Before the release of Half Life 2 I wrote an article
questioning whether or not Half Life 2 really mattered or not. The industry had moved on quite a bit since the first game had been released and the game didn’t look like it was ever going to be released. The article was born out frustration that the game had been delayed once again. Of course Half Life 2 ended being the gold standard for FPS games and possibly one of the best games every produced. As we've gotten some tidbits and news bits about the possible release of Duke Nukem Forever in 2008 I’ve started to have the same questions and while 3D Realms has stated the game will launch when it's done, maybe it's time to consider if the title is even worth releasing.
There's no point in re-hashing the development history of the game as Duke Nukem Forever is the longest running joke in the gaming community. The question here is if the game really matters to the gaming industry or if this long running joke needs to be stopped. At this point Duke Nukem Forever has more baggage than a Samsonite store and if the game falls short in any way it's going to get shredded by the press and gamers around the world.
Duke Nukem isn’t the first game to be stuck in development hell. Apologists could point out that Prey and Team Fortress 2, both of which had a similar development arcs but they are two completely different beasts. People cut Prey slack because the game wasn't nearly as hyped or delayed as Duke Nukem Forever. Team Fortress 2 was forgiven because the game was part of the greatest bundle ever created and Valve did deliver a masterful new interpretation the game. From what we've seen so far Duke Nukem Forever isn't going to do any of those things. Of course that's not saying much as 3D Realms has kept the game under wraps but the teaser trailer that was released in December didn't really blow anyone away.
There’s also the matter of the main character. Duke Nukem was a great character when he was created during the first Bush administration. Tons of great one liners and a cool look was all we really needed ten years ago. But now we have games like Half Life 2, BioShock, and God of War where the characters are more than just action hero cliché’s. I think gamers really are looking for more in their protagonists right now. Playing a Duke Nukem game now would be like listening to 80’s hair metal after Nirvana and Pearl Jam debuted, it’s nice for nostalgia but no one takes it seriously.
Are gamers really going to empathize with Duke in 2008? The Serious Sam and Painkiller games tried this formula a few years ago and were pretty much ignored. That's not to say they weren't fun games but gamers need more now. I'm not advocating Emo-Duke by any means but I don't think the character works like he used to. Just look at the recent Rambo movie for proof of how an old icon doesn't work in modern day story telling. While there is some nostalgia to the character he's a product of a by-gone era and I don't think people are going to settle for such a poor shell of a character any more. Let’s be honest, at this point Duke Nukem feels a bit like the creepy 30 year old guy who's hitting on high school girls at the mall.
I also wonder about the business side of the game. With the game in development for over decade is there anyway 3D Realms can make money on the it? How many copies will they have to sell to even come close to breaking even? Sure it’s their money and they can do what they want with it but what kind of business acumen is it to continue to throw money at a project that is this far overdue? How many other games could have been developed with the money that was thrown at Duke Nukem forever? I get that there’s been some drama on the development team but if you have to wonder how people keep their jobs when a project is this far overdue.
You also have to wonder about how Duke Nukem Forever will work as a game. Duke Nukem 3D had a strong single player campaign but now you have games like Call of Duty 4 and BioShock which have taken storytelling and FPS gameplay to new levels. Even F.E.A.R. with its non-stop barrage of offices and warehouses has more depth to it than Duke Nukem 3D did. I'm not sure that "Save the babes and save the world from aliens" cuts it as a plot device any more. The original game has some fun and fantastic weapons but I'm not sure the folks at 3D Realms are going to do anything we haven't seen in one of the Ratchet and Clank games.
Duke Nukem 3D also had some of the best multiplayer I've ever played (we still fire it up at LAN parties from time to time) but the bar has been raised significantly by the Halo and Call of Duty games. Sure you can't shrink anyone and then step on them in these games but I can kill people with a flying toilet in Half Life 2 and that's just as good. At this point in the game deathmatch is a checkbox item for multiplayer and gamers now are looking for more than just a mode where they can shoot people in a series of corridors and rooms. Players want diversity and they want something new and I can't see Duke delivering anything that's going to drag people away from Team Fortress 2.
As I look back there’s a small chance that Duke Nukem Forever could be a success but there’s also a chance I could win the lottery and have a romantic dinner with Scarlett Johansson. At this point the fascination with the game has gone from interest in the game to what's going on with the train wreck of a development cycle. I'm not going to call Duke Nukem Forever the Anna Nicole Smith of the gaming world but we're getting close. Given that there’s still no release date in sight maybe it’s time for 3D Realms to cut their losses and move on. I can’t imagine the business case for keeping the game going and they would need a miracle for the game to be any kind of financial success. Of course there is that small chance the game will see the light of day this year and you can bet I’ll be buying lottery tickets when it does.
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