If waiting for Duke Nukem Forever taught the gaming populace anything, it’s that a video game character that brings very little likeability to the table will be able to do very little to ultimately reignite interest in a languishing franchise. Granted, the gaming community and the world it inhabits changed a significant amount in the time since we last left Duke, but it seems a bit suspect that when Gearbox picked up the franchise from the broken remains of 3D Realms they didn’t adjust his attitude to fit with other contemporary characters. Instead, they opted for an approach that they seemed to think gamers would genuinely appreciate: pure, uncut Duke.
The problem justifiably stems from the fact that between the release of the last Duke Nukem title and now, players came to expect a bit more from their main characters. Seemingly ignoring a decade’s worth of narrative growth as it pertains to dynamic character development, Duke failed to change with the times. When reintroduced to him after so long, he comes off in a way that does little good to make players want to continue through a course of play.
Essentially coming off as that douche jock or frat brother that most of us knew in high school or college, it becomes strikingly apparent that while we’ve all moved on to bigger and better things, Duke is still drinking beer, screaming at whatever sports team happens to be on TV at the time, and killing his Friday afternoons at the local strip club. Duke leaves almost nothing to make him an endearing or welcoming. His home, status, demeanor and general attitude to just about everything and everyone encountered in-game forces many gamers to see him as no more than a jackass, pandering for a cheap laugh out of sheer desperation.
To add insult to injury, the game he inhabits, which for many set the bar for First Person Shooters so long ago continues to draw design inspiration from roughly the same time. Very little about Duke Nukem Forever seems to pull the player. The promises of a good time that built up to the release of DNF has all the welcoming notions of a weekend in Vegas with that sleazy guy who swears you’ll have a good time, but then he ends up violently raping you, stealing your wallet and leaving you for dead in a bathtub at Caesar’s Palace.
It’s almost shocking how much piss poor dialogue spews from the mouth of Duke Nukem and even more so that the developers at Gearbox allowed this sort of tripe to see the light of day. Going beyond the standard B-movie quality canned jokes, Duke Nukem Forever supersedes any and all classiness by simply looking to appeal to the lowest common denominator in every last facet of spoken word. If the references aren’t outdated, leaving many younger gamers wondering what the hell Duke is talking about, they reek of misogynistic bravado that would leave even the trashiest wife-beaters giggling with envy.
Most blatantly tasteless though is how Duke approaches having the mercy kill kidnapped bombshells held captive by the invading alien forces lest they give birth to their xenomorphic spawn. Taking a page straight out of Eli Roth’s playbook, Duke remains calm and continuously cracks ridiculously corny jokes all the while ending the lives of the women, barely acknowledging his actions. Sufficiently, this drives Duke beyond asshat and right into creepy, if not psychopathic territory.
Much like many of the characters people encounter in the slews of media they consume on a regular basis, be they film; books or video games, there are always going to be a plethora of personalities that earn the admiration or scorn of their audiences in equal measure. Yet, there is little doubt that any approbation for Duke is easily mired by the sheer amount of hate he’s made himself entitled to by stepping back onto the scene in such poor taste following such a length hiatus. His lack of adaption to the times is viciously apparent and unforgivably obsolescent in the face of far loftier and vibrant contemporary characters.
Many could judge a video game personality based on the simple question of whether or not you’d be happy to sit down and enjoy a beer with them. Not only would I not want to sit down at a bar with Duke Nukem for fear of having his nonsensical yammering assault my sensibilities, but I wouldn’t be caught dead keeping him around as a pity friend. You know, the kind of guy you hang out with when everyone else you know is busy – a Safety Monkey of sorts.
Duke may have seemed cool when I was 15-years-old. But those days are long behind me, having grown and matured into a relatively respectable adult. I wish I could say that maybe it was my maturation that has caused me to find Duke unfunny and pathetic, like someone who grows out of laughing at fart and booger gags. But maybe, just maybe, it’s Duke who hasn’t grown up enough for the generation that has grown older since he decided to disappear on us for ten-plus years while we’ve lived our lives and made new friends in the days between. Sadly, time waits for no man, not even Duke Nukem.