Duke Nukem Forever
After 15 years—a veritable eternity in the gaming universe—Duke Nukem is back. Back for more alien slaying. More stripper squeezing. And more urinal using. Among other things.
Duke first strode into gamers' lives back in 1991 as a side-scrolling platformer, cutting through aggressive aliens as if they were Jell-O jigglers left out on a Florida front porch. But Duke's career really began heating up with Duke Nukem 3D, a massively successful 1996 release that pitted the protagonist against a marauding horde of extraterrestrials determined to take over Los Angeles.
When he wasn't bashing E.T.'s brains out, Duke was dashing through porn shops and encouraging strippers to perform for him. In addition, that game also allowed players the ability to shoot innocent women. No surprise that Duke Nukem 3D received its own volley of defcon-level crit for promoting pornography and murder. But that didn't keep the game from selling 3.5 million copies. The following year, the inevitable sequel was announced.
But the game became a victim of its own success, according to Wired magazine. In his continuing quest to make the franchise (including its requisite strippers) as realistic as possible, game designer George Broussard kept tinkering with it until most folks assumed it'd never be released—something like the video game equivalent of Guns N' Roses' mythic Chinese Democracy. So much so that the phantom title earned Wired's Vaporware Award six years running (vaporware being a term for promised hardware or software that's never delivered). So when Nukem development company 3D Realms was shuttered in 2009, it appeared as if the Duke had shot his last alien and received his last lap dance.
Wow. Don't I wish that were true. Like an unholy zombie, Nukem began scratching his way out of his gaming grave last year, finally shambling into big-box stores in 2011. And the result is, fittingly, much like a zombie itself: It's slow, dumb and stinks.
Duke Nukem Forever has received some scathing reviews from secular game critics, with many calling out its interminably long load screens and dated sense of humor. "It's supposed to be simple, raunchy, over-the-top fun," writes USA Today's Brett Molina. "There's one problem: It forgot the fun part. At its worst, it borders on offensive. … At its best, it's corny and juvenile."
Indeed, gameplay is not only crass and gross (more on that in a minute), but tedious. It takes hard work to slog through the game, the storyline of which again revolves around mowing down an alien army, this time in Las Vegas.
Duke can slay aliens with an assortment of eviscerating terrestrial and extraterrestrial weapons. But if such armament isn't available, he can hurl trash cans or golden statuettes in the invaders' direction—or just bludgeon them with his fists, particularly if he pops a handful of steroids and goes into what the game calls "'roid rage" Another example of chemical "enhancement": Beer makes Duke tougher at the cost of blurring his vision.
Blood and body parts fly around like plastic grocery bags on a windy day. Duke kicks an alien eye through a set of goalposts for a gruesome field goal at one point. Elsewhere, he pounds a xenomorph's giant testicles like a boxing speed bag. Most loathsome, perhaps, is a sequence in which Duke discovers a bevy of female earthlings who've been impregnated by their alien overlords. Duke can either let the pregnancies take their course—in which case the women explode—or "put them out of their misery" by shooting them.
Then there's Duke Nukem Forever 's hard-M sexual content. The game barely begins before we see scantily clad twins emerge from the bottom of the screen—apparently after performing oral sex on Duke. Strippers cavort, their nipples covered with pasties. Various anatomically correct statues litter Las Vegas. And to complete one particular level, Duke must go to a strip club (with a name too salacious to repeat here), locate several items (popcorn, a condom and a vibrator) and give them to a stripper, whereupon she'll "reward" his efforts with a lap dance.
Sorry, but there's more: The very first button you push helps Duke relieve himself in a urinal. If he explores the bathroom further, he can reach into toilets and pick up feces if he feels like it. And do I even need to mention profanity at this point? Because there's plenty of that, too, including a fusillade of f-words, s-words and offensive sexual slurs. Duke's also fond of offering obscene gestures to difficult adversaries before finishing them off.
Perhaps the most frightening thing about Duke Nukem Forever is that much of its crass content is the sort of stuff that immature adolescents might snicker at. And yet it all takes place in a game specifically branded for gamers 17 and up. Does this mean that the designers hope underage gamers will play? Or do they assume that gamers' sensibilities are growing ever more infantile? Both of those scenarios are a little scary, if you ask me.
Duke Nukem Forever is a botched effort, from top to bottom, beginning to end. Perhaps if the game fails—as seems likely right now—its creators will be able to move on to more rewarding, creative and intrinsically better endeavors. Perhaps the dirty Duke will finally be able to rest in pieces.