Recently I spent a large amount time looking up everything I could about the notorious Duke Nukem Forever. Its lengthy Development time is considered hilarious, incompetent, and almost legendary. But the thing that stood out to me was how sad and tragic Duke Nukem Forever is, and here is the reason why.
I know that sounds like an unbelievable thing to say considering the final product is a mediocre mess with some fairly good moments, But let me rewind the clock a bit. When this game was in its earlier development stages, it was clear that there was at least some ambition to the game. The trailer released for Duke Nukem Forever in 2001 is awesome, and shows off the scope this game was aiming for. Kick ass vehicle segments, new enemy types, and at times it had very epic moments with lots of impact.
The 2001 E3 trailer shows off some great and epic moments. My favorite part is when lightning strikes a radio tower as a Octobrain swoops past it. Epic moments like that were very much absent in the final product and lacked any impact.
I sometimes watch the 2001 trailer just because it is so epic and well put together. The
game looked like it had weight to it, it made the alien invasion look larger than life and apocalyptic. Octobrains swooped down from the skies, and high octane moments on roads and in minecarts were shown off in the trailer. The enemies were intimidating and the set pieces looks explosive and energetic. It truly looked like the development team set out to make the most kick ass, explosive, and varied shooter they possibly could. But in a way that was its downfall, it aimed to be the best shooter around while other games were beating it to the draw.
Half Life 2 came out and changed the way a first person action game could be played, with its physics puzzles and interactive world being some of its many highlights. It seemed if Duke was going to compete, it would need some upgrades in a effort to go head to head with its competitors on the market. And in the final product, you can see where these upgrades took place. The final version of Duke Nukem Forever has physics puzzles like Half Life 2. just nowhere near as creative.
While playing the game you can actually pin point the moment where someone charged into the 3D Realms office in a panic and said "I just finished Half Life 2, They have Physics puzzles, we need Physics Puzzles, lets go back to beginning and start development again". This isn't really the only time either, it has other things inspired by more modern games that started to make there way into the game.
Quick time events also make an appearance, something obviously added to make it more like modern shooters like call of duty. Duke Nukem Forever was so obsessed with fitting in with the crowd that it lost its vision. It became more about creating the ultimate shooter where everything was thrown into the mix, rather than a well structured and well executed game. The final product is basically like playing spot the gameplay mechanic, where you would see something and swear you had seen it before somewhere else but actually done well.
3D realms clearly wanted to make the king of all shooters by putting once popular features into the game so that it could compete. If the game had actually come out when it was supposed to it might have been well received, if the 2001 trailer is anything to go by that is. Obviously there is other footage floating around out there, stuff from 2003 and 2006 and stuff like that, but the 2001 trailer was what presented itself as an exciting game that people even now wish they got to play instead of what we actually got in 2011.
Physics puzzles, check, quick time events, check, the ability to pick up and throw turds? sure, why not.
Its tragic that people worked on this project for so long only to be one step behind every time they made some progress. They constantly switched engines, they constantly added new features, and they constantly set goals for themselves that they didn't need to set.
Even after the great response to the 2001 trailer at E3, they still were not satisfied, and wanted to make it even better. And that's what fascinates me, no matter how great the game looked to the public, they still didn't think it was good enough. People were hyped for its release yet the developers still felt it needed work and could be better, which is something that doesn't happen much these days. Often games are rushed into production and released in playable yet bland and mediocre states. The developers obviously wanted to deliver a game that matched their creative vision, and they slogged through 12 years of development hell in a effort to do it.
An artists depiction of development hell.
Ambition killed Duke Nukem Forever, instead of creating a worthy follow up to Duke Nukem 3D, It seems they were obsessed with creating a worthy follow up to every shooter in existence. They wanted to pull out all the stops and make Duke Nukem Forever Ground breaking, instead it was soul crushing. But after all the disappointment with the final product, I