OPINON: Nick Cowen asks whether we really want or need another game starring Duke Nukem. And the answer is probably not.
You have to hand it to Randy Pitchford as the founder and CEO of Gearbox Software is certainly not one to balk in the face of public opinion. While the Texan developer’s Borderlands franchise is one of the most beloved IPs in gaming, the titles Pitchford and co have released around it in recent years have been about as well received as a fart in a lift.
When Pitchford announced Gearbox would be rescuing Duke Nukem Forever from the status of vapourware, gamers rejoiced and critics became intrigued about the prospect of seeing Duke emerge after fifteen-years of development hell. However, this collective interest soon curdled into ire once the game was released. Between its sub-par graphics, eye-watering difficulty and loading times that seemed to take for ever, the received wisdom on Duke Nukem Forever was that the world would have been better off if it had never seen the light of day. The fact that Pitchford was resolute in his defence of the game only added more fuel to the fire.
Next, Alien: Colonial Marines, despite selling like the clappers, was roundly panned by critics on release and it brought down a torrent of online flaming that had the potential to short-wire keyboards. Some gamers even sued over it. Once again, Pitchford fought back against the criticism, which brought even more hostility from the gaming community down on him. That white-hot rage and withering contempt hasn’t dissipated; just check out what happened when Pitchford recently went on Twitter to participate in an open Q&A with fans.
Yesterday at Develop, Pitchford resumed his status as the gaming community’s favourite tackling dummy when he announced that the world might not have seen the last of Duke Nukem. When asked if there would be another game starring the Duke, Pitchford said, ““I certainly hope so. I didn’t acquire the franchise just to make Duke Nukem Forever.”
“We’ve done some concept development and I think the challenges are there,” he added. “I think the faster way is that a correct developer can become interested and we can work with them.”
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Now, while this doesn’t mean Duke Nukem’s return is imminent, it does mean that Gearbox is open to the idea of it. But does the world really need another Duke Nukem game? Leaving aside the fact that his last outing had what can charitably be referred to as ‘issues’ in its design and execution, you have to wonder if The Duke himself isn’t just a tad past his sell-by date.
When he first swaggered onto the scene in the early 90s, Duke was equal parts a celebration and a parody of the slab-headed action heroes blowing up movie house box offices at the time. But while the likes of Stallone and Schwarzenegger pumped round after round into baddies with stone-faced seriousness punctuated by the odd macho quip, Duke tore through armies tossing out testosterone-fuelled cheesy one-liners as frequently as the player pulled the trigger.
By the time Duke Nukem 3D came out, both Sly and Arnie were coming back down from orbit, and The Duke seemed to be just about the best steroid-fueled punch-line to the pair’s movies imaginable. Everything from the outlandish set pieces, to the ridiculous guns, to the politically incorrect humour, to Duke’s haircut (which you could probably land a helicopter on) made Duke Nukem 3D feel like the best action film the 80s never produced. Equal parts teen fan’s wet dream and sly satire, Duke Nukem 3D wasn’t just a heap of fun to play it was (gulp!) culturally relevant to the time it was made in.
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To say this relevancy was gone by the time Duke re-emerged in 2011 is something of an understatement. To players who actually remembered his hey-day, Duke came across like an embarrassing great uncle trying to cut a rug at the Sixth Form disco. He was less Arnie than he was Austin Powers, but with none of the latter’s charm since his sense of humour and many of the gags peppering the action in Duke Nukem Forever could’ve fit neatly into a comedy set from Andrew Dice Clay circa 1988, post-lobotomy.
Players born after 1996 didn’t really know who the hell he was and when they played Duke Nukem Forever they wondered what all the fuss had been about. In a world of Call Of Duty, Halo and Gears Of War, Duke Nukem was a has-been. A has-been in a sub-par game that was crushingly lame at best and sexist, juvenile and misogynist at worst.
So why revive Duke for yet another outing? Is Gearbox banking on brand recognition and the fervent hope that a new title tagged as ‘the game Duke Nukem Forever should have been’ will be enough to convince players to part with more cash in spite of being burned the last time round? To be honest, that strategy would be its best bet because the developer can’t even use the excuse that Duke Nukem is a guilty pleasure to justify his continued existence.
