Was Duke Nukem Forever Reviewed Fairly?

Gearbox co-founder Brian Martel yesterday claimed that Duke Nukem Forever was not reviewed fairly, arguing that the game was used as a soapbox for issues not pertaining to the game, whilst also claiming: “Everybody should really be thankful that it existed to some degree at all.”

Now, DNF will see itself into my Worst Five Games of 2011, by pure virtue of the fact it shouldn’t have existed at all, but let us first think about the idea that maybe, Duke Nukem Forever wasn’t reviewed fairly by critics.

I, personally, am always quite careful on this front as very often I have played games that reviewed poorly but I thoroughly enjoyed (Dead Island springs to mind here this year), whereas some have reviewed brilliantly but I thoroughly hated them (Dragon Age 2 this year). But Duke Nukem Forever was a rare entity in the gaming industry, in that it didn’t take a genius to work out that this game was going to stink.

No, from screenshots and the long, tortured, twisted development ending up in the hands of Gearbox via 3D Realms, the question for this game was never “Will it suck?” because that was always going to be a given fact of life. Very few games with such a long and painful development cycle, having consumed hundreds of millions of dollars, multiple careers and seen out three generational cycles, could end up being good. Too much will have changed in that time for the original concept to fly.

And that was the problem with Duke Nukem Forever – if you cut right through it, you could see like the rings of a tree at what stages games had influenced it, from Quake 3 Arena to Doom 3 and Halo to FEAR and Modern Warfare, every possible FPS influence was there, and it was all stuck together and it was noticable when one influence stopped, and another began.

This, of course, is not entirely the fault of Gearbox – the game spent less than a year in their hands, despite fifteen years in development hell. What 3D Realms left behind was a shining example of their ineptitude, a blueprint of how not to do things, and waste enough money in the process to make even the most jaded IMF employee weep.

Maybe some people did use it as a soapbox, but as a famous Mr Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw said, “My argument isn’t that it didn’t exist, but that it shouldn’t exist.”

Which brings me to the idea that we should be thankful to have got the game at all.

Let’s examine it from a more human angle – there is no doubt a lot of people hate Justin Beiber. Perhaps he gets more stick than he deserves – yes, he is cheesy little teen pop personified but as long as you are under 16 and a girl, being a fan isn’t the issue.

So we all deride Justin Bieber. But I GUARANTEE you this – if you had the chance to tie the kid onto a railway track and watch him get run over, your conscience would take hold and you WOULD save him. Just because there is a widespread “Beiber Must Die” thought going around, you wouldn’t actually let it happen – your moral compass would kick in long before it got that far.

The same can be said of DNF. We were aware of its existence, of course we were, but we knew it had been canned. And most of us were okay with that, because we knew it wasn’t going to rock the world anyway. Releasing DNF not only poisoned the love people had for Duke Nukem, but like a good poisoned chalice it has also brought Gearbox into disrepute at the same time.

It didn’t, of course, need to be released at all. Gearbox could have been the bigger person and said, as we all knew, “We’ve played the code, and it’s… well. Pants, actually, so we’re going to start a new Duke Nukem game from scratch!” Not only would this have confirmed what we all knew, and accepted, but it would have drawn a line under the Forever saga, and given a new light to the franchise, knowing it was in better hands. By releasing DNF, Gearbox condemned themselves by pure association.

The sad reality for Mr. Martel is that Gearbox can’t cry now – the damage is done, and yes, some reviewers may not have “got” it, or used it as an example of the bad old days, but that was inevitable. You can’t give an axe murderer an axe and expect them not to kill you there and then. You provide the ammunition, you WILL get shot. Complaining afterwards is a little cheap when you could have prevented it in the first place.

And yes, DNF is condemned to being in the worst games of the year lists across the internet. But it deserved it. Whilst it was an average game that was just about serviceable, there was also many many design choices that brought it down, and for a game that relies on extreme humour, it wasn’t that funny and was actually, sadly, rather restrained, like someone at 3D Realms at some point had an unusual moment of clarity and realised he wasn’t a thirteen year old boy struggling to lose his virginity.

DNF was savaged because it DESERVED to be savaged. It was rubbish. And whatever way Mr. Martel wants to dress it up, even fans deride the game – the vast majority are of one mind, and one voice.

DNF sucked. Please stop whining.

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