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.


Joined: 01/21/2009
OK, OK i give up.. DUKE

OK, OK i give up.. DUKE SUCKS! I could live with the 5 year old graphics, I could live with the 10 year old humour. I could "sorta" live with the bane of 2 weapons (damn you HALO!!!!!!) and generating health. But having areas I can get into, but not back out of... that I cant excuse. In the desert area there are area's the truck will go into, but not back out of. Load.... thats just poor game design. To be 100% honest I wasnt feeling the rage most reviewers do for DUKE.. still not.. its a pretty average game.. I am hving fun playing it.. so ...

But one guy summed it up.. the game is ok, but when you understand you paid $50 for it you look at it alot harder and the warts show alot more. I paid $45... and ya.. DUKE SUCKS for that price... this is the Poster child for a $20 game if there ever was one. GEARBOX may have thought they where doing a good thing releaseing this.. but I'm starting to keep score, and with the ugly sqwat people from GEARS (and the velcro, let me lose! cover system) this is 3 strikes... but i can take one off for the excellent use of music in the Gears TV ads (to bad everybody is trying to copy it now and its annoying when overused) and one more off for Borderlands.. A game company that hurts and helps... to bad Im not into that :)

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
I agree wholeheartedly, clok.

I agree wholeheartedly, clok. So blatantly blocking areas off is inexcusable, particularly in a game that on the other hand teases you with its interactive environments, even as sparse as they are. It's like if you're going to try and make things interactive in this day and age, make it all interactive or don't bother, because it actually hurts immersion more when you can seemingly do some things with no rhyme or reason and can't do others.

I've also heard some PC gamers say it's only the console versions that suck with the load times and what-not and the experience is really good if you have a quality PC, but even me playing it through OnLive the experience was pretty dreadful. I think I would have excused a few more things if the between level load times weren't so bad, but that in particular ruins any flow/momentum the game tries to pick up. I honestly think I would have been happier with a 5 - 10 hour game if it were a tight 5 - 10 hours with strong multiplayer, than this disjointed mess of a game with no flow, no smoothness and no polish.


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