Who Cares About The Duke Anymore?

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Last week we got to see some brief, over the shoulder footage of Duke Nukem Forever actually being played. Set the world alight, it did not. As teasers go it was pretty poor – the quality of the footage was terrible and if the impression we were supposed to get was that DNF is going to take place almost exclusively in dark, smoke-filled basements then mission accomplished.

Maybe it’s the fact that we’ve been waiting (I say waiting, but that falsely implies I’ve any level of expectation for this title) for the return of the Duke for over ten years. Any talk of its debut (whenever that may be) still seems to carry with it the attitude that the return of the Duke is something to be celebrated and not, as I would contend, maligned.

The problem I have is this – does anyone even remember what Duke Nukem 3D was like, besides ugly? I think it was a solid shooter with some funny weapons, but after all these years the only impression I really have left is that it was a game about a muscle-bound, misogynistic asshole shooting giant pigs dressed in police uniforms while “borrowing” heavily from the memorable quotes of Bruce Campbell. It was crude, immature, unashamedly violent and probably the most politically incorrect mainstream game this side of Custer’s Revenge.

It’s quite literally a game from a different cultural age, a by-gone era of the games industry. This is a game pre-Columbine, pre-GTA, pre-Jack Thompson. Games that try to be even half as bold as Duke 3D was today find themselves subject to intense, wrong-headed scrutiny at the hands of inept mainstream media, news outlets and indignant prodding from “family” groups. Poor Mass Effect, expertly crafted sci-fi RPG, was branded pornography for daring to show side-boob in what was a timid, tasteful and extremely brief sex scene. GTA has been a regular target for pretty much every aspect of its content (no more objectionable than the Duke’s, you could argue), but number IV seems to have gone slightly easier this time around. At this point even the likes of the seemingly indefatigable and soon to be disbarred (probably) Jack Thompson must be weary of taking on the Rockstar juggernaut with every new iteration.

In the end, all DNF, if it ever arrives, will do is present a new target. As shooters go the industry has moved on an awful lot – we’ve had the Half-Life series, new Quakes, a new Doom, Crysis, Bioshock… From a critical standpoint, if Duke doesn’t manage to be as good as all of these then it will rightly be judged a failure. If it takes you a decade to make a game that can’t even hold it’s own against something like Doom 3 then you’ve no business making games. And if you’ve had a decade and can’t produce something as inventive or fresh-feeling as Bioshock or Crysis then, really, you’ve no business making games either.

If the Duke survives the pangs of re-birth, what kind of reaction can we expect from those outside the gaming sphere? I think the reactions to GTA (OMG shooting cops!) and Mass Effect (OMG side boob!) can give us some indication. Is it worth dredging up a dinosaur just so we can take a few more shots at it? I don’t think so.

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One Response to “Who Cares About The Duke Anymore?”

  1. The Duke on XBLA « The Irish Gamers Says:

    […] hands of Microsoft. While it’s good to see classic Duke doing the rounds again (despite my lamentations a while back), you can’t help but wonder when 3D Realms are going to, you know, release a new […]

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