In Defense of Duke Nukem Forever

Who is Duke Nukem, and why—after all of these years—are we still talking about him? One of our readers has described him as a "character that people actually love or hate. Or feel something about. As opposed to military personnel (1) and (1a)." In a sea of "blandness," according to the reader, the Duke is something to be excited about—outdated graphics and overlong loading screens be damned.

When Stephen Totilo posted his impressions of Duke Nukem Forever on Sunday afternoon, the response was dizzying. It consisted of nearly a thousand comments, forming a labyrinth of impressions almost as daunting and erratic as Forever's decade-plus development period. One recurring argument stood out amongst all the rest: the Duke's fans love him not in spite of, but because of his being an anachronism of epic proportions.

Reader evilmajikman chimed in to remind us that Duke Nukem Forever was never supposed to be playing in the same ballpark as Call of Duty or Halo.

Honestly I find all the criticisms on this pretty stupid. Like people hating on it for not being the most advanced shooter, well no shit its not the most advanced shooter. It was never supposed to be.

I am sick and tired of shooters being nailed as bad games for being too different than Call of Duty or any generic war first person shooters. Take Aliens vs Predators for example. It was exactly what it was supposed to be. Aliens fighting Preds.

Another commenter, Ian Paul Freeeley, was content with a Duke title that simply did what it was going to do, even if in doing so it failed to turn the gaming world on its head.

Not every game needs to be made into some highly critically praised blockbuster. Besides, a lot of that shit gets too much credit for its own good anyhow. I'll take this over Call of Duty any day of the week. Pitchford's crew did a noble thing by finishing this, and it's an ode to old school gamers around the world.

Perhaps Duke Nukem Forever is a victim of a lousy port-job to the Xbox 360; commenter richjdonato isn't alone in suggesting that the game is far better when played on the PC.

Sure this game was never going to be GotY material but the complaints I hear of long load times, bad graphics, bad AI. All I can say is play it on the PC. None of those problems exist. My games take a total of 5 - 8 seconds max to load. After dying I have maybe a 4 second screen. Consoles is why your DNF experience is bad. As for the bad AI, well I havn't noticed anything bad and it seems like the stock standard enemy AI that has been used for every single FPS since Half-Life boosted the enemies to attack, run away and throw grenades.

Some readers, like Arctic Tabasco, have argued that by peeling away some of the sub-par workmanship and graphical shoddiness, Forever is, at core, a perfectly competent game.

Without a shadow of a doubt, there is a full, enjoyable game here, that will take a good while to finish as well. And at no point did I feel they padded the thing out with unnecessary levels. The weapons are the good ol' friends you had way back in Duke 3D with a couple alien weapon additions, the aliens are the same motherfuckers as back then (though some have learned some new tricks), there's lots of different things to "fuck around" with (pinball machines, porn mags, answering machines, vending machines etc etc.), and the babes are pure exploitation material. This game is pretty much what I expected it to be - Duke Nukem 3D gameplay with modern graphics.

A reader called Muel made an especially eloquent argument in defense of some of Forever's gameplay mechanics.

This is when the game starts to remember it's meant to be a fun shooter as well as just being Duke. The enemy patterns aren't as predictable, with more space to move around. The weapons have real bite and punch to them, in particular the excellent shotgun and the Assault Commander laser (with its odd gatling gun spin-up time, but relatively low rate of fire). There's a real fluidity to the combat as you duck and weave to take down the enemy groups. Some enemies engage from the front, others teleport around you, forcing you to run and gun; there are different options and you aren't just in a shooting gallery any more. It's far better than the first part of the game and, despite the ropey graphics, manages to be exciting to play.

It even—occasionally—feels emergent in a Killzone or Halo sort of way.

And what about the violence and the chauvinism, the exploding women and microwaved rats? Are these lines that—in the gaming climate of 2011—ought not to be crossed? A reader going by 0LunarEclipse0 had some rather big thoughts on this particular quandary.

No there are no lines. Duke pushes lines always has always will. Just because you can't handle shock humor does not make it not funny. Everything can be funny. I've laughed at some of the most racist and disgusting jokes. Maybe that makes me a horrible person. But that is fine. I am tired of people's delicate sensibilities. Rape, Murder, Drugs. We see it all in games, movie and books. Sometimes these mediums make jokes out of them. This is nothing new. You sit there and cry and I laugh. Sorry shock humor is funny. Just because something pushes you to far doesn't mean it pushes everyone to far. NOTHING is off limits. Not rape, murder, religion or politics. Nothing should ever be off limits. If we sacrifice freedom we sacrafice life.

The very fact that this offends you is more truth that it should be defended. Because you want it silenced. Censored. Well freedom means free. Regardless of how much something offends you, we can say and do what we want. Because your feelings don't matter.

I don't support rape and this joke goes a little to far even for me. But I beleive in freedom. So nothing ever should be off limits.

Okay, so maybe you don't agree that how a person feels about Duke Nukem Forever is a good barometer of that same person's attitude toward the idea of "freedom." But being a fan isn't necessarily about being logical or objective. Of all of the sentiments I stumbled across in the still-expanding thread, the words of a reader going by Nivenus—in which they likened a fanboy to a person defending the honor of a family member—were the most insightful.

A fine analogy might be between a family member and a friendly acquaintance. You enjoy the company of the latter, but you've got nothing invested there and you're far more willing to stand up for and defend the former than you are the latter. The same thing is true for a fan and their favored series/genre - they'll stick up for it when someone who is only casually fond wouldn't.

The difference between a good game and a great game is that a great game is enjoyable by fans and non-fans alike. The mistake you're making is assuming that anyone who isn't a fan is an anti-fan, someone who dislikes the game off the bat. But that's not true. There's a middle ground and it's the middle ground that great art wins over.

Fans of Duke Nukem Forever may not be arguing that the title constitutes high art—but that isn't stopping them from enjoying it.

"We just needed some fun," wrote commentor Obi_Al_Kenobi. This game need[s] to be reviewed not against 90's standards, but [as] a standalone product [come back] from the 90's to complete the circle that now is closed."