Guest Post: Review & Analysis of Duke Nukem

[The following is a guest post by Willow Palacek, gamer extraordinaire and indie game designer. You can visit her blog at Willow Rants. A few weeks ago, Willow asked me if she could do a guest review of Duke Nukem Forever. Seeing as how I intended to never played the game myself, I was quite happy to have someone offer to suffer through the game for me. As such, I owe a debt of gratitude to Willow for playing such an awful game so I don’t have to. Thanks, Willow!]

Like many gamers, I fondly remember Duke Nukem 3D, blowing up aliens, exploring (and blowing up) colorful environments pulled from life, and laughing at Duke’s one-liners. By the time I first became aware of Duke Nukem Forever, it was already a joke, a game no one really expected would ever be released.

So, I was pretty impressed by any design company that has the development chops and guts to pick up Duke Nukem Forever and actually release it. I was sold as a day one purchase.

In retrospect, this was a mistake.

I am a girl gamer. This qualifies me to write a review of Duke Nukem Forever. The girl part qualifies me to call it out for being horribly sexist (which it is.) The gamer part qualifies me to call it out for not really being that good of a game.

“But,” I hear you saying, “girls aren’t real gamers.”

As of the time of writing this article, my Xbox Live Gamer Score was 38,370. Chances are very good that my gaming e-peen is bigger than yours.

Part I, or Why Duke Nukem Forever Isn’t That Good of a Game

Let’s talk first about what made Duke Nukem 3D a great game. Mechanically, it’s essentially the same game as DOOM (although with a more advanced engine, making 3D environments possible). Go around an area, collect weapons and keycards, fight bad guys, get beat up, find medkits, find the exit.

What seperates Duke Nukem 3D is both the game’s unique voice and unique polish on the FPS formula. Wise cracking Duke taunts his enemies, remarks on the environment, and yes, even tips strippers. Our DOOM protagonist is largely silent, occasionally grunting. The levels in Duke Nukem often depict, very clearly, real life locations, such as movie theaters, adult video stores, a burger joint, a supermarket, but retain a fiendish level design that rewards searching every nook and cranny for alternate routes and power-ups. Secrets are tantalizingly hidden everywhere.

To me, the most iconic feature of Duke Nukem 3D is the creative weapon selection: instead of just the standard pistol/shotgun/machine gun/grenades/rocket launcher, the grenades are remote activated pipe bombs, one has access to laser tripwires to lay traps for enemies, and there’s the ridiculous shrink ray and freeze rays, and the absurdly powerful Devastator.

Now let’s talk about Duke Nukem Forever.

In a 90s shooter, you lived by your wits and your reflexes. Health and ammo were regularly hard to come by. In most modern shooters, health is regenerative. (See Halo, Gears of War, and too many others to count.) Get hit, your screen goes red, and you need to take cover for it to recharge. I remember many fights against a nasty monster in Duke Nukem 3D where I frantically pulled out all the stops, burning through Devastator ammo, then Rockets, then using the Chaingun, finally plugging it with pistol rounds until it was dead.

Most battles in Duke Nukem Forever are repetitive. Fight the monsters, duck behind cover, heal, take ammo off their body. You can only carry two weapons at a time instead of the whole arsenal. (The classic array returns, plus the Rail Gun, which is a nice variant on the Sniper Rifle.) Ammo is plentiful. Most boss fights are boring: figure out the weakness, duck in and out of cover, and fire rockets. Rockets are the only thing that damage the bosses, and there’s no ammo scarcity: ammo crates are everywhere in boss fights. (The exception is the final boss, which has rocket wielding enemies spawn into the area you must dispatch to take their ammo. That’s actually an interesting fight.)

What about the level design? We have a few theme levels: Duke Nukem’s casino, and the Duke Burger restaurant, but most of the game is generic industria. The levels are also almost exclusively linear in scope. There is little imagination or passion to the level design. (The Duke Burger is a strong exception, featuring a shrunken Duke and enemies, and gun battles in the stock room and a flooded kitchen. It’s still linear, but at least it takes advantage of the environment to create some interesting gameplay.)

There’s some environmental puzzles, but they mostly involve finding heavy barrels and stacking them to create a weight, and are more tedious than puzzling. There’s also less variety to the power-ups available. Duke Nukem Forever has Beer (toughness), Steroids (melee power up), Duke Vision (night vision, only used in a few places), and the Holoduke (a fun way to distract your enemy, but extremely scarce.) Duke Nukem 3D also had a portable medkit and an underwater rebreather, but the best powerup was the Jetpack, allowing Duke to fly around the level and bypass many obstacles. The lack of even a single Jetpack level is a waste. Also, the controls seem a little sluggish. This is completely subjective, but it’s my damn review.

