by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
Who needs depth?
In the world of video games, there are games that compete in bringing us deeper stories, more emotionally realistic characters and harder, morally grey decisions to make. Games such as Red Dead Redemption, Bioshock and Mass Effect are great examples of these types of games. Game studio Gearbox, however, aims to challenge all of this with five simple words: Hail to the king, baby!.
Anyone who has been following video games closely over the last decade will likely crack a smile at the mere mention of Duke Nukem Forever. Once a highly successful name, the Duke has been slowly degraded into one of the biggest jokes in the industry: whenever a game is delayed a substantial amount of time, Duke Nukem Forever references are sure to follow. However, despite countless delays, engine switches, teaser trailers, downsizing, complete overhauls over a decade of waiting, Duke Nukem Forever is actually coming out. Groovy.
Stick with what you know
Obviously, a lot has happened in the video game industry in the 14 years since Duke Nukem Forever was first announced way back in 1997. Franchises have fallen, studios have been born game trends have come and gone. In an environment so fluid and rapidly changing as this, how can a title possibly hope to stay current with its audience? Well, the answer is, don’t even try! Instead of trying to take cues from the big AAA titles of this generation, Duke is sticking with his roots and delivering a game dripping with 90's nostalgia. Of what we’ve seen so far, it’s still unsure if this bold strategy will lead to a refreshingly fun game, or a title too interested in self service to appeal to the mainstream.
The character of Duke Nukem is an interesting one. Back in the 90’s, fans welcomed the macho 80's movie action star satire persona. Duke was definitely not “human” in terms of emotions, morals, or thought processes. Duke was a man’s man, surrounding himself with vulgarity, gallons of beer enough strippers to make anyone blush. Suffice it to say, that not much has changed. In Forever, Duke will still be barking out hilarious one-liners, hitting on the ladies engaging in general acts of tomfoolery such as “operation cock-block.”
However, as I mentioned above, the very environment of video games has changed. People expect video games to follow some form of rudimentary social contract. While I’m fine with (and actually laugh quite a bit at) Duke’s harsh language and other shenanigans, I’m not sure how people will react to other aspects of the game - such as the obvious objectification of women. 8 out of 10 people will probably have no problem with it, but I’m worried that the other 2 will see things like promo events for the game being held in custom strip clubs (affectionately named “Titty City,” seriously), and automatically dismiss the game (if not the industry as a whole) as juvenile and unworthy of serious attention. Games have had a long, hard, uphill battle in the fight to earn rudimentary respect as a medium from the general public, and I would hate if something as well-meaning as this game acted to harm the modest amount of progress we have seen games make. It will be interesting to see how Gearbox walks this fine line between humorous satire and offensive stereotyping.
No dark and gritty re-imagining here
None of this matters, though, if Duke Nukem Forever doesn’t give us great gameplay to match its whimsical mood. The “throwback” feeling is just as evident in this department, and it is again a bit of a two-sided coin from what I’ve seen so far. On one hand, Duke does himself a great favor by not taking himself seriously. It wouldn’t have been too surprising if Gearbox had decided to follow in the footsteps of franchises such as Splinter Cell or Tomb Raider and announced that it was going to re-imagine the Nukem-verse (yep, I just made that up - you’re welcome) into a darker, grittier, more realistic style. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, and what we’re left with are things that we simply wouldn’t see any “serious” protagonist doing: things such as chugging a beer before socking an enemy in the face, driving around an RC car after being shrunk kicking the eye of a fallen Cyclops through the uprights on a football field.
The plot doesn't try to be more meaningful than it has to be either, telling the simple story of the same “alien bastards” returning for vengeance after being foiled by Duke previously. An interesting touch that shakes up gameplay a bit is the replacement of the health bar with an “ego bar.” Instead of using health packs or potions to replenish his life force, The King must instead keep his ego bar full by doing things such as lifting weights or signing autographs. This intentionally over-the-top gameplay is certainly bound to be one of the title’s biggest positives. In a market flooded with gritty military shooters and heart-wrenchingly tragic heroes, it feels good to see a game that’ll let the player kick back and just have a good time.