Failure to Nukem
There once was an idea, a dream perhaps, of a game. It was to be a sequel to a much beloved game and one that seemed destined to be a massive hit. For around fifteen years it existed in that most precarious state of being: long term development. Caught between two worlds, it eventually sank away into myth, a rarely slighted curiosity that few believed would ever truly walk the Earth as its ancient ancestors once had. Then one day it announced itself to us all and we saw with our own eyes the tired and misshapen mass that escaped its tortuous dreamer state. It was a sad sight that taught us all a valuable lesson about the cruel nature of time and reminded us of the fickleness of greatness. The world had long ago left Duke Nukem behind, but through his own hubris he had not seen his own irrelevancy and he was cast aside, his legacy tarnished and good will used up. Will the Duke ever return? We don’t know, but the warnings from history that is Duke Nukem Forever remains.
I had thought to do a retrospective piece on Duke Nukem Forever. This was partly out of curiosity about how the game plays today – away from the hype and raw notoriety of its initial release in 2011 – but also partly out of masochistic daze brought on by procrastinating for too long one day watching videos of old Build Engine games. I was one of those fools who did buy DNF and played it to completion. Please don’t think any less of me. What started off as buying the game in good faith (due to having decent memories of previous Duke Nukem games and curiosity about this long gestating sequel) turned into grim determination to finish the damn thing, hoping against hope that I could find something redeeming about it.
The best I could say was that the Duke Burger level in which Duke is shrunk down and platforms his way across a fast food kitchen whilst fighting similarly shrunken aliens wasn’t that bad. There were a few other moments in a few maps that almost felt like a good action game. For the most part, however, it was full of horribly derivative action game tropes, grating misogyny, dull levels, undeserved smugness and tired old nostalgia. But how much of that was just backlash to a game that had become infamous for its delays and hype? Once more, curiosity got the better of me and I installed it on Steam with the aim to play it with an open mind.
I’m ashamed to say that I was so ashamed of myself for playing DNF that I toggled my Steam profile to “Offline” so I could hide what I was playing from my friends. I could probably stop just there with this piece. That’s one of the real lasting legacies of the game; I was ashamed to be seen playing it. Not even a guilty pleasure, a guilty penance. After a lot of pomp and self-congratulating, the game finally got to the menu screen. After a deep breath and reminder that I was trying to be fair to the game, I started up a new game of one of the most mocked and despised games ever.
After a couple of credits and a Duke quip that the developers hoped you’d forgotten was ripped from cult classic film They Live, the game sets the tone immediately. You’re in Duke’s shoes, staring at a urinal as the be-sunglassed one taking a piss. After fifteen years, players were given the sight of a yellow stream hitting porcelain and Duke whistling his theme tune. I groaned. I’d forgotten that this was literally the first thing you see in game. But I’d sworn to carry on. Duke keeps pissing until you tell him to stop. Maybe this is a very meta reference to the legendary development process for the game at 3D Realms? They just kept going, adding on and on without ever stopping and letting themselves finish what they already had. Would Duke piss forever if not told to stop? That is a question I hope no one ever tries to answer. I got Duke to stop pissing away both of our time and went exploring around the toilet area. Yes there is the opportunity to go and play with poop in the toilets (to those who haven’t played the game, I really wish I was exaggerating) but I didn’t want to lose all respect for myself. No Tess, remember, you’re being fair and open minded here. I began to question my intentions at this point, but ultimately decided that I couldn’t bring myself to sink to coprophilia. I got out of Duke’s loo as quickly as possible and made my way to the next area where a few soldiers are discussing a plan to deal with the giant alien boss from the end of Duke Nukem 3D. There is a whiteboard to interact with and draw on; one of the few things that was a nice touch in the game.
I tried to draw on the white board but found that the mouse smoothing was causing me a lot of lag and it was fairly unplayable. I decided to go into the menu and see if I could turn the mouse smoothing and acceleration off. I turned it down, but trying the game again, I found it was still there and still making things difficult. This moment will live on in my memories. It marks the point at which my DNF adventure entered its end game. I haven’t got beyond that point in the game. I don’t think I’ll ever get beyond it.
I trawled through internet forums to find a way to fully turn off mouse smoothing and acceleration. The game uses a version of the Unreal Engine, surely it could accommodate my wishes? I couldn’t find anything that sounded like it worked. Mouse smoothing and acceleration couldn’t be turned off, so in the end I decided I’d just have to put up with a bit of irritating lag. I’m being fair to the game, it’s not the only game to have irritating mouse lag, I can get over this, I told myself. I loaded up the game again. It couldn’t get any further than the splash screen. I tried again, but it came up with a crash screen. I rebooted my PC and tried again. Same result. For some reason the game that had been working fifteen minutes earlier was now unable to load.
Back to the internet forums to find a solution. I sleuthed and googled my way into all sorts of tech help sites. The dedicated Duke Nukem fan websites didn’t help me. Other people had reported the same bug, but no one seemed to have found a solution. I turned to more general tech help sites and saw that other Unreal Engine games have reported this error before too. It gradually became apparent that a vital .dll file needed for the DNF version of the Unreal Engine had been corrupted. I followed various methods to repair the file. I reinstalled DirectX, DNF, Steam, Visual C++ Libraries and my video card drivers. I tried manually removing the protected .dll file. I tried reverting to a previous save state of my computer with System Restore. I spent a whole day trying various potential fixes I found buried in the deepest corners of technical help forums. It wasn’t until the only remaining solution was to fully reinstall Windows 7 that I decided it just wasn’t worth it. I’m done being fair and open minded to DNF. It was a massive disappointment when it came. I’d had very low expectations to begin with and it failed to live up to even those. It was a chore to play through and I resented the game entirely. Hated it even. It was awful, offensive, boring and without any merit.
This was a game I could barely stomach for five minutes before finding an excuse to exit it. It’s a game so bad that I was ashamed to be seen playing it and so bad it corrupted the associated system files on my computer. That corrupted file of an outdated Visual C Runtime Link Library is still present on my computer. I hope that DNF’s heavily modified Unreal Engine is the only game in my library to use that file. I’ve not played any games since that required that particular version of the .dll and I wasn’t able to remove it from my computer. In part it’s still there because I can’t be bothered to go to the hassle of removing the system protected file, but it also serves as a reminder that no game series is sacred. Any series, no matter how loved it once was, can become the next Duke Nukem Forever. Let us not forget.