“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”.

Ditch­ing Duke

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?

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