6.04.2011

Duke Nukem Forever - First Access Club Demo

A while back when Gearbox announced that Duke Nukem Forever was indeed a thing, and that it was going to be released in 2011, they also announced the "First Access Club" as bonus to people who bought Gearbox's other recent title, Borderlands. Basically it was a marketing gimmick in the guise of keeping true fans up to date on the game. For the most part it was nothing amazing — a few wallpapers and concept art given out. I think I signed up out of a combination of morbid curiosity and nostalgia. It seems to finally be offering some cool stuff though, in the way of free DLC and early access to the demo. So yesterday I downloaded the demo via Steam and today I played through it.

I'm kind of at a loss for words. Not because I'm so astounded by it, or horribly disappointed. I'm kind of indifferent really. With a game like this, I'm not really sure what to expect. I was never really sure what to expect. The game industry's longest-running joke actually coming to light is something a lot of people never really thought would happen. It kind of took everyone by surprise. So in some respects, DNF can be viewed in the light of a decade-worth of nostalgia and pent-up desires. Or it can simply be viewed as a new triple-A1 shooter. I'm not entirely sure it meets expectations on either front, but then I'm not entirely sure it disappoints either. I don't think Duke Nukem was ever revered as some venerable franchise of gaming masterpieces. It was fun, entertaining, and pretty decent for a shooter of its era. But it wasn't really a Doom, or Half-Life, as far as making lasting impressions on the genre and industry.

Aaaaaanyways, this is all just a very verbose way of me attempting to contextualize my reaction to the demo, which can be summed up with one physical gesture: a shrug.

It was neither good nor bad, but ultimately it was forgettable. Of course, this is the reaction to a short, uninspired demo, and might not necessarily reflect the full game. However, I expect developers/publishers to release demos as products which do indeed reflect the full game experience, and are intended to positively influence pre-sale orders and things of that nature. Time and time again I've decided that developers are complete fucking morons when it comes to demos, and they often end up doing more harm than good. I don't really know what the case is for Gearbox this time around. Whatever it is, based upon this demo, I will most assuredly not be buying the game any time soon.

Here's the thing — the game feels like a good Duke Nukem game, but as a Duke Nukem game from 10 years ago. It has not evolved in any conceivable manner. It feels flat, and underdeveloped. It's not the type of product you expect of a triple-A title in this day and age. It seems to be attempting a ride entirely off the fumes of nostalgia. Nostalgia can only go so far2, however, especially considering that a significant portion of the game consumers out there are too young to even know who the hell Duke Nukem is. With a market currently bombarded by carbon-copy modern shooters, how does this game stand out among the rest? Dick jokes? Well, maybe. Half the appeal of Duke Nukem as a teenager was that it was "naughty" as compared to other games of its time. Sexual innuendo, mild swearing, severely-pixelated strippers. These are the kinds of things that open teenage wallets (although I don't remember ever paying for Duke Nukem 3D, and this was the pre-P2P era).

What I'm saying is that no matter the demographic, the game doesn't have much to go on. I almost feel the best it could do is tap in to the "irony" sales market (which seems to be a disgustingly popular trend these days).

Graphically, it looks like boiled turd. I realize Duke Nukem goes for a somewhat stylized, cartoony approach, and thus I shouldn't be on the lookout for photo-realism. Even in that realm, when held up against other "cartoon-styled" games (even Gearbox's own Borderlands), it looks like ass. To make matters worse in this department, the game uses a strange DOF/blurring effect which makes everything, except for the tiny spot on the screen you are directly aiming at, appear disturbingly fuzzy. Not blurry, mind you, but fuzzy. Like someone stuck a bad frosted-glass Photoshop filter over everything. I have no idea what maniac let this pass through the development process. I'm sure there has to be a setting in an .ini file somewhere to turn it off, but it's not present in the in-game graphical settings, which means people playing on consoles (or the technically inept on PC) will be forced to endure it.

As there's no real story to speak of (big guy blows aliens up), gameplay is really all Duke Nukem has to fall back on. This appears to be fundamentally lacking. While the elder Duke Nukem games showcased some features otherwise un-present in most of their peers, such as a jetpack allowing you to move along a 3rd axis, or interactive environmental objects (vending machines, sinks, etc), relying on these same gimmicks to wow people in this day and age isn't possible. So what used to be "OMG I CAN PEE IN A URINAL!" is now "Okay, I can pee in a urinal... what else is there to do in this game?" Maybe (maybe) people in the under-20 demographic will think it's worth $50+ to be able to draw dicks on a whiteboard in a game, but I'm not sure it will be enough to ensure financial success, or instigate a renewed Duke Nukem cult following. There does appear to be a vehicle/driving section for a change of pace, but I didn't get a very good feel for it in the demo. I have a feeling it will pale in comparison to other games which feature driving portions, such as id's forthcoming Rage.

Much of this I find to be very saddening, as there are some admirable qualities in the game: most notably, the idea of a shooter being being a game where you can actually run around and shoot stuff, as opposed to being dragged around by an untouchable NPC through half the game. Not to mention that some of the crude humor and 4th-wall-breaking/video game-based jokes are indeed pretty funny (much needed in an age when most games take themselves way too goddamned seriously). There's also John St. John's stellar and iconic voice work. I can't help but crack a smile every time he bellows out an overtly-macho gag line.

These hints of greatness are not enough to combat the overwhelming dullness of the rest of the game though. I'm not going to write it off completely — there's always the chance that Gearbox just made an incredibly shitty demo and that the rest of the game is monumentally more fun. With so many things vying for my dollars these days, I will at the very least wait for a Steam sale before considering this a worthwhile purchase.



1. A "triple-A" game is one that has a large budget, a high-profile marketing campaign, published by a large commercial game publisher, and commonly sees a multi-platform (PS3, Xbox 360, and PC) release.

2. ...and apparently has, as the game has already gone Gold in pre-sales! (wtf)

1 comment:

Tyler Morrison said...

Congrats on Getting banned from the Escapist for advertising this article. Was my view worth it?