Why Does Duke Nukem Forever Suck?

Matt Barton's picture

Forever wasn't long enough, apparently.Forever wasn't long enough, apparently.Well, the first wave of reviews are in, and it looks like somebody's gonna freakin' pay for screwing up Duke's comeback. IGN gives it a 5.5 and offers us this stinger: Duke has not aged well. As simple as he ever was, as irrelevant as he's ever been. Ouch! Joystiq gives it similar treatment: Allow me to borrow Duke's trademark line which he, in turn, borrowed from a fellow 1990s artistic endeavor, Army of Darkness: "Don't come get some." PC Gamer was more forgiving, settling on an 80 score, but warns us that the development-time-to-awesomeness ratio isn’t impressive.

The complaints are many and numerous, but most come back to how long this game took to make and how lackluster the finished product finally turned out to be. Wikipedia even has a special page just for the game's long and storied development cycle, which according to them went into production in 1997.

I had the opportunity to interview Scott Miller, who was in charge of the project until his publisher ripped it out of his cold, dead hands. From what I gathered from Scott, the project was near completion (he says the PC version was finished and Gearbox was hired on to do the ports), but there were plenty of other problems dealing with team sizes and turnarounds.

It sounds like a classic case of the tail wagging the dog to me, the tail in this case being the current state of gaming tech and the dog being Scott's own perfectionism. The team always wanted DNF to be just as bold, impressive, and memorable as Duke Nukem 3D had been in 1996. That game, of course, is legendary, and even John Romero ranks it as one of his top 5 favorite games of all time. However, I think it also represents a peak time for the industry in general, and it's no surprise that the mid to late 90s saw so many of the best games ever made--I need only point at such hits as Fallout(1997), Baldur's Gate (1998), and System Shock 2 (1999). I should note, too, that even then games like Diablo (1996) were being slammed for their "dated" graphics; odd how that didn't seem to have the impact it would today.

For me, this period represents that glorious period when a relatively small team, tight enough to share a common vision, was still able to produce "Triple A" style titles. Duke Nukem Forever got swept up in the maelstrom that followed, when suddenly team sizes were growing exponentially to keep up with the rapid advances in tech spurred on by the consoles, as well as the endumbening factor described so well by Jon Hare of Sensible Software. Obviously, a huge team requires a great deal of management; that is, games by committee. Suddenly, what's important are the bullet points on the box. Instead of thinking of how awesome the gameplay will be, the publishers think only of how good the trailers are going to look.

Scott found himself in a vicious cycle. DNF would get near completion, but then they'd find the rug yanked out from under them by a new generation of tech and have to start from scratch. Try to imagine what Scott must have been up against--a runaway character as popular as Duke, insanely high expectations, Scott's own incessant perfectionism--it was a super-sized combo of double bacon deathburger. The setup is almost comparable to Romero's "Bitch" scenario with Daikatana. You knew this wasn't gonna be pretty. I can only compare it to something like Chinese Democracy. If you just heard the album without all the GNR baggage, it'd be a totally different experience. But when you grew up listening to Use Your Illusion and Appetite for Destruction...Yeah, all you can do is hope they won't be as bad as a corporate-produced Metallica RIAA-kissing money-grab.

So what would it have taken for DNF to really live up to our expectations? According to Scott, the publisher should have held in there, boosted his budget, and let him stay on course. However, let's remember that he also said the game was nearly complete, so much of what we're seeing in the Gearbox release is exactly what he wanted. Maybe he would've been able to polish it more, which may have been a deciding factor. Of course, there could have been more delays and a new generation of consoles could've emerged and kicked the whole thing into another cycle.

Here's my take on it. Duke Nukem 3D hit a sweet spot when a small, passionate team could still make a major title. There's no way you'll ever capture that magic with the team sizes required to make modern FPS. Indeed, I think Scott would have been better off if he'd realized this long ago, gave up on staying on the cutting edge, and just focused on what made Duke fun in the first place (hint: gameplay, attitude).

