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Duke Nukem's disappointed, but the king's not dead yet...

Opinion: Duke will return better than ever, argues Will Porter

Duke Nukem Forever has been released to a barrage of negative reviews. Frustration at difficulty levels, archaic design, poor graphical performance and the bit where you kill the impregnated big-boobed ladies has been liberally sprayed at the blonde teutonic bastard for almost a week.

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Other opinion-formers have pointed out that the game is painfully unfunny, broken in places and has a meaningless level in a strip club where your main mission is to find a vibrator.

It's all true too: Duke Nukem Forever is a poor game. As a PC games journalist of increasing years it reminds me very much of the half-built games I'd play as preview code in the PC Zone offices almost a decade ago. It's full of half-ideas - a game seemingly built by individual developers sitting in separate rooms, and quite possibly separate decades.

I always assumed I would be a Duke apologist, and I certainly enjoyed the game more than many reviewers, but the cracks in its wallpaper can't be covered - no matter how many posters of big-boobed ladies get blu-tacked on.

Has the grand old duke of nuke met his match, then? Has he been consigned to the gaming hero scrapheap - doomed to the bleak infinity of idle banter with the likes of Zool, Alex Kidd and the delightful Cate Archer? I don't think so. Or, at least, I certainly hope not.

You can accuse Duke Nukem Forever of many things, but you can't say it isn't inventive. If it had been released seven years ago then segments like the desert driving section, with stops along the way to refuel, would have blown us away - as it was it'd be HL2: Episode 2 to wow us first.

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Likewise, you can never quite predict what's coming next in Duke Nukem Forever - and sections like the shrunk Duke leaping his way through Duke Burger or the scene in which the crane dangles him in front of the enemy-packed carpark are unpredictable and engaging.

Sure most of it is hugely unpolished and broken (results of the 'Wouldn't it be cool if...' meetings that presumably skewed DNF's development towards infinity) but at the game's roots you can sense originality and few slices of passionate, personal developer-love. If these segments appeared in a smooth, free-flowing game of a Modern Warfare ilk we'd likely be dazzled...

Elsewhere Duke Nukem Forever isn't funny, but that doesn't mean that Duke Nukem can't still be funny. Aside from some soul-crushing dialogue, the main problem with DNF's humour is that the world around Duke is just as ludicrous as him - meaning that it's nothing but a one-dimensional trek past rude-named hotels and hanging out with marines who've overdosed on toilet humour. There's no particular texture for the gags - because every single thing in the game is a gag. Put Duke Nukem as a fish out of water and in a realistic world (essentially pull something of an Austin Powers) and we could be hailing to the king once more.

Most importantly, however, given a 'normal' development at Gearbox rather than the extended hellish trawl from the nineties then a revamped Duke wouldn't bear the scars of Duke Nukem Forever. A casual flick through leaked 3D Realms design documents shows that Gearbox must have trimmed, nipped and tucked vast amounts of what was planned for DNF - entirely cutting out extended periods of time controlling a stripper called Bombshell and having Duke's foray in the strip club far less abrupt.

A mix of this late-stage editing, the game's clear roots in the FPS' of the nineties (first person platforming, interactive microwaves and the like) and the broken implementation of modern customs like regenerative health and two-gun loadouts sadly put Nukem on the road to nowhere. That doesn't have to happen next time. If there is a next time.

He's disappointed me, sure. He also alarmed my significant other when she caught me melee attacking an alien-impregnated lady with a wazzo pair of norks too. Thing is, despite it all, I still quite like Duke Nukem. You can criticise Duke Nukem Forever until the cows come home, but at a base level the world still needs a low-brow hero that doesn't take the world he exploderises too seriously and keeps a copy of Nuts in his back pocket. Yeah, we've got Bulletstorm now - but Duke was the original.

Duke Nukem Forever hasn't killed off the King - those alien bastards have only temporarily shot up his ride.I'm going to keep on hailing to the king, and hopefully so will Gearbox. I waited fourteen years for Duke Nukem Forever, so I'm willing to wait a few more.

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