What’s not subjective is the completely glacial load times. Without the Duke Nukem brand, this game would be completely off the radar, a laughable failure. (As is, it’s a laughable embarrassment.)

Let’s sum up. In a shooter game, the shooting sections are forgetable. The level design is completely generic. During a loading sequence, I literally have enough time to go make a sandwich. I’m taking my copy of Duke Nukem to gamestop today to turn it in for credit. I always keep my games, even the ones I have scored 1000/1000 and know I’ll never play again.

Part II, or Why Duke Nukem is Horribly Sexist

There’s sexism, and then there’s sexism.

I was able to find the humor in the elevator sequence, where a woman says “I’ll go down with you anytime, Duke.” I’ve been known to have a crude sense of humor, and I’ll laugh at a good sexual innuendo (or even a mediocre one.)
Is the fact that Duke is desired by all women in the game sexist? Probably. Is the fact that, in a dig against Halo, Duke says that “Power armor is for pussies” sexist? (Absolutely- although also funny.) But I’m not going to get my panties in a knot about either.

Then there’s Capture the Babe. Where instead of flags, you have ditzy “babes” you hoist over your shoulder, have to occasionally spank (because otherwise they cloud your field of vision), and call out sexual innuendos. (“Did we just score?”)

Capture the Babe is sexist. It’s not endearingly sexist though, or offensively sexist. It’s just stupidly sexist. My response to Capture the Babe was largely the same as Gabe’s.

No, what’s really sexist about Duke Nukem Forever is how it glamorizes violence towards women and fetishizes rape.

Think I’m overreacting? In the level the Hive, we find the women who have been kidnapped by the aliens, and transformed into some sort of (topless) human/alien hybrid breeder. What does Duke do to these women? He kills them. (“Even I can’t save you now,” he says, or even worse, “Sorry babe, it’s better this way.”)

I lack a vocabulary to convey how wrong this is, but I’m going to give it a shot anyways.

No, fuck it. If you don’t understand why that’s twisted and wrong, you’re not worth my time.

As fate would have it, my boyfriend chose that level to sit down and watch me play Duke Nukem Forever. And he was made uncomfortable. (I think he’s a keeper.)

Soon after, you fight an alien queen with three disgusting withered bare breasts.

Then there’s the strip club dream sequence level, Duke Nukem’s Titty City. In this level, you are first confronted with a stripper (naked except for a tiny thong) who gives you a quest to find a bag of potato chips, a vibrator, and a condom. Then you get an unskippable lap dance cut scene.

You know what’s worse than unskippable cut scenes? An unskippable cut scene that’s uncomfortably sexual. (I don’t know of any game that waves a giant dick in your face. If that was the case in Dragon Age 2, maybe that one guy would have had a point.)

Oh, you know what’s even worse than that? In said strip club dream sequence, there’s a number of mini-games to increase your ego. (Health). Air hockey, pinball, a basketball hoop, and the Whack-a-Mole game. Except they completely ruined Whack-a-Mole by making it sexist tripe. Called Alien Abortion. Where the game-space is a naked woman’s body. With aliens popping out of it.

In all of this, I wonder how in hell this game slipped through without an Adults Only rating.

Part III, or Why the Multiplayer is Terrible

Most of the controversy surrounding Duke Nukem Forever is about Capture the Babe (not the single player campaign, which really deserves more scrutiny.) So I knew I had to play multiplayer for my review experience to be complete.

Most of the multiplayer is ripped directly from Dukematch from Duke Nukem 3D, which is to say, it’s the same exact levels, only the gameplay is worse because the servers are terrible and there’s rampant lag. Capture the Babe is the same, only with a veneer of sexism drenched over the awkwardly implemented capture the flag mechanics.

Also, you can only play as Duke. I would have gotten a bit of a chuckle if I could go around blowing people up with one of the babes as my avatar. That would have almost made multiplayer enjoyable for me.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Gamestop.

Some gaming news WTF: Eternal Light trailer; Duke Nukem Forever not sexist?

Hi, folks. I’m working on a series of posts about Magic that is proving to be more time consuming than I thought. So I thought I’d post a bit of WTF that I stumbled across on various gaming news sites just to tide you folks over while I continue to pull together research for the posts about Magic. Hopefully I’ll be able to get the first Magic post up tomorrow.

