Duke Nukem Forever: It's not bad, it's just on the wrong platforms.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret.

When Duke Nukem 3D came out, I thought it was stupid.

Like many others, I was introduced to the modern FPS via a Wolfenstein 3D shareware disk in 1992. Though I felt it retained absolutely none of the jump-out-of-your-skin surprises that made Castle Wolfenstein by Muse Software so appealing, it had definite charm and plenty of action. Then in 1993, Doom completely blew it away, with more immersive environments and a more realistic running and gunning action. The next year, Rise of the Triad slightly one-upped Doom with the ability to fire two guns at a time and actually stop to look around at the world.


In 1995, Star Wars: Dark Forces shattered them all. George Lucas hadn't spoiled the Star Wars trilogy with the prequels yet, and it was the first non-vehicle-based 3D Star Wars game for DOS. It was a dream come true for many children of the 70's and 80's.

When Duke Nukem 3D came out in 1996. it just looked like another unoriginal rehash of all the groundbreaking FPS titles from the last three years, but with a stupid-looking hero whose claim to fame was repeating famous one-liners from Hollywood movies.

"Hail to the King, baby?" Nobody but Bruce Campbell could pull that off.

Bruce Campbell, Army of Darkness

So when 2K Games finally released the sequel Duke Nukem Forever after a world record-worthy 13 year delay, let's just say my expectations were realistic.

Image from Duke Nukem Forever

Early reviewers of the game this week, however, apparently had different expectations, and slammed DNF for everything from disappointing graphics to weak gameplay to low-brow content; giving it low overall scores and a general "do not buy" feel.

The PR firm that handled the launch, Redner Group, didn't take too kindly to the harsh initial reviews, and James Redner, founder of the firm, tweeted that the company was considering blacklisting reviewers who "went too far" with their criticism of the new game.

Those tweets drove 2K Games to terminate its account with Redner Group, which is really a story unto itself. I'm just going to concentrate on why all these bad reviews are right in a way, but still miss the fundamental point about DNF that is so awkward, and yet so riveting.

As I've been playing Duke Nukem Forever, I've come to realize it would have been a critically-acclaimed success if only it was released on the iPad first, and then consoles and PCs later.

Duke Nukem Forever minigame

You see, the current that runs underneath all of the early criticism is that Duke Nukem Forever feels outdated. Users expect freedom, exploration, tons of items and firepower, or great team gameplay from new console and PC games, and Duke Nukem Forever doesn't succeed in any of these areas.

But that's not why it would work so well on the iPad. Expectations for great mobile games aren't lower, they're just different. And Duke Nukem Forever has an uncanny number of qualities that just feel like they belong in a touchscreen game.

Take for example, the "Ego" concept. In the game, you are rewarded ego points for interacting with objects in the game: punch a punching bag, shoot a basketball, play pinball, or perform a finishing move, and your ego goes up. For all intents and purposes, it's earning hit points for being playful. Every single one of these little actions would be much more fun and rewarding if done with a touch gesture instead of simply by pressing a button. There's even a part where you sign an autograph to receive an ego boost. It makes absolutely no sense with a handheld game controller, and as I did it, I found myself shouting "WHY IS THIS NOT A TOUCHSCREEN GAME!!!?"

Sign an autograph...but not on touchscreen?  Duke Nukem Forever

The game also includes some puzzle mini-games that just beg for accelerometer control. Early on, you take charge of a huge laser cannon to take down a giant spaceship, then you must drive a remote control car to pick up an essential game piece, then you shrink down to the size of an action figure and have to push objects around to escape a room. The opportunities for this game to shine on a touchscreen device like the iPad are too numerous to mention.

The further you get into the game, the more you'll realize that it's not bad, it was just released on the wrong platform.

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