“Like a teen trying to be edgy”
Pissing away the gift of life in Duke Nukem Forever
If you’re unfamiliar with Duke Nukem, he’s a sexist balloon animal who somehow managed to crawl out of the ’90s into Gearbox’s grab bag of intellectual properties. Over the course of seven years or so the studio made a game about him and, by most accounts, it was terrible. I have decided to voluntarily crawl up this tailpipe to see if the Duke can be salvaged for a modern era. After all, B.J. Blazkowicz was successfully reformed, and Doomguy came back recently, and those games were good. I should say that the ’90s Duke Nukem games were important, fun, and made in a formative time for shooters, but the opening scene of Duke Nukem Forever suggests the pioneering spirit of the originals may not have survived the years. The game starts with the Duke peeing into a urinal. There is no way to redirect the aim to piss on Duke’s shoes. I keep going for as long as I can, but a guard yells at me and the stream stops automatically.
Next, there’s a terribly dull section where you activate night vision and punch aliens. There is a boss fight on a football field with a huge alien with an easily avoided charge attack. You shoot him with rockets for ages, then he falls over, and the Duke kicks his eyeball over the posts. “It’s good!” he says in an exhaust pipe wheeze. It’s not good.
Twist! The opening section was a Duke Nukem videogame all along! We’re back in Duke’s pad, and two women are servicing him in a Trumpian palace. Instead of cringing I feel a deep sinking feeling, as though I’m trapped in the corner of a party with an oily moron. I wander around corridors as simpering NPCs slobber over Duke. A kid asks me to sign a Duke autobiography. I write “HELP, HELP, HELP”.
The tone misses so hard I’m almost impressed. If I’m being generous I’d say that Forever tries to push the Duke’s persona so far it’s supposed to break into self parody, but it’s so hopelessly unfunny it gets nowhere near escape velocity. The result, like a teen trying to be edgy or flailingly controversial, is simply boring.
I can understand Duke in context as a ’90s macho cartoon, but Forever gets worse as modern game characterization continues to improve. On release it was bad, in 2018 it’s archaic. One of PC gaming’s true stinkers.
Will no one hear my cries?