DNF is to Duke what The Last Action Hero was to Arnold. I want to end with a quote from Ebert's review of that movie: Maybe younger viewers - around the age of the young hero - will identify with it. I was disappointed.

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Keith Burgun
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You know, I just watched Last

You know, I just watched Last Action hero because of its mention here. And Ebert is wrong again - that movie is pretty great. Silly, but interesting, and a ton of fun.

Matt Barton
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I enjoyed it too, Nous, but

I enjoyed it too, Nous, but then again I'm an Arnold fan! I love his movies.

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Bill Loguidice
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I'm as big of an Arnold fan

I'm as big of an Arnold fan as anyone, and Last Action Hero was the first of several of his films that I was genuinely disappointed in... As much as it's worth, he was also someone I greatly admired until recently. It's hard to think of him the same after the housekeeper thing...

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Matt Barton
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Housekeeper Thing
Bill Loguidice wrote:

I'm as big of an Arnold fan as anyone, and Last Action Hero was the first of several of his films that I was genuinely disappointed in... As much as it's worth, he was also someone I greatly admired until recently. It's hard to think of him the same after the housekeeper thing...

Hehe, that sort of thing does seem to bother you. I remember you had a similar reaction to Asimov's philandering. I did hear one ridiculous thing on the news about it, though--a lady was claiming this was evidence that we need more women politicians since women don't cheat on their husbands. I just had to laugh at that!

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clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
well I have several hours

well I have several hours in... (Duke) my assesment of older engine used ot produce a MUCH older game hold.. If this game had came out a year after the original those people would have loved it (no matter what they say today).... problem is all those people grew up, aged and we all quit laughing at those jokes years ago.. refrences to old movies ... is... welll old... he does them all... arnold, Bruce, and they did get some little jabs at the current stuff (halo) which i snickered at... Wont cover to much of that... as it ruins it for others...

Overall its just waht so many said. tons of interesting little things, but hardly any that make the game better, just fun little "look what we can do" things...aS FAR AS GAMEPLAY.. its pretty much what I expected, lots of using the toys to do stufff, cranes, bombs, its all in it ...

Some stuff that seems over the top... the strippers in first game where taboo... now they just pushed up a bit farther (beeter boob physics i guess).

good enough game I think ( so far) but the time lapse makes it feel dated, and there is just no way to live up to the hype. I like it.. dont love it... but itsfun.

clok1966
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I'm not sure I should add

I'm not sure I should add anymore here Duke is getting his share of publicity right now, mostly bad. As I stated the game is ok, nothing great, seems dated. But after hearing the backlash (horrible reviews and publishers BLACKLISTING reviews who give it a bad score) I started reading the reviews. I'm all for bad reivews if you think a game is bad, its an opinion, we all have them. But After reading 5-10 I'm starting to think the reviewers are sorta... DUMB.

One reviewer talks aboutwanting the new DUke to be like the old duke in the first few words of his review, then states its not.. and later he says that its like a game found in a time capsule....so you want a game like an old game, but say its not, then later you say its an OLD game! he also talks about degrading women in the new one, and then says it was fun to give money to strippers in the old one, so it was fun in old duke, but degrading in new duke? Im confused. Then there is some talk about how crude and rude duke is.. Did i miss the last game? wasnt there bathroom humour, strippers, crude one liners? he mentions the fact you can kill the strippers (girls later in the game) and that is bad.. Now I correct me if Im worng.. you could kill them in the first game too (right? I will admit its been ages since I played it). the girls are nuder this game, the killing more graphic... but its been 10 years... what was shocking or taboo 10 years ago is simpley ho hum now.. they had to step it up a little.

Im sorry, so many of the revies say the same thing.. We want the old duke, then say this game looks like an old game... ALL THE STUFF everyboyd loved in the original has just been turned up... the problem they dont seem to understand is what you laughed at 10 years ago inst the same thing you laugh at today. They dont want the old duke.. this new game is the Old duke.. he just is 10 years newer in shock value. We laughed at a toilet we could flush.. so they added a pee stream... big deal.. we thought it was fun to see strippers, they made um a bit more realisitc (and more dumb blond stereotype)... so what.. we thought it was cool to turn a light on, run a projector, flips switchs to do silly things in the first one, now we can do 100 more silly things.. and its bad?

