Aftershock: The Duke Nukem Forever Backlash

Well, this sure is awkward.

Last Monday I wrote my Duke Nukem Forever review. I gave it an 85. Much to my surprise, I later learned that I am one of the few critics to enjoy DNF even a little bit.

The critical backlash for DNF has been insane and wrongheaded, and I don’t say that lightly. I know, having been an entertainment critic for a few years now, how easy it is to be hyperbolic in one way or another about something, and hyperbole usually makes for the best reading. And negative hyperbole is the best of the best.

I’m not going to make any friends by saying that, especially after Jim Redner’s almost-scandal last week. Redner, whose PR company represented DNF, tweeted this last Tuesday: “too many went too far with their reviews…we r reviewing who gets games next time and who doesn’t based on today’s venom.” Redner apologized for saying that later, but there are some things you just can’t unsay.

I would never, ever condone blacklisting an outlet because of a harsh review — hell, I’ve handed out my fair share of harsh reviews, and I will continue to do so until every game is amazing — but I will say this: Redner was right about the vitriol directed at DNF being excessive.

Take Ben Kuchera’s review of the game, for one. I have nothing against Kuchera, and Ars Technica is a fine website that I read regularly. But Kuchera levels toward the game some invalid criticisms intended to back up his negative perspective of the game. He may not intend to mislead his readers, but it’s all part of the hyperbole train he was on. Here are two samples:

Duke arrives at a point where two nude ladies promise to lose their pregnancy weight from bearing their alien children, and they plead with you to let them live. (These are the same characters who performed fellatio on you during the beginning sequences of the game.)

The only way past this section of the game is to kill both women.

This isn’t true, as the women both explode on their own as they give birth. It honestly never occurred to me to shoot them, but OK. To his credit, Kuchera has since updated the review to acknowledge that fact.

In another scene, a woman sobs and asks for her father. You see, the women in the alien craft are being forcibly impregnated by the aliens, and during your journey, you hear a mixture of screams and sexual noises. After I accidentally blew up a few of these female victims in a firefight, Duke made a joke about abortion.

The abortion joke is not directed toward Kuchera’s destruction of innocent women, which is, again, not something I did either on purpose or on accident. During the course of the game, you’ll encounter many alien babies, and the “alien abortion” quip is something he’ll say multiple times when you kill them. I heard the quip at least a half dozen times.

I’m not claiming that Kuchera made these errors on purpose, but I am saying it’s easy to make angry, wild claims about a game when you’re determined, as Kuchera is, to hate a game.

And that seems to be the problem here. I believe most of the folks who reviewed the game knew going in what they thought of it. This isn’t unusual — we in the gaming press usually know so much about a game before playing the final version that we feel we know exactly what we’re getting before we get it.

I’m not innocent of this. Going into DNF, I expected it to make me laugh and not do anything else for me. I thought the gameplay would be miserable. It turns out my evaluation was quite the opposite, as I thought it wasn’t really funny at all, but was a blast to play.

What’s important is to not allow those preconceived notions to inform your final judgment of a game. It’s not easy, and all of us fall victim to it from time to time. If you ask any critic if they’re happy with all the 90+ scores they’ve given out over the years, I bet most will tell you they are not. I know I’m not.

But because you know a game is going to be a certain way, it’s easy to let that “knowledge” dictate what you say about a game. You “know,” based on pre-release marketing, that DNF is going to be misogynistic, and so you ignore the fact that the game takes place in a heightened reality in which every character, men and women, is a negative stereotype.

I’m not writing this because I enjoy calling out my peers, and I’m not doing it because I feel superior to those who have embraced this extreme DNF backlash. As I’ve said, this kind of thing is something we all, including myself, fall prey to from time to time.

I feel like the key to avoiding this kind of situation is a greater sense of self-awareness. We write to inform, but everything we write says as much about ourselves as it does about the things we’re writing about.

That isn’t something that can be changed, and it isn’t something that should be changed. But we’ve got to be more aware of the baggage we bring into our game reviews, or else we aren’t going to be providing the service we claim to provide.

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6 Comments on Aftershock: The Duke Nukem Forever Backlash


On June 20, 2011 at 6:10 pm

You need to consider Duke reviews as you would film reviews about a Comedy movie. Sense of humor is a big part of what separate’s different peoples opinions about the game and you need to accept that a lot of other writers just didn’t find the game as funny as you did. As the game’s mechanics are very simple and the graphics are pretty average, whether you find the jokes funny or not is basically the linchpin of the enjoyment factor.

