Defending the Duke : A Journey Into Bad Taste

It was about a year ago. As a person who hates going to the movies, the simultaneous showing of three films that had my interest was enough to get myself out the house and into the theater with a group of friends. Those three films were Inception, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and The Expendables, in that order.

While Inception was unanimously considered the best of the bunch, the bulk of the debating went toward the other two films. Most of the people in the group that I talked to found Scott Pilgrim the better film, a concept that still puzzles me. While I’ve yet to read the comic, the film had few and weak video game references (something that I was looking forward to from the testimony of friends who read the comic before the movie).

For me, the film was geared toward an interesting demographic of gamers : those more culturally adept folks who listen to their indie bands while playing the typical entry-level games that are considered the cream of the crop. You know, the guys who clearly know their way around the gaming world, but get caught in enough Mega Man 2 or Castlevania references to make me want to gouge out my eyes? I know a ton of people like that, cool dudes actually (I love you guys, don’t lynch me for picking on you all for a bit). On the flip side I must look like a damn retard every time they’re talking about one of their favorite bands and I’m just like “Uhh, who the fuck is that?” I can respect Scott Pilgrim for taking the safe route and using the references most gamers would understand, but frankly, I didn’t really care about either Scott’s band or his love life… although I’d totally fuck the chubby chick.

"James, isn't this supposed to be a Duke Nukem article?"

The Expendables was blessed with good advertising and the hype of starring a bunch of old action stars (even Arnold had a cameo). Call it a guilty pleasure, but I love cheesy 80’s/90’s action flicks, and expected no less from this film. Nothing beats muscular men running around with guns, shitty one-liners and explosions, unless you’re a person of good taste and prefer the more artsy atmosphere going on with Scott. Needless to say, while I typically try to express good to moderate taste in my articles, there comes a time when I need to indulge in my bad taste. For example, I have run or participated in my fair share of The Room screenings when it was still the craze.

My appreciation for lower-class entertainment was evident the first time I played Duke Nukem 3D. The big draw is the over-the-top violence, shitty one-liners, explosions and a big muscular man running around with guns. Sure the game might not be the best of its time, but it was fun to play.

Terribly rendered breasts and similar vulgarities are nothing new to the Duke Nukem franchise.

Unfortunately, the recent release of Duke Nukem Forever proves that both the duke and The Expendables have a few more things in common. Shitty overall reviews for starters. I think a lot of these people came in wanting their inflated nostalgia to be fulfilled and wound up disappointing themselves… either that or expected something similar to the more sophisticated action films and shooters that are more in style these days. They also have thematic similarities. Ever watch a Western film that takes place at the end of the old west (or play Red Dead Redemption)? In those films, the protagonist(s) are typically aging, and the last of their kind. Society had evolved to a point where the western hero was a relic left behind by advancements in civilization.

Looking out of shape like this in a modern action flick?! Preposterous!

The Expendables and Duke Nukem are similar relics. The former revolves around a group of mercenaries trying to relive the old days, or rather, they’re eternally bound to that persona. Whatever the case, their presence in modern times is a little awkward, remedied by the majority of the film taking place in a much less civilized country. There isn’t much left for them in America, so they have to outsource. Duke gets a more direct cease-fire order from the president who plays by the more modern rules of foreign relations (with aliens in the middle of an American invasion no less) and diplomacy. The implication is that kicking ass and taking names was acceptable ten years ago, but pulling it off in today’s world of political/corporate cost-efficiency would blow the national debt through the roof.

Like in the most recent Rambo film, kindness and diplomacy fail hard, and while Duke Nukem Forever lacks any iconic scene like the one where that one missionary who wouldn’t shut up the entire movie about compassion goes nuts and bashes that guy’s fucking face in with a rock, Duke is less about saving lives (Most people not named Duke die horribly) and more about bringing the carnage.

