Video Game Retrospective
The Grue�s Gruel
By: A Grue
TITLE: Duke Nukem 2
Before we begin with today�s dissertation, allow us, first, to bring to bear the metaphorical �elephant in the room.� I am not going to be delivering a video to my audience this bi-month, but I plan to resume my efforts to do so in the future. Instead, due to a time crunch (or perhaps time compression?), I bring you my scurrying thoughts in only a written format. I am determined, however, to remain optimistic about the matter, and believe that this should be an excellent opportunity to engage my audience in a manner perhaps more familiar to them. With that said, let�s delay no further.
If you know anything about current video game news, then the announcement regarding one Duke Nukem Forever and its resurrection, following a twelve-year long state of torpor, has failed to escape your attention. And if you grew up playing low-budget shareware games like me, then it certainly hasn�t escaped yours. But before we look at the particular title in question, let us first approach this series as a whole.
When people who are familiar with the series hear the term �Duke Nukem,� it brings several things to mind. Apogee/3D Realms has carefully cultivated an image of a strong, arrogant, hot-blooded American man with many varied and over-sized guns who uses crude language while performing ridiculous and cool stunts�most of which involve murdering aliens. Today, characters who could be accurately described as such are a dime a dozen. But in his time, he was among the first in gaming, and is still one of the most iconic. What exactly drove his success to its stunning heights eludes me, but the crux of the matter rests elsewhere.
As the American culture evolved and more risqu� material became increasingly commonplace, so did Duke�s behavior become more juvenile and his speech and actions begin to cater to an even lower common denominator, complete with pop culture references (Hail to the king, baby!). A quick YouTube search will reveal a video compilation of Duke�s quips and cracks thereof, if you�re interested. These sorts of things were new to us. These were before the days of South Park, Family Guy , and other such mainstream media that goes out of its way to step on as many toes as it can.
But Duke wasn�t always the edgy, xenophobic, butt-kicking machine that he is today, no. I�m not sure when exactly Duke began to evolve into your mom�s worst nightmare, but I can be certain that it didn�t start with Duke Nukem II .
Duke Nukem II is by no means a bad game, but neither is it an entertaining experience. I can tell you, from the perspective of a child who�admittedly�did not spend much time anxiously perched upon the precipice of cutting-edge technology, that this game completely blew me away. I wouldn�t say that I ever necessarily became addicted, as was the case with other games, but I would say that the game appeals to a younger audience who aren�t as keen to point out its flaws.
The story is as follows, quoted from Apogee�s website. �In this latest saga, Duke Nukem, while being interviewed on TV about his best-selling book, "Why I'm So Great,� is suddenly abducted by aliens. Duke's alien captor explains that Duke's brain will be drained of all his knowledge, which will be used to formulate a master plan to seize control of Earth. Duke has two choices: He can be turned into a zombie by the EncephaloSucker, or 'kick-butt' like there's no tomorrow!
You guessed it! Our hero is ready for action. Duke must escape his alien prison cell, then battle to end the hideous plans of the Rigelatins.�
That pretty well sums it up. Aside from the amusing story, this game has other meritorious facets as well, some of which are appealing even now. For example: everything blows up. Every. Thing . If that�s still amusing now, do you have any idea how cool that is when you�re eight years old? Is that a soda can? Just shoot it! BOOM! Sentry turret? Blast it! BOOM!! Crates? Oh, those are filled with ROCKETS . Killer robots? Enemy soldiers? Blob monsters? Mow �em down and watch �em explode! There�s an entire armory�s worth of gunpowder and explosives inside of everything! Why? Because explosions are awesome . Just ask Michael Bay.*
This game also has a pretty kickin� soundtrack. The drawback to the music is that it will often get monotonous before you finish the level, but at least it�s pretty cool for the first five, maybe ten minutes of listening to it. Also fun are the different power-ups you can get, which include your standard gun shots, the laser, the flame thrower, and the rocket launcher. One thing you can�t say about this game is that it doesn�t have a fair amount of spunk. It tried to take what had been done before it and exaggerate it to silly proportions.
So between the amusing story, the fun weapons, the music that gets you pumped to play, and the sweet explosions, what�s not to like? Unfortunately, this is where I must change my tone. We�ll start with the controls.
The controls in this game are unnecessarily difficult to maneuver around with. The observed effect of moving through a slow frame rate doesn�t help matters much, but the fact that this is a platforming game just makes it that much more difficult. The delayed reaction to every button you press certainly doesn�t help either. But while the poor controls certainly hamper your ability to enjoy the game, what really hammers the final nail into this game�s coffin is its scoring system and level design, both of which work against the game instead of for it.
At the end of each level, you�ll find yourself bombarded with a long laundry list of level secrets and bonuses you didn�t collect, and while they�re not necessary to finish the levels, the game tries its hardest to place emphasis on how important it is to collect them. It somehow feels intrinsically wrong to intentionally pass up parts of the game that I am being encouraged to explore. As if that wasn�t bad enough, the game forces you to run around to various ends of the level and find random keys to open random force fields and doors. This is where the game really hits its snag: it shouldn�t be about running around and collecting items.
3D Realms makes no attempt to hide the fact that this is a run-and-gun shoot �em up game, but it fails so hard at properly performing its singular task. You�ll run around shooting and jumping your way through a level, only to find that you�re stopped and have to go collect some key, and you don�t really know where it�s even at. Sure, you�ll get written hints saying �it�s in the upper right of the level� or some such, but that�s not what it�s about. This could be a lot more fun if I could easily progress from screen to screen, gunning down baddies and jumping around on platforms, but you don�t want to stop the action! The action is what makes the game fun! For what this game is, it�s not awful, but it leaves much to be desired.
And finally, there are no clever Duke phrases in this game. I believe that Duke may have started using his signature language in Duke Nukem 3D , which came after this title. The addition of such humorous banter may have helped make this a classic title.
Duke Nukem II , as much as I would wish it otherwise, is not a memorable game. However, the Duke Nukem franchise brought to bear a certain carefree attitude to gaming, and paved the way for other games yet to come. Duke Nukem II may have done wrong, but it paved the way for the other titles that did it right. The series should be remembered for the territory it pioneered, and we shouldn�t take that for granted.
A Grue, out.
P.S. You can find a link to the first episode, available as a free download via shareware, at www.3drealms.com/duke2/index.html, which is 3D Realms � website. Just make sure you have DOSBox.
*What? Duke gets to make pop culture references, and I don�t?