WTF the first: Duke Nukem Forever

Okay. I’ll admit that I’ve avoided dealing with Duke Nukem Forever, mostly because it just seemed too easy. I mean, pointing out how DNF is sexist is pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel. I mean, first we have the cover:

Now I have to admit that I do love that we get an angle of Duke that is almost exclusively used with female characters (I tend to think of it as “boob perspective”) – it’s a nice example of sexualization that male characters don’t usually get, even if Duke is pretty covered. But check out the manicured female hand. They are LITERALLY using a female body part to imply sexual gratification. It’s like they thought, well why bother showing the whole woman when all you really need is the hand? Ugh. And then you have the fact that half of the preview screens that are being released are of strippers, or lesbians, or lesbian strippers, or strippers with dildos…

… you get the picture.

Add to all of this the recent kerfuffle about the “Capture the Babe” mode and it seems mind-boggling that anyone could possibly argue against Duke Nukem being blatantly and horrifically sexist. I mean, Christ. In “Capture the Babe”, women are LITERALLY objects to be fought over. They are things, not people. It doesn’t get more clear cut than that.

So it should come as no surprise that Jim Sterling, that bastion of feminist advocacy, is arguing that we shouldn’t care if Duke Nukem Forever is sexist. Because, after all:

Does it really f*cking matter? When it comes to fictional people doing fictional things to each other in a fictional world, does it really affect you? No, it doesn’t, no matter how much you pretend a game like DNF could influence society with the “messages” you’ve projected onto it.

Seriously, how does it send the message that violence against women is normal? What’s normal about spanking women while people shoot at you with a shrink ray?

Oh, Jim Sterling. Thank you for helping me to keep sight of the big picture. Silly me! Why should I care about how women are portrayed in video games? After all, we all know that real people are never influenced by the media they consume. At all. Full stop.

Jim also did another post lampooning an article about DNF on the Fox News website about DNF’s sexism and harmful portrayals of women. And here’s the thing – I loathe Fox with every fiber of my being, but I think it was a pretty good article. I was pretty surprised, especially after the “video games cause rape” story that came out of Fox, that they were capable of producing a piece that limited itself to attacking DNF and not gaming in general. Certainly it was better than Jim’s, who couldn’t resist ending his feature on the Fox article with yet another rape joke. (Because we know how much Jim loves to joke about rape…)

Of course, Jim doesn’t get credit for the ONLY game news fail regarding DNF. I also found this feature on IGN making similar claims that Duke Nukem Forever is not sexist. In the feature, Editor Tristan Ogilvie writes about his experience as being the only gamer on a recent panel about gaming. Naturally the subject of DNF came up as a point against gaming. And here’s the thing, I think Tristan would have made a much better defense of gaming as not being a deviant hobby by coming and saying “sure, Duke Nukem Forever is sexist – but don’t judge all of gaming by one title” than by using weak-sauce arguments like:

…Similarly, if I play Duke Nukem Forever’s ‘Capture the Babe’ mode in all its bottom-slapping glory, I’m not suddenly going to start smacking women on the backside and calling them “sugartits” as though I’ve been thawed out from a state of suspended animation since the 1960s like Austin Powers (or nearing the end of a 12-hour bender like modern day Mel Gibson), because I’m well aware that to commit such acts wouldn’t be acceptable social behaviour by society’s standards…

Not very convincing, Tristan. Not very convincing at all.

Eternal Light Trailer

While browsing through the headlines on the IGN website, I stumbled across this trailer for the upcoming game Eternal Light (a game I’d previously never heard of). What caught my eye was the subtitle: “These monster-slaying, near-naked battle witches enjoy killing dragons. And breathing heavily.”

Curious, I fired up the trailer and discovered they weren’t kidding. Check out these screens:

The first thirty seconds features a slow camera pan around a mostly naked woman wearing a chainmail bikini… while she breathes heavily. Like, having sex heavily. Real subtle, guys. The rest of the trailer features in game combat shots that feature a lot of ridiculous camera angles where you can aaaaaalmost see ladybits but not quite. Frankly, it looks like a fanservice engine to me.

And of course the comments are pretty predictable:

I’m about as shallow as can be. I see boobs and I’m in. Don’t judge me.

i want to agree with all the haters but, boobs, 6 boobs goddamn
Like RedXIII i see 6 good arguments to buy this game, count me in!
Did someone say something about there being a dragon in this video…? All I saw was boobs.
…they go downhill from there. And people wonder why the stereotype of gamers is mouth-breathing male nerds living in their mom’s basement. Real classy, guys.