Both The Expendables and Duke Nukem Forever were riddled with enough flaws that I really can’t argue with people who hate them. Dated special effects and outrageous loading times don’t help my case. But you know what? I’ve played and loved my fair share of artistic games. If Braid can be one of my favorite download games and Art Style : Light Trax can be endlessly fascinating, I think I get a free pass to satisfy my plebeian taste buds, and while I will not give Duke Nukem Forever the Review in Progress treatment, were I to assign a numerical rating to my games, it would be in the range of a decent 5 to 7.

It’s so average as to piss off the most nostalgic. Duke’s personality rubs some of today’s gaming press as sociopathic rather than the charismatic asshole he was in the 90’s (even though I argue neither his personality nor thematic content is much different than DN3D). While those who antagonize the game are quick to bring up its transition from a health based, multiple weapon FPS to a recharging shield based, two weapon system like most shooters are now, they are ignoring a few technical details. For one, they forget the technicality that trip-mines and pipe bombs which were originally individual weapons are treated as different grenades with a simple L2 or R2 press respectively. In that regard, Duke carries four weapons at a time. Further, with periodic ammo crates that fully stock all your ammo (and can be reused), the game would be pretty broken if you could choose every gun and restock them so easily; especially when just about every enemy drops a gun or ammo on top of that. It’s hard enough to reach a shortage with two guns.

As if there wasn't enough ammo to go around, they even drop a few turrets here and there!

Finally, it’s pretty cool going through some of the places as mini-duke. Another thing people aren’t noticing is in the trophy collection. In one hard playthrough, I managed 76% of the trophies which is not bad at all. In order to get the rest, all I really need to do is beat the game a second time on the harder difficulty and look up answering machine/helmet/catfish locations in a faq. That is to say that they were nice enough to understand that nobody would play DNF for its multiplayer. Most of the time, they have some bullshit where you have to get x number of multiplayer kills or wins which would be nice if there were people to challenge and connect to. I respect that consideration, because somewhere down the line I just might go back and try to get that platinum trophy.

Taking style tips from Janet Jackson, there are more nipple caps on women than nipples it seems.

The game is mediocre, the humor is trashy and I don’t care one bit. I’m only sad that there are far less tits to go around than I was lead to believe. Along with Splatterhouse, the sadist and pervert in me can’t wait for a sequel to come out!

Note : The overall point of this article is not to attack the majority of people who have valid reasons to dislike Duke Nukem Forever.  Rather, it deserves its mediocre ratings, but I get a strange feeling that some of the negativity is exaggerated.  Like usual, there were other points I wanted to make, but either forgot about them or didn’t want to write a book.  Feel free to contribute to the debate in the comments box, It’s a really interesting topic that I would love to chat with you guys about!

8 thoughts on “Defending the Duke : A Journey Into Bad Taste

  1. Steven "DeadPhoenX" T.

    I remembered not to long ago there was an article from Kotaku in which one of the commenters talked about how low God Hand was reviewed when it was first released. He avoided the game like the plague. Eventually, he god the game some time later and realized that the game was actually pretty good. Given it had its flaws, but he could appreciate how outright batshit crazy the game was. My guess is that the reason why most of the reviews for God Hand rated the game low was due to overreaction from playing Okami, a game also from Clover that was released earlier. Critics liked Okami so much, when they saw they saw God Hand, it’s was like some ruffian took Clover Studios virginity and impregnated it with some monster.

    Same goes for P.N. 03. Some are looking at it now and thinking, “y’know, it’s not so bad.” Hell, Dave kinda feels the same way with Bujingai. I’m guessing Duke Nukem Forever is gonna fall into that spot of, “Bad now, great in hindsight.”

