From around 2001 until its eventual release in 2011, 12+ years after development on it first started, Duke Nukem Forever was becoming more and more of a running joke - it literally just kept on and on running! Its legacy as a legendary shooter faded as its increasingly tainted brand became as crusty and clichéd as Duke’s many cribbed one-liners. In the end, 3D Realms spent so much resources working on D4 that in the end they ran out of money even though they’d sold off other IP (like Prey) to finance Duke’s development.
There was the meme-ish list that mocked 3D Realms by mentioning many well-known historical events that took less time to accomplish than the development of DN4E (which was still unreleased at the time the list was composed one might add), like the Apollo Space Program, starting with JFK’s speech and ending with the first moon landing, or The Beatles forming, becoming famous, releasing all of their albums, touring the world several times over, then breaking up.
And then the game finally DID come out, under a new label (Gearbox Software), and it was if not a raging garbage fire, so at least uninspired - at best. I myself never got past the first few levels; it was rather hard, filled with gimmicky minigames that didn’t appeal to me, and I just didn’t like it very much.
In retrospect, it’s obvious DN4E’s legacy is not so much the game itself, but rather its magnificient bellyflop in the eyes of critics, and poor reception by gamers in general after so many years of waiting. Almost forgotten entirely now, few seem to recall all those times the game was restarted during development because the perfectionist George Broussard had seen technology sail past them - and Duke 4 had to be as cutting edge as Duke 3 had been. Also forgotten now are all those people that had worked on the various incarnations of the game, then grown fed up with the bad leadership and lack of progress, and quit in frustration.
Of course, the release version of the game used the Unreal 3 engine, and the game looked basically exactly like virtually every other Unreal 3 engine game out there, complete with that weirdly shiny plastic-y appearance to all surfaces which basically every UE3 game shared in common. There was nothing cutting edge about it really, it was just another also-ran, which in this case happened to feature quite a bit of stale 1980s macho-misogyny (“meant ironically”) and raspy smoked-too-many-cigarettes voice lines by Jon St. John.
By 2011, the 1980s with their head-scarfed, mulleted, muscle-bound heroes and their low-brow “me Tarzan you Jane” attitude towards cross-gender interactions had faded so much out of peoples’ consciousness (and also not yet risen back into prominency by that nostalgia-driven retro wave we’re now seeing), so all that tacky Duke machismo did more to drag the game down than anything else, which also didn’t endear the game to most people I would venture to say.
When it finally released, Duke4 simply felt oddly out of touch with the prevailing times, and not in a good way.
The at-first hotly awaited followup to a legendary smash hit, then-turned-into long-running joke had peetered out into a sad whimper and died, with nothing to show for. The game wasn’t finished, despite other game series having released multiple sequels in the same timespan. Gearbox did the perfunctionary finishing touches, polished what was not quite a turd up as best they could, then released it, well aware and knowing themselves what exactly it was they had on their hands.
Since then though, a lot of water has flowed under the bridges. Many new gamers have grown up and never encountered DN4E. To them, the game might not even have existed at all.
Could we not then...reboot Duke, maybe? It’s been done with other franchises, even several times over in fact. Just go back to the time after DN3D, and build from there...?
I can’t be the only person who still holds some fondness to good ole Ammosexual Flat-top Blonde, can I?
Morhaime interview, by the way:
Check it out, it’s well worth a read-through!