Friday, February 20, 2015

Video Game Slush Pile: Duke Nukem Forever

Let me tell you a funny story. Back in 1996 there was a popular murder simulator. There were plans for a sequel. Then it didn't come out. For years. It was hilarious. Take all the same "Any day now!" sarcasms that were being applied to Guns 'n' Roses and you could easily transfer them to this. Promises and promises, decade old pre-order receipts, fake screenshots, it was a komedy kow that the video game community could just keep milking and the udder juice was just as tasty each time.

Then it came out in 2011. I guess the punch line needs some work.

In some ways I'm the ideal person to review this mess and not just because I'm, like, real, real good at the ritin' n' stuff. I'm not a fan of first person shooters, so the entire fifteen years of broken dreams was something I was aware of, but about as dispassionate about it as the average American is about the steady erosion of their rights. Then I saw this game a few months ago, on deep, deep discount and thought "why not!" After all, Chinese Democracy was pure, refined excellence so logically this should follow the same precedent. It's not like "follow the gun" games have changed much since the mid-nineties, right?

  The rating is the only "mature" thing about this.

As far as FPS games go, I thought it was ok. There's the usual collection of guns, sometimes you can throw explosives, and the enemies generally die when you shoot them. Maybe I'm being more forgiving because this wasn't one of those "cover-based" games where you must cower behind preternaturally durable boxes, popping out like finished toast at opportune moments to take a few shots and then resuming the fetal position because trying anything cool or daring will get you wrecked. That's the good news. The bad news is the fire fights are both surprisingly brief and quite difficult. From the title I assumed you'd be a one-man army constantly mowing down hapless foes, but that's not really the case.

   Hang on Sandra Bullshit, I'll save you.

There were some things that stood out as well-done. Your life bar is actually an "ego" bar (I'm protected by balancing the id and wonder I'm constantly dying). The bar can be increased by interacting with the game world and it's actually satisfying to discover ways to increase it. Look in mirror, get a boost. Use a urinal, get a boost. Just like in real life. I'm ready to take on the world as I leave that public restroom, let me tell you.

A lot of the ego increases are tied to crude interactive mini-games. Suffice it to say, they're unimpressive, hard to control and far from the state of the art for such diversions. Still, it's hard not to smile when Duke makes exaggerated moans after pocketing a ball in pool. There's an entire level set in a gentleman's club (You're knocked out and hallucinating...don't ask) that's almost nothing but this. 

Some of the other intentional humor comes in the form of the one-liners. You shoot a pig-alien and Duke says "I don't dig on swine." If you don't at least find that amusing, if dated, I don't know what to tell you. Speaking of references that probably were cutting edge in 1996 but didn't exactly age well for the eventual release we get the Olsen twins as running joke, at least until they die horribly in one of the most tone-deaf moments the game produces.

Still as popular as ever!

The bottom line is, for the most part, the constant grade school playground humor works. While reading some reviews to gather chaff for "The Critics Rave!" section, I noticed more than one reviewer was "offended." Yes, hurt feelings. We need laws. Sorry folks, that's the future we're heading into, where the super-violent and passionately sophomoric fun is a thing of the past. Video games will soon be as gelded as every other form of mass entertainment. 

I've made it a point to try to highlight the good, because the bad is plentiful. There's some truly painful puzzles (Do floating gun game mutants really enjoy these?) including some god-awful platforming. There's a reason most "jump from here to there" games are not first person, a very good reason. You can only carry two guns, cheap deaths are common, loading screens take an eternity, during the loading you get wacky tips like "Don't get hit to avoid damage," there's lame "turret" sequences, the one-liners repeat and start to grate, there's Zelda puzzle bosses and lame gimmicks like "Duke vision" and using steroids as a power-up. Yeah, there's plenty not to like, but overall it's at worst average for the genre. The bizarre release history is what ultimately made it such a desirable target for reviewers.

These will get me mad yolked, bro.

Graphics: Some really disappointing textures, here. Just kidding. They were good enough.

Controls: You have to use your jump to land on platforms and it's a nightmare. Everything else seemed decent enough. The mini-games are a total joke, ranging from nearly unplayable (pool) to merely bad (pinball).

Depth: Yeah, right. You shoot pig-aliens and move around objects to solve truly painful puzzle sequences. The storyline involves the return of the aliens you defeated last time trying to take our women. You get even by blasting them. One thing of note is that this game mocks our government as timid and reluctant to fight even in the face of obvious danger, as opposed to more conventional "wit" where our president is a trigger-happy cowboy of the "Fool me...once...won't get fooled again!" school.

Overall: C+ for the actual game, F------ for a fifteen year wait. 

The Critics Rave!  

Duke returns in classic form, and he's never felt so old, so out of place, and so embarrassing. Just wait until you find the wall boobs. - IGN 

Every time I put the controller down, I felt the need to rub my hands on my jeans as if the game were making me physically dirty. It's like watching your uncle tell racist jokes at Thanksgiving and praying someone has the guts to tell him to cut it out, but this time it's interactive—and you're the uncle. - Opposable Thumbs

This time around, toilets are indestructible - Gamesradar 

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

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