    Reply
  2. Prota

    I wouldn’t say that God Hand’s low scores came from people’s praise for Okami. I mean, the game only came out less than month after Amaterasu’s adventure, which doesn’t give it that much time to have garnered the big following it eventually cultivated. And that would also be assuming that everyone who reviewed God Hand had played Okami. I think it was more because of God Hand’s random over-the-top nonsensical humor, which definitely is not for everyone, western vibe, and later difficulty curve. Yes, it might have been a little weirder after coming from Okami (less so if from the Viewtiful Joe series), but even then that’s a stretch.

    God Hand catered more to its own crowd, leaning more towards martial arts buffs, those who like cheesy in-your-face humor, and people who like beat-em ups. It definitely has its fair share of faults, but it’s quite a fun experience and deserves its cult status, It’s not the greatest beat-em up, but it’s far from being the worst. I can’t vouch for the Duke, but his game may be doing the same thing. The series has it’s own group of fans, and this game seems like it’s not about living up to other triple-A first-person shooters, but about making a fun game that fans of Duke Nukem could enjoy. But of course, this is speculation since I haven’t played through any of his games. The main point though is that not every game has to be an utterly mind-blowing experience of epic proportion. That would be pretty cool, but that’s not the case. Just enjoying a good game for what it is can make it a great game in the player’s eyes, and isn’t that the real value of a game?

    And while God Hand was left with low scores and some under-appreciation, it brings up one of the reasons why I respect Clover/Platinum. They’re willing to try so many different things as they move from game to game. You never know what you’re going to get next.

    P.S. Slightly unrelated, but I have to say that while the Scott Pilgrim movie did have way less game references than the comics or the video game (both of which have quite an abundance of them), not all the references were mainstream. You still had references from games like Crash ‘n the Boys: Street Challenge and Clash at Demonhead.

    Whoa, I typed way more than I was planning to.

    Reply
  3. suikoinfinity Post author

    @ Steve : The thing is that even in hindsight, Duke Nukem Forever is a pretty bad game, just that it appeals to the bad taste in me. It brings little new to the table, and the mediocrity would drive most fans crazy. My defense is not intended to glorify the game by any means, but rather to suggest that with a little imagination, a tasteless sense of humor and love of only the cheesiest action, the game becomes more enjoyable than everyone makes it out to be.

    @ Prota : While those references were there and extracted from the comic, I argue that it was only because those references are central to the story. Imagine, you’re a director and you’re given the job to convert this comic into a movie. Let’s also say that you only have a little video game knowledge and you have no clue about the Clash at Demonhead or Crash ‘n the Boys. Even without getting the reference, to keep in line with the comic, those references are still going to be used either consciously or unknowingly because they’re proper names for central characters or events in the story. I only credit the comic for those references.

    As for the references that could not be produced in the comic such as sounds and music, I recall the Zelda opening, and maybe a couple of sound effects here and there from the more obvious pool of games.

    Reply
  4. Prota

    Regardless, they were there and references nonetheless. And a film that is trying to adapt a comic into a movie will keep central story elements, I’d be mad if they didn’t. So I think that’s a poor reason to not give the director his merit. And while Clash at Demonhead was central, Crash n’ the boys weren’t. Even if the director doesn’t get the reference (which is speculation, not fact), he still included it.

    Now the fact that the movie changed a good portion of the events that occurred in the comics during the second half may seem like something that would go against what I just said, but you have to consider that during the time of production the last half of the comic hadn’t been finished yet. Maybe if started later the whole movie would have been a more faithful adaptation, but I can’t say whether or not it was out of their hands. At the very least, the creator of the comics did give them ideas to roll with for the last half of the movie.

    But the point I’m trying to make is that we’re not judging the director, we’re talking about the references that are in the movie. And while the movie tried to include more references that would be largely recognized, I can’t penalize them for that. The references there try to appeal to both gamers and those who maybe aren’t as familiar with the medium but would still recognize things. If anything, it makes more sense with the way the franchise was handled. Aside from the comic, you have the movie which tried to use more wider recognized references, and the video game tie-in which had many more references that avid gamers would appreciate. But I will agree that the movie should have had more as I felt that side of the comic was less represented in the references and more represented in the visual effects. Which reminds me, it did have some really good choreography when it came to fight scenes.