I don’t particularly agree with the more righteous criticisms that seem to think that Duke Nukem Forever should have some grand moral responsibility, but I do agree that a lot of the jokes in Duke were tasteless and fell very flat.

It’s not even that the jokes were immature or juvenile, but they were rarely witty or smart. It’s very possible to make intelligent toilet humor, look at South Park as an example.

Duke deserves the low review scores, but I hope it still sells well enough for them to make a new Duke game with better writing and smarter humour.

Phil Owen

On June 20, 2011 at 7:17 pm

You’re missing the point of this piece. I’m saying the over-the-top negative comments that folks have been throwing around toward the game are unwarranted. It’s OK to not like the game.

Sergey Ryzhkov

On June 20, 2011 at 8:42 pm

I think the more backlash for DNF comes out from the advertisement sources gamers don’t trust anymore the more interesting it becomes to play. People got boring about political correctness.


On June 20, 2011 at 9:27 pm

You’re going to have to concede that some people were going to bash the game no matter what. It could have lived up to every aspect of the original and been the perfect homage in every sense, but those same people would have bashed it regardless.

Having now played the game thoroughly now, I tend to side with you, Phil. However, I don’t feel the need to defend the game so emphatically. It was what it was. DNF had many technical faults, but I thought it captured the spirit of the original in many ways. And that was OK with me. I give the game a thumbs up with an asterisk. That asterisk being that if you haven’t played the original, then you might not “get it”. And it’s obvious from the average review scores that many people didn’t “get it”.

In fact, I’d go as far to say many who have bashed it really haven’t played the original (even if they say they have… You know who you are you bunch of liars!). If they had, they wouldn’t have had such high expectations to begin with. The original wasn’t a masterpiece by any means. Duke Nukem 3D came out the same year Quake did. It was cartoony. It had graphics inferior to Doom (which came out in 1993, mind you). It had crude humor and *gasp* nudity! Oh noes! Titties in ma’ game! Where’s da’ nanny police when you need ‘em?

Most of these reviewers giving DNF a 2/10 or worse, I wonder if they can even spell misogynist? Nevermind them knowing what it means.

There are some dumb blighted game reviewers out there. And you can’t change their tune, no matter what you do. This pretty much sums DNF reviewers up:

Haters gonna hate… and I’m hatin’ on the DNF haters.


On June 20, 2011 at 10:17 pm

I wouldn’t say the GFX of Duke3d were worse than Doom. Hell, they were better! Duke3d’s world had far more detail than that of the DOOM world. Hell, Duke was the first to allow us to look up and down! And go there via the jetpack!

I may have mentioned this here or somewhere else, but I think part of the reason for the negative reviews is that a lot of folks have been ripping this game to for a decade now. For that whole time, they made Duke Forever the butt of their childish jokes. Vaporware this, blah blah that. And had any of them went to 3d Realms website during the last twelve years, they could have seen that the game was being worked on the entire time, with the 3d Realms guys posting their progress on the forums.

But nay! Doing actual journalism would be too difficult! It’s easier to talk like everyone else is doing to act like you’re part of the in crowd!

But one cannot take these reviews very seriously. I’m sure these are the same folks giving games like Halo 3 and Call of Duty Modern Cashrape perfect scores due to their own personal opinions and bias, rather than the content of the game itself.

As I sit here playing thru Duke Forever, I too recall similar feelings that I had when playing Duke 3d. And I recall George Boussard talking about how this game would be competitive graphically with Half Life 2 and DOOM 3. It certainly is on the level with those two games. And while people may still about the GFX being dated, the game does look better than say, The Conduit on the Wii. Hell, that may be a weak comparision but who cares anyway.


On June 20, 2011 at 10:26 pm

@Phil: I do get what you’re saying, but I feel that some of the criticisms that you would consider over-the-top are warranted.

Yes, Duke is supposed to be a politically incorrect misogynistic character, but the issue that a lot of low-scoring reviewers seemed to have was that above all of that, he just comes off as a huge hard-to-like douche.

See the thing about anti-heroes is that even though they’re obviously not 100% good but definition, the viewer/player is still supposed to end up liking them. Duke 3D achieved this in that you always felt like Duke was there to fight the good fight and kill the alien bastards. Perhaps that was just due to it being a much simpler game in a simpler time, but in Duke3D he never seemed like the douche he is in Forever.

I think that it’s very possible to make Duke a likeable character in a modern game, but as I said in my previous comment, that’s going to require much better, more intelligent writing.