Why the 12-year delay has actually been good for Duke Nukem Forever

Look at the shooters on your shelf. What factors typify them? Brutal gore? Epic cinematic set-pieces? Addictive online play? Claims to redefine deep narrative something-or-other using built-from-the-ground-up cutting edge something-or-other-else? Unabashed sense of fun? I’m willing to bet that in true Sesame Street style, one of these things is not like the others. In that it isn’t there. Because while games this generation have become better and more technically impressive than they’ve ever been, they certainly haven’t seemed to enjoy the process one little bit.

Greyness, misery, and introspective emotional masturbation are such de facto elements of current games that I feel like I’m explaining how a sock works by detailing something so accepted and obvious. Games can, amongst other things, be the greatest form of empowering, escapist entertainment around. So why do we currently have to pretend that being a badass, ass-kicking, badass-kicking saviour of the world would be such a drag?

Above: The experience of pulverising a giant monster using a huge gun can always be improved by bringing alongyour own squad of cheerleaders for support. Not enough people appreciate that these days...

Duke is the antithesis of all of that. Duke is about ripping gloriously and defiantly through a hoard of ugly bastard world-government wannabes, detonating their entrails into fog and then giving their collective corpse an extra kick for getting spleen on your sunglasses. Sunglasses which you’re wearing indoors. After dark. Because you’re so cool, you were born riding a fricking Harley, with Led Zeppelin in the delivery room to serenade your gooey debut.

Big monsters, dying big and funny by way of even bigger and funnier guns wielded by an even bigger and funnier ego. That’s a Duke game. And the return of that sort of gleeful ideology to games has been a long time coming.

The time is now right for a character like Duke

“I ensured the future survival of all that I hold dear, but my personal problems survived too! Woe is me!” That’s the whiney mating call of far too many current video game heroes. For reasons detailed above, it is not the mating call of Duke Nukem. Duke doesn’t even need a mating call. Mating calls him.

But there’s a bigger reason for Duke to come back than simplyto counter-balance the weight of the chips on our current game heroes’ shoulders. And that reason my friends, is satire.

Above: Today'spantheon of angstymeatheadsis going to be a shooting gallery of comedy

Back in 1996, Duke worked as a character because he was an affectionate parody and exaggerated embodiment of the dumbass, meatheaded cinematic action heroes of the ‘80s and ‘90s. That era of film, for better or worse, has largely passed. In games though, there’s now plenty of material to work with. Pointing out the glut of glowering, perma-aggressive space marines with necks wider than their own chests is akin to explaining how to put the second sock on after detailing the workings of the first.

Thus, far moreso in 2011 than in DNF’s originally slated late ‘90s release era, Duke can have a parodic field day. Having a joke at Doom Guy’s expense in Duke Nukem 3D was one thing, but the potential fun Duke can have by ripping the likes of Marcus, Sev, Salem and Rios is tantalising in the extreme.

Make all the outdated jokes you like about Duke Nukem being a characterout of time and relevence. The fact is that now really is his time.But ironically, if it wasn’t for the very delayat the root of all those jokes, that just wouldn’t be the case.

But tell me, are you excited by the weekend's revelations, or am I talking nonsense?

David Houghton
Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.