    Reply
    1. suikoinfinity Post author

      I understand your points, but disagree for the most part until the end. To make life easier, I’ll just respond bit by bit.

      “Regardless, they were there and references nonetheless. And a film that is trying to adapt a comic into a movie will keep central story elements, I’d be mad if they didn’t. So I think that’s a poor reason to not give the director his merit. And while Clash at Demonhead was central, Crash n’ the boys weren’t. Even if the director doesn’t get the reference (which is speculation, not fact), he still included it.”

      — Basically you’re saying I should give the director props for whatever source material he included in the movie. That is his obligation, and by fulfilling it, I give him no extra points. That’s why I mentioned the stuff that would get the director his credit : the material that couldn’t possibly have been in the comic such as sounds and animations. The gist of my previous statement is that anything that originated in the comic doesn’t do squat in the director’s credit; the real test is at the points where the film strays from the comic, and there is not enough extra to give the guy a trophy. In my opinion he did his homework, but outside of the source material there was little to keep me interested. Also, I wasn’t speculating, but giving a hypothetical situation to illustrate what the director should rightfully do.

      “Now the fact that the movie changed a good portion of the events that occurred in the comics during the second half may seem like something that would go against what I just said, but you have to consider that during the time of production the last half of the comic hadn’t been finished yet. Maybe if started later the whole movie would have been a more faithful adaptation, but I can’t say whether or not it was out of their hands. At the very least, the creator of the comics did give them ideas to roll with for the last half of the movie.”

      — Even considering that the comic was half done during filming, I’m not complaining about a few differences here and there. As previously mentioned, that’s where my props for the director would come in, but for me the film relied too much on its choreography (which was alright) and over-flashy visuals. This flashy nature felt like an artificial means of subsiding my boredom with the overall plot, and that is where the directing failed for me.

      “But the point I’m trying to make is that we’re not judging the director, we’re talking about the references that are in the movie. And while the movie tried to include more references that would be largely recognized, I can’t penalize them for that. The references there try to appeal to both gamers and those who maybe aren’t as familiar with the medium but would still recognize things. If anything, it makes more sense with the way the franchise was handled. Aside from the comic, you have the movie which tried to use more wider recognized references, and the video game tie-in which had many more references that avid gamers would appreciate. But I will agree that the movie should have had more as I felt that side of the comic was less represented in the references and more represented in the visual effects. Which reminds me, it did have some really good choreography when it came to fight scenes.”

      — Here I agree, but first let me rephrase what I was trying to say before : My problem isn’t so much the movie’s gravitation toward the more obvious references as it is with its relative lack of references. Even if we count both what was extracted from the comic and whatever was added by the production staff, there was little enough for me to feel it was an afterthought, something which I will penalize them for.

      Generally I find bands and the overall rock scene to be pretty boring unless it’s metal, grunge or something dark and heavy. While I can tolerate this kind of atmosphere, they could have at least thrown me a couple of bones here and there, but the references were inconsistent and I spent more of my time watching things flash and waiting for the film to end.

      Taking the movie out of the equation, the game I like. The comic, I can see me liking too, so don’t think I’m bashing Scott Pilgrim in general. I just think the film was weak aside from the admirable fight scene here and there.

      Reply
  5. Prota

    Yes, I give the director props for being able to stick closely to the course material for the first half of the movie and staying true to form for the rest. And the reason I give props for this is because not all movies based on games/comics/existing franchises stick to the source material, it isn’t an automatic obligation. We actually get a lot of bad movies based on good franchises that don’t show much, if any, regards to where it came from. Some guys take a popular IP, use it as an excuse to make a movie, and just do whatever they want with the property. So for the first half of the movie to do a pretty good job at capturing the first half of the comics is something that I’d give the director credit for. His main job was bringing Scott Pilgrim to the big screen, and I’m glad he tried to stay faithful to the comics.

