Versus: Duke Nukem Forever

It’s been a little while since I did a “Versus” piece, mainly because I like to be genuinely conflicted about a subject before I undertake it. If either end of the pendulum swing comes up shallow, if I can’t manipulate my emotions to a rabid fervor on both ends of the topic, then it just isn’t worth doing. Fortunately, we have an ideal subject in the upcoming “Duke Nukem Forever.”

In case you don’t know the rules, it’s very simple: I take both sides of an issue and blather incoherently until I’m exhausted. Then you examine the rubble and tell me which side wins.

Begin!

“Duke Nukem Forever” (DNK) Will Be Great

Cynical people should be shot. They make the world terrible. It doesn’t matter how great things get, they will always, always, always, drag it down. You know the type: they would watch the Second Coming with crossed arms, nothing pleases them. When things suck, they complain about much things suck. When something great happens, they actually work against it so they can go back to complaining.

Those people are hard at work right now. They’re getting time-and-a-half. They’re punching in all weekend, they’re working from home, absolutely whatever it takes to make the release of “Duke Nukem Forever,” an event that is cause for unbridled joy, suck balls. For years they said DNK would never—could never—actually come out. And now they stand on the threshold of their wrongness, and they grasp desperately for a life raft: “well, it’s gonna suck.” No it won’t you cynical waste of space! Admit you were wrong! Admit it!

“Duke Nukem Forever” should be dead. It has endured more than any other game in history. I’m not going to recount the story here, you should bloody well already know it. The point is, this poor thing has been stuck in the kind of development hell that would make a Hollywood producer cringe. It has endured egomania, technical malfunctions, corporate restructuring, and plain old-fashioned bad luck, and it has refused to bite the dust. When 3D Realms shut down the dev team, it seemed the fight to survive was finally over.

And then, a miracle happened; yes, miracles happen, you cynical bastards. A couple of heroes, men of true grit and substance, took their severance pay from 3D Realms, drove home, turned on their personal computers and kept working. Realms saw this, and approached Gearbox Software to help them out. It just so happened that Gearbox had some free time ahead of them, had developed successful properties in a very similar genre (“Borderlands”), and their CEO had even worked on the franchise in the past. Eat it, cynics. Miracles.

So, after a Sisyphean toil that stretched past a decade, DNK finally found a warm, safe home under the care of loving developers. It’s seriously the gaming equivalent of Little Orphan Annie getting adopted by the bald guy. Gearbox is talented as hell, and passionate about the project. The footage looks great, the new Ego Bar instead of Health is a genius touch, and no one else is doing anything like it. How could this be better?

Will the game be “Bioshock”? No, probably not. But who says it needs to be? Duke has many virtues, but innovation really isn’t one of them. His job is to be light on his feet, enjoyable, and funny as hell. I’m pretty sure Gearbox can get that done. Besides, in a market clogged with self-serious shooters, DNF provides an invaluable counter-balance. We need a shooter like this right now. Sure, there are other cartoon-y action games, but none of them have even a quarter of Duke’s style or sense of humor. DNF stands to bring something to the table here.

It’s time to shut up and admit that this is good news, and proof that yes, sometimes cute puppies get adopted from the animal shelter and live long, rich lives with loving families. I just want you to admit it, cynics. I just want you to say the words: cute puppies live happily ever after. Say it, damn you.

“Duke Nukem Forever” Will Suck

This is just pathetic. Are we really this terrified of new ideas in the entertainment industry? We’re really going to deliver “Duke Nukem Forever” to real people, in 2011? What…what is the thinking here? Who is clamoring for this horribly dated artifact of mid-90s, giggle-snort-offensiveness? The time has come and gone, Duke. You live on in the XBLA, like a piece of Egyptian pottery in a museum. That is your place now. Don’t feel bad, dude, some day Master Chief and Nathan Drake will be right there with you (actually, I don’t know about Nathan Drake, that cat might live forever).

This horrible, half-hearted resurrection stems not from sentimentality, but from unrelenting greed and a Dr. Frankenstein-like blindness to basic decency. So suffocated is this industry by fear of failure that nothing is beneath them, no corpse too rotted to exhume. This is grave robbery. What in the hell is Duke Nukem, yellow hair and all, doing in the modern gaming marketplace?

I’m not saying being offensive goes out of style; unfortunately, it doesn’t. But how is the Duke going to contend with “Bulletstorm”? Or “Serious Sam”? Or Gearbox’s own “Borderlands”? Whatever niche he could possibly fill, a dozen games are already all over. And the market is completely in the wrong direction for this resurgence: everyone is creaming their pants over “Call of Duty” style, ultra-military “realism” (I can barely type that word in application to CoD without choking). DNF is exactly what the shooter genre is trending away from. Duke is literally uncool, and you’re going to make him even un-cooler by dragging him out in front of everyone and dropping his pants. It’s like taking your freaking parents to a rave.

And besides all of that, the game isn’t going to be any good. The people who have played it have walked away with very little to say. Gearbox is talented, yes, but they didn’t have enough time to produce something of real and substantial quality. They inherited a patchwork quilt of different ideas, and I’m sure they put heroic effort into stitching it all together, but there’s no A for Effort where my sixty bucks are concerned. Put up or shut up, I don’t care about some douche bag a decade ago who was too afraid to finish a game that was never going to be that great anyway.

And of course, they can’t delay the game. They put a hard release date down, and if they nudge it even a week, the eyes of the world will look away from them forever. This is horrible news: good games often require more time than anticipated, and now DNF does not have that luxury. It must come out, whether it’s ready for its close up or not.

The only positive thing about DNF is that it will come out at all. What, did someone at Gearbox have money on this or something? Was there an office wager? Dear 3D Realms: yes, your game died after a long, brutal struggle for life. It’s very sad, but get over it. Start from scratch, build something new. That I might play, and that I might be interested in. Chucking this disfigured beast at me with one hand over your eyes is just obnoxious, and I’m not going to catch it for you.

So there you have it. I think I have irrefutably established three facts: DNF is not culturally relevant, it’s unlikely to be any good, and it’s absolutely coming out anyway. The sad truth is, “Duke Nukem Forever” actually being released may prove to be far more fatal to the Duke than the endless delays.