrong website??? this is thought catalog right?

  • michael kramer

    if this guy can get published on here
    there goes any worries i had about submitting shit here and worrying it’ll get rejected

  • http://twitter.com/jonnyd_ jonnyd

    I stopped reading after [paraphrase] ‘I have never played the originals or even the GAME IN THE TITLE’

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