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In the double backflip “it’s so crap, it’s brilliant” world we live in some art that was once considered roadkill can take on a measure of gleeful appeal. Train wreck movies like The Room and Showgirls boast sizable cult audiences. Wham!’s most recognisable hits are warmly received in retro discos, rather than dismissed for the audio offal they truly are. A turgid novel like The Eye Of Argon has been preserved for posterity, as its terrible prose still has the power to bring tears of laughter to one’s eyes. Even works of art that look like something most of us could have created at home with minimal talent and effort have been sold for millions
Duke, however, is a gaming IP and given the amount of time it takes to plough through a game, the medium doesn’t lend itself to being enjoyed unless the example you’re playing is… ya know… any good. Don’t believe us? Clock an eye at the hour-long video of Giant Bomb playing of Ride To Hell: Retribution – a game that was even more reviled than Aliens: Colonial Marines, in spite of the fact it came out the same year.
Bad games can’t be appreciated the same way as say, a bad movie; it’s easy – even enjoyable – to marvel at a car crash like The Room, because it’s only 90 minutes long and your not likely to run out of one-liners before it ends. Imagine it was more than eight hours in length and try to imagine the effort it’ll take to stop swallowing your own tongue before the end. It’s impossible.
Let’s face it, Duke has had his day. Unless Gearbox (or another studio) can re-imagine the ol’ lunk for a modern audience, there’s little chance his next outing will be any better than Duke Nukem Forever – whatever Randy Pitchford says…
You don’t need Duke Nukem. Play one of these instead…
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Available on Xbox 360 and PS3
People Can Fly’s FPS is easily one of the most underappreciated shooters ever made (so it’s great that the developer has hinted a sequel is on the way). In it players used a variety of awesome weapons and an electric lash to rack up as many kills as they can as stylishly as they can. If that sounds like a game aimed at highbrow combo specialists, think again. The characters in Bulletstorm are all macho knuckle-draggers to man (and woman); a pack of muscle-bound losers who find themselves trapped on an alien planet filled with creatures and enemies who view them as food. You’re not meant to sympathise with these people. You’re meant to laugh at them. And then use them to cut opponents in half with a shotgun.
Available on PC
Developed by South African studio Free Lives and published by Devolver, BroForce is a side-scrolling shoot-‘em-up that’s more violent than the film oeuvres of Quentin Tarantino and Sam Peckinpah combined. Aside from its frenetic and highly graphic violence, BroForce taps into every action movie franchise from the 80s with the player switching between avatars reminiscent of John Matrix, John McClane, Ellen Ripley and more. It’s more gung-ho than the last three Call Of Duty games. Believe.
Not A Hero
Available on PC
Another side-scrolling hyper-violent shooter from Devolver’s stable, Not A Hero sees players cleaving a bloody path through a city at the behest of an alien politician named BunnyLord, who has come from the future to save mankind. Yes really. The dodge-roll-cover-shoot-dodge-shoot-again progression requires pretty quick reflexes, but it’s sadistically satisfying once you get into a groove.
Gears Of War (any of them)
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Available on Xbox One and Xbox 360
Even if you’ve never played a Gears Of War title, you’ll know that this franchise positively drips with testosterone. Big guns? Check. Steroid-pumped protagonists? Check! Mental action? Check! Snappy one-liners – hell, yes and it’s a good thing too because the plot is about as anorexic as it gets. Gears Of War games are so chock full of explosions and machismo that playing a campaign in one sitting is pretty much guaranteed to leave you feeling drained.
Available on Xbox 360 and PS4
Platinum Games’s Third Person Shooter plays like Gears Of War on speed. Instead of a lumbering COG you control a lithe, acrobatic soldier in skin-tight armour. Instead of a chainsaw bayonet you have power-slides punctuated with brief moments of bullet-time. Instead of a grim orchestral soundtrack, the action is scored by brain-blowing techno. Vanquish’s action comes so thick and fast it’s a sensory overload at times; the only respite – aside from the hilariously bad dialogue – is a brief sniping mission which, compared to the rest of the game, feels like the calm in the eye of a hurricane.
Hotline Miami (either of them)
Available on PS Vita and PC
The Hotline Miami games look and play like a rather grisly top-down killbox but don’t be fooled; these titles are essentially RTS puzzles presented as spring-loaded deathtraps. The key to success is timing, planning and more than a little luck. It helps that the game’s plot, atmosphere and visual presentation recalls Michael Mann by way of Nicolas Winding Refn on about nine pints of mescaline. Purists will tell you that the original Hotline Miami is the better of the two but that’s only because the second installment didn’t have the shock of the new. Both have incredible soundtracks, by the way.
Far Cry: Blood Dragon
Available on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC
If you really want a throwback to the 80’s, pick up this retro-fueled FPS Far Cry spin-off. Complete with a barmy plotline, outlandish weapons and tongue-in-cheek dialogue, the only way this neon-encrusted FPS could be more brilliant is if it starred Michael Biehn as its protagonist. Oh wait! IT DOES!
Coming to Xbox One, PS4 and PC (release date TBC)