Obscured View

A few chosen words on the world of video games

A belch from the past

Playing through Duke Nukem Forever takes you on a tour of game engines and tech over the last 12 years; witness the might of the Quake 2 (or 1?), Unreal, and Unreal 2 engines in all their… well not-so great glory.  There’s an entire room that you know was there to show off moving objects from when that tech was new, then another that’s got that “wet metal” look that was such a showcase piece in its day.

Gearbox did right by me with Borderlands (sequel pleasel!), which is why I decided to fork over the money for DNF.  Am I feeling ripped off?  In hindsight, foolish, but that’s about it — what did I expect?  A game that went through 3 companies for the last 12 years using outdated tech in multiple attempts to create a game — how else could it have ended?

I can say that there are some fun sequences scattered throughout, most towards the latter half, but they’re broken up by boring, offensive, or just stupidly hard sequences that make you scratch your head wondering how the creators thought the entire package worked cohesively.  For me, the key thing is that may of the core elements that made DN3D fun (secrets, cameras, pedestrian and relatable settings) went out the window, barely making any appearances except in limited places that don’t make great use of them at all.  It’s like 12 years was enough for even the creators to forget what the DNA of their series was.

To this day I still hold DN3D’s first level (the movie theater) up as one of the great multiplayer levels of all time — relatable, fun in teams, and needing only one slight mod to make it “perfect” for great play (duct from arcade elevator top to red room).  But it wasn’t just that level that was great — it was a lot of them.  They were mostly places that even if you hadn’t been, you’d understand the layout just fine because it mapped to reality fairly closely.  In DNF, they just kinda forgot about that.  Even when you’re in a fairly understandable location, it somehow feels disjointed, like the rooms don’t all connect if you were to plug it together.

Controls on the console blow pretty hard.  There’s barely any tuning of the movement and aiming for the analog stick, leaving you with a very unsatisfying play experience.  I constantly felt like I couldn’t hit anything while moving, when even being slightly off dead-center with weapons like a shotgun or machine gun would cause complete misses.

So too, the feel of the weapons have suffered.  Guns that used to be fast and furious with blazing reload speeds now feel sluggish and tamed to today’s shooter standards.  Do you even remember ever reloading in DN3D?  Not much, because it was far between and fast when it happened; most weapons just shot until they ran out of ammo.  Load up DN3D and shoot off a clip in the basic pistol — it’s so much more satisfying than DNF.  Pipe bombs don’t roll like they used to, and that great “clink…. clink, clink” sound — gone.  Trip mines kinda work, but they take forever to arm and again, feel neutered.  It’s like this version was afraid to let the player be unhinged and over-the-top destructive like the old game did.

And loading times?  They’re BAD.  Like “go make a sandwich / write a novel / have kids, raise them, send them off college, then come back and play” bad.  Especially when you hit one of the OMGWTFBBQ difficulty spikes, you’ll be looking at that loading screen for more time than you’re actually playing the game.  Only in the driving levels (and only while driving) do they cut you a break and instantly respawn you, which makes you wonder why they couldn’t do that anywhere else….

What’s disappointing is that DNF wasn’t just nuked (ha!) and rebooted around critiquing today’s shooter culture.  Maybe that’s the next (possible) game, where the moment a marine suggests that Duke can only carry two weapons, we’ll get him kicking the marine in the nuts and telling him that’s for sissies while he grabs a rack-full of them.  Then he can move on to wittily dissecting regenerating health, “hardcore” modes, flashlights, ammo restrictions, leveling up, classes, perks, nav beacons, driving sequences — a multitude of game conventions we’ve adopted as “modern” that could use a good kick in the nuts in the name of over-the-top fun through all-out gun battles with outrageous gibs and crazy weapons.  That’s the game I wish I had played.

Maybe that’s just called Serious Sam these days.

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