Home > Essays > Do we need another Duke Nukem?

Do we need another Duke Nukem?

The Collector's Edition of Duke NukemBy Kob Monney

The first time I came across Duke Nukem was in school; someone had uploaded several games to the PCs which we played instead of, y’know, being educated. I was too young to understand the game beyond the idea of shooting aliens in the face. Until recently the appeal of the character or why he had such an ardent fanbase was lost on me. Beyond the nostalgia and vapourware jokes, what would Duke offer in 2011 that had not been done before?

Reading previews on various gaming sites over the last few weeks a picture of the character started to form. Searching YouTube brought up a video featuring his most memorable quotes. What I gathered from the previews and videos was a character similar to those pulpy, hard-boiled detective fiction (but completely exaggerated), a character with the attitude of Dirty Harry mixed with the looks and sardonic put-downs of Arnold Schwarzenegger (in fact Duke really reminds me of The Last Action Hero or Marv from Frank Miller’s Sin City).

On the basis of those previews he is not meant to be taken seriously. He’s a shallow, vain character satirising the tropes of Eighties actioners and video games in general. I like the fact that he laughs at himself and we laugh with him. He’s intentionally ridiculous and his humour appeals to what Fox News would probably call the more immature parts of society. I understand where developers Free Realms and now Gearbox are coming from; my problem with Duke Nukem is why should I care about his return? Is it because he exists and in doing so I should automatically care regardless of whether there’s any real interest?

Now, judging a book by its cover is never a good place to start but the previews suggest a game that, while laden with in-jokes and raunchy humour, is the kind that was the norm fifteen years ago and has barely altered since. I’m not asking for something cerebral but I am asking for something that has a little ambition outside of graphical fidelity, something that does not cling onto its competitors or the coat tails of a distant past. Perhaps that is too much to ask.

Very few games, even the games we hail as being the standout titles, have truly changed the perception of what an FPS is. They have evolved the idea but it is rare to see any radical change. The market has become saturated with identikit military shooters, space marines and over the top shooters (Portal could be considered an FPS and so too Mirror’s Edge which would add some variety). It is not even the lack of choice that worries me but the revisiting of similar situations: the vehicle sections, the turret sections, the stealth parts and most likely a situation involving a grenade launcher or some variation of it. I am tired of confronting the same situations in these games. It makes these games a chore when they really should not be.

Ultimately the video game industry is so segmented, spread thin across numerous platforms that major publishers and developers are retreating from taking any risks unless it is a triple AAA title that covers all bases or a small indie title that expands over time. Publishers and developers have dug themselves into a hole, conforming to expectations but barely subverting them or creating new ones. In theory there is nothing wrong with that, a game that adheres to conventions can be very enjoyable. What is disappointing is the lack of an alternative.

The entertainment in these games is mitigated by the stagnation inherent in the FPS genre. There are too many providing analogous experiences that are competing for our attention. Duke Nukem represents a regressive rather than progressive attitude, a sweet tooth we shouldn’t indulge and that if successful will probably decrease the chances of a new IP entering the mix leaving it to the same old warriors fighting the same battles they do each and every year.

Now I could have egg on my face if Nukem proves to be some sort of saviour but judging from past experiences with the genre, I only expect him to be saviour in the game world and not for the industry as a whole.

With the FPS market left wanting out for some fresh experiences, to go back and resurrect a remnant of gaming’s past seems a missed opportunity. From a business point of view it may be astute, from a creative point of view the lack of any risks will surely see the FPS genre disappear in a morass of sequels to established IPs. Perhaps the problem does not lie with the developers and publishers, maybe it’s us who have retreated to safe, familiar options rather than seeking something genuinely new?

Categories: Essays
  1. March 8, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Having played through most of the other Duke games – even as far back as the 2D original http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_Nukem_(video_game) – I can’t help but not want to see what is at the end of the tunnel.

    It’s been a long ride, and you can call it nostalgia, but I have to see this one through no matter what the final product is.

    I wonder whether I would think differently had I not known of Duke back in the day.

    • March 8, 2011 at 8:18 pm

      Interesting point, it’s slightly harder for me to work up that kind of enthusiam toward Duke and hoepfully for those who have been with Duke from the begining they’ll get the game they’ve been waiting for.

      From a younger perspective I do wonder what the commmotion is all about.

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