You see while DNF is the biggest joke in gaming not posessing a shell and giant enemy pincers, and while 3DRealms deserves a monumental kick up the arse for delaying it for over a decade, I still hold a torch for it. I may stand alone, my noble flame flickering amid a tempestuous deluge of internet snark, but I don't care. I still think Duke Nukem Forever could be brilliant and I still want it. Here's why.
Duke Nukem 3D iswell under-rated
First up, I remember why Duke Nukem 3D was amazing. I was there at the time, back when Duke was a character rather than a meme and when the yet-to-blossom FPS of the day were still colloquially known as "Doom clones". This was before Half-Life and just before Quake, and while those two games rightly get a shedload of credit for starting the evolution of the genre, I'll make no apologies for saying that Duke was right in there with them.
Above: The start of the best time you could have in January 1996
Let's ignore the knuckhead protagonist and just look at straight game design. Massive, non-linear environments. Satisfyingly tactile, environmental interaction. Puzzling puzzles. Hidden areas that would take hours to find. Jet packs that changed the whole game with aerial combat. These kind of things are meat and potatoes now, and yes, Quake and Half-Life came along a little after Duke and refined things to a thunder-stealing degree, but the fact remains that the original game did way more than it gets credit for.
I played the crap out of the original and I played the crap out of the unofficial remake with proper 3D mouse control, and trust me, especially in that latter version,Duke 3D'sworthiness still shines. So you'll excuse me if I still get goosebumps when that guitar riff kicks in on any new trailer.
Okay, I'm not going to excuse 3DRealms' ridiculous development schedule, but I will take out to the car park any person who claims DNF hasn't lookedbrilliant at any point during its development. The reasons? All in this compilation video of the game's various trailers.
Let's break that down shall we?
1998: We've got massive environmental set-pieces. We've got big physics-based interactions that change the shape of the level and open up new routes. We've got NPC interactions and (admittedly on-rails-looking) vehicle sections. This was the same year Half-Life came out and in terms of game mechanics we're looking at something on a similar par.
2001: EPIC. In more ways than one actually. Development had moved to the Unreal Engine to allow for bigger open environments than the previously-used Quake tech could handle, and yikes, had the game improved as a result. More physics, more NPCs, bigger set-pieces, a more involved story, proper, real-time, first-person cut-scenes, impressively believable (for the time) characters. We're looking at Half-Life 2's best bits three years before Half-Life 2.
2007: Okay, just a cutscene with a few in-game shots, but multiplythem by everything you've already seen and you're onto a winner.
3DRrealms definitely shot themselves in the face with the lengthy development cycle, but it seems most delays came about as a result of never knowing when to stop with the ideas and improvements rather than sitting around eating cocaine pizzas off hooker's backs, as is the general perception. It was stupid, yes, but at least it was the right kind of stupid.
We need Duke back more than ever
Above: '90s action movie bullshit +modern game design= win
Seriously. You might say that Duke is an anachronistic, stupid old galoot of a character, but that's exactly why we need him. Look at shooters today. Dystopian misery-heaps or shouty, Ramirez-abusing military boot camps, the lot. Shooters used to be bright, brash, crazy and exhilarating, and Duke typifies that approach. Things have got too serious and gritty (Hell, even Doom has lost its balls-out carnage in favour of bleak survival horror these days), and I desperately want a new game that takes the nineties' excesses of DN3D and Serious Sam and blends them with all the immersion and design innovations FPS have enjoyed since.
And with the majority of shooter protagonists now grisled old meatheads suffering from a sense of humour bypass, Duke would actually work as a brilliant satire. He's no more of a dick than the rest of them, but his b-movie stylings and egocentric bullshit make him way more fun.
Back. We need him back. Now.