The Missed Opportunity of Duke Nukem Forever

duke nukem forever

Over a decade of buildup for a game does some strange things. There's an arc that occurs. Anticipation morphs into contempt, which gives way to cynicism, turning into complete disinterest. Duke Nukem Forever had enough time to float through the lofty arches of this cycle, somehow landing in center stage. Now, all eyes are on Gearbox's homage to our Lord and Savior Duke Nukem. But do they capture Duke's brand of offensive satire?

Probably not. But it's funny when you realize what makes Duke Nukem Forever so offensive is its completely generic attempt at being offensive. Maybe Gearbox thinks today's consumers can't pick up on The Duke's tongue-in-cheek humor? What I've seen of DNF reminds me of a kid in a chatroom who spouts out racial slurs just to rile up everyone else. What's worse is Gearbox looks to be doing it for the same reason as the common, loudmouthed troll – easy attention.

Gearbox is wasting an entry into a franchise that has been otherwise used to point out how juvenile video games can be. Like Duke Nukem 3D before it, DNF could affect the industry by taking shots at current game trends, or its own audience. However, it appears Gearbox is settling for pushing peoples' buttons without saying anything meaningful. They're riling people up by picking on groups whose business they can afford to lose. After all, males are the largest consumer of video games, and I'm willing to bet most of them don't care how women are presented in DNF (though many men and women have spoken out against Duke Nukem Forever).

Am I being too quick to judge? The game isn't out yet, but the marketing released is indicative of a product that saw all the crudeness of the original, but never realized it was all a big, sarcastic joke. It's like meeting someone who watches The Colbert Report and legitimately wants Stephen on Fox News.

Take a look at a couple of videos 2K has released.

Either the marketing team on Duke Nukem Forever, whom have undoubtedly spent a lot of time analyzing their product, misunderstands their game's tone, or the sequel misses the point of the original. Which seems more likely?

Yes, Duke 3D was misogynistic, crude, and offensive. But it was also social commentary. It's satire of a medium where women are marginalized and viewed as little more than objects. It makes fun of a hyper-masculine worldview that revolves around sex, violence, and swearing. Conveniently, you don't have to look hard into the world of video games to find all three of those things.

Sure, Duke Nukem 3D had moments where it pushed people's buttons, but it did so to show us how immature video games can be. Duke Nukem Forever should do the same. It should make fun of impossibly huge, gritty, macho guys rattling out fake military chatter, while methodically mowing down hundreds of other human beings. Duke should point out the absurdity in "heroic" Elves and Orcs committing genocide for junk, then ripping out the guts of their enemies and handing them to some guy who has a fetish for pig snouts. Gearbox should take this chance to point out how it's crazy that a gigantic industry is tailored to such a narrow audience (well, you could make the case that it's two audiences now, but I have to keep this succinct). 

In short, go offend gamers and game makers, Gearbox, we can take it. We'll have a good laugh about it because most video games are inherently ridiculous. Don't be lazy by using worn out Mind of Mencia “jokes” for cheap laughs.

The strange coincidence is that Duke Nukem 3D pointed out how other games push peoples' buttons just to garner attention. But here we are, looking at Duke Nukem Forever trolling people for free press. Duke 3D was the kind of work that should make someone say, "Oh wow, this is so dumb!", but at the same time wonder why they put up with the same material in other games. Does DNF have the same message? Probably not.

I get that many people love greased-up, muscled-out dudes smoking bad guys grunting one-liners. Personally, I'll never stop loving that. Did my eyes go wide when Soap jumped a canyon in a snow mobile while a pack of rabid Russians are hot for his blood? Absolutely. Did I snort when Johnny Cage nut-punched Scorpion? Definitely. Do I feel like Call of Duty or Mortal Kombat really have anything witty to say? Certainly not. That's why what I've seen of DNF looks disappointing.

Duke would jump a canyon, and he'd certainly stomp an alien's grapes, but those things should be presented with a self-aware smirk. That's what made the first game so genius. 3D Realms saw the uber-male, muscled-out pop-culture landscape and probably thought "We don't want to make a something like that. We want to make fun of things like that." So, Duke Nukem 3D was born.

Furthermore, Duke 3D was a parody of the newest technology at the time. You have interactive environments in your game? Watch Duke interact with toilets. You have voice acting in your game? Listen to our main character tell you to "Eat shit and die." Your game is too violent? Duke can kill strippers. Everything was taken to a ridiculous extreme in Duke 3D – but it wasn't mindless. It was a commentary on the latest fads in the video game industry. Stuff like that made Duke Nukem 3D stand apart.

Duke Nukem Forever doesn't seem to get that. Sure, there are things in DNF that are meant to be funny, but the game comes across as that guy who laughs, but doesn't get the joke. The humor in DNF is only trying to be as offensive as possible. It's too over the top, too obvious, and that makes it comes off as lazy. DNF sees Duke 3D as a jigsaw puzzle and pounds the pieces together without stopping to look at the picture on the box.

DNF tells jokes like, "Watch me throw this hunk of poop around? LOL! That's sooo funny!" or "Hey! Here's a glory hole, I wonder what I can do with it? Are you feeling uncomfortable yet?" or, "Hey, let's get a lapdance! Hahaha! Are you offended?" The game is constantly trying to one-up itself by making each scenario more "offensive" than the last. It's like a group of high school kids got together and wrote up things that they assumed would offend old ladies, then put it all into a Duke Nukem Forever. There's no wit to it, and there's no soul – it's lame.

It's too bad that Gearbox doesn't try to offend their peers, or even their own audience, forcing them to think about what they're really doing in their living rooms. That's what separates satire from poop jokes – the ability to make you think. 3D Realms wasn't afraid to do that by pointing out how ridiculous video games are – and they did it in a clever way. Ultimately, cleverness is what DNF seems to lack – just like that kid in the chatroom.