    You also mention that you were illustrating what a director should “rightfully” do, but if hypothetically he wasn’t a gamer, you can’t expect him to learn 25+ years of video game knowledge. It’s not his rightful duty to do that or to insert lesser known video game references because that isn’t his expertise. His duty was to bring the comic to the big screen, he did work closely with the comic’s creator to make it faithful to the comics but probably also to appeal to a wider demographic, and I think a lot of fans can see the effort that was put into the film.

    And about the video game references again, while I agree that I wish more references that appeared in the comics made it into the film, it’s not only about having a bunch of references. Scott’s main loves are video games and music….and Ramona too I guess. Even in the comics, it’s about a guy who’s an avid gamer and musician, falling in love and using the logic he learned from playing games in real life. And there’s a lot that the main characters and the love story offer that really make the comics and movie what they are. You say you can see yourself liking the comics, but if you didn’t really care about Scott’s band or love life, I see the chances of that dropping, as those are crucial to the story. You also have to take into consideration that the movie was also made for the fans of the comic, and while you say that what the director did that wasn’t directly from the source material wasn’t enough to interest you, then that’s how you felt. I actually remember talking after the movie about some of the changes and twists towards the end of the movie and, with the way the ending was going, a friend and I really were excited when we were speculating how the differently the movie would end and who Scott would end up with. The fact that it made us feel that way is something I can really appreciate as a fan of the comic, and it kept us interested the whole way through.

    The movie put more emphasis on the music scene than the gaming, and I can understand that you might dislike that, I also wasn’t fond of downplaying his gamer-side, but the movie was trying to appeal to a mass audience. But instead of getting sad at the fact that there are less of Scott’s gamer-ness than in the comics, I’d rather appreciate a good movie that had decent amount of shout-out to video games. It’s not that there wasn’t a good amount, it’s just that not all of them have to be thrown in your face. Plenty of said references may not even be noticed, as some are pretty subtle, while others are more prominent. More gamers will recognize that Scott’s band’s name, Sex Bomb-omb is a reference to Super Mario Bros., but they may not notice that the band’s logo is based off of the Serious Sam logo. You know the girl you’d like to fuck? Roxy Richter uses a whip-like weapon and both her last name and weapon reference Castlevania. Many gamers will hear the Great Fairy Fountain theme play in an early scene and know it’s from the Legend of Zelda, but might miss that, in another scene, while Scott practices his guitar he’s plays the bass line of the Final Fantasy IV battle theme. These are some examples of pretty cool references that aren’t as obvious as the others.

    I think there’s still plenty of good video game stuff for gamers to notice, and that’s the great part. Of course I would’ve liked more, but the amount was fine in retrospect. Actually, I’m kind of glad to have thought about this because now I feel more satisfied with what was in the film. And I wish there were more movies like Scott Pilgrim, where I could enjoy seeing some fun references to my favorite pastime. So while you may penalize them because you feel the video game references were an “afterthought”, I think that’s taking it too far. The movie isn’t a movie about games. It’s a movie that blends the aspects of several different things, and gaming was just one of them. And even so, in my opinion I feel it wasn’t afterthought. But in the end it’s kinda like what I mentioned earlier about God Hand. To me, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was a pretty good movie, but it might have surprised a lot of viewers with its eccentric visual style and a less appreciated charm. I mean, even I was taken aback at times. It was definitely different than what some expected, but I still think there’s something behind the movie that I kinda want to see again in a future film.

    Now I must sleep…why did I read your response right before I was going to go to bed?

    Reply
  6. suikoinfinity Post author

    The bigger question is why are we having a Scott Pilgrim debate on a Duke Nukem topic LMAO. If I could/knew how, I would insert my first image/caption here all over again!

    Reply
  7. Pingback: Review in Progress #13 : Shadows of the Damned | The Wired Fish

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