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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!