Im not defending the new duke.. its pretty average.. But the reviews all seem to say we want this, but we got to much, we liked that but not when they do it this way... the New duke has every thing from the old duke (well except the non liner level design)as I said earlier, "turned up to 11" ... I theink the real problem is we* dont want DUKE at all anymore.... we want halo 12, COD 15... we just cant admit it.

*as in the reviewers, not me

Igor Hardy
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Joined: 01/15/2009
DNF is a mess

clok1966, I can't be sure I've read the same reviews as you have, but I think I have a pretty good idea what the reviewers you mentioned mean. And I feel the same as they do.

Basically, when they're saying they wanted DNF to be like the old Duke3D, they mean they wanted it to be an old-school shooter without the countless limitations and simplifications introduced with console gamers (or god-knows-who) in mind. Also, they simply wanted a game which gameplay and level design can stand up to the old Duke. DNF is ultimately a badly designed game, more primitive than Duke3D in many ways, and no amount of superficial similarities to its famous predecessor will change that.

The second huge problem of DNF is that filling it with exactly the same weapons, enemies, jokes and one-liners even repeating some scenes as they were in the original is plain tired and creatively-bankrupt rather than respectful. Makes it feel like a remake rather than a sequel and a separate entity. Creating even more disgusting and graphic versions of the once unexpected and "fresh" juvenile scenes isn't an improvement at all. Making a good deal of these scenes incredibly long and non-skippable is a death wish for this kind of game.

So the good "old stuff" not present in DNF == player freedom, greater complexity, good design, fresh ideas

Matt Barton
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I wonder what it would have

I wonder what it would have taken for this game to really live up to the hype and expectations. Maybe it was just doomed from the start.

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Chris Kennedy
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Joined: 08/31/2008
Yes
Matt Barton wrote:

I wonder what it would have taken for this game to really live up to the hype and expectations. Maybe it was just doomed from the start.

Impossible expectations. Even if the game was really good, people were going to expect more from it due to how long they have had to wait.

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clok1966
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I honestly think we are

I honestly think we are starting to get into "bash it" mentaltity about stuff that is so-so.. it used ot be reviews said, this was fun, that was fun, but the game just coouldnt overcome the bland level design... nowdays they dont even point out the fun stuff, they just rip! rip! and rip some more! When i started playing it I was saying DUke was a 7 or 8 out of 10... now im closer ot 6 out of 10.. SO I think most reviews are spot on with the bad reviews. But as the "pr group who was fired from 2K games for the "we will ban you from our games" I gotta agree with his feelings ther is alot of hate just for hates sake of this game.

I do agree, if it was better than sliced bread im not sure many would say it.. the hype machine has made this one impossible to sell... The real problem is its not better then sliced bread, its just more of the same. I think people maybe wanted it to be great and are so dispointed they are lashing out some.

The upside is the sales are great it seems (i cant see how it can ever overcome the development hell budget it has used.. but i think thats all under the bridge and its just gotta make back whatever 2K games gave for it). it should be a success dispite (maybe becuase of?) the bad reviews.

What really something to think about.. think of the people this game has hurt.. the people on the development who are gone.. the main guy from 3Drealms (sorry forget name, he is all but done now i think, who is going to give him a timeline and budget again?)). Alot of ruined careers and lives im sure.

And i hate the HIVE levels.. 2 friggin guns.. and none to pick up hardly... AMMO where for art thou, ammo. My kingdom for some ammo! good thing duke packs a punch, bad thing most mobs are floating over huge holes so i cant punch them.. bad design flaw there boys..

I guess you can count me in the hype and backlash.. I was expecting more... maybe not as a duke fan, but as the huge time it took.. I just expected more I guess.. but that isnt makeing me see it as the worst game since Movie tie in games started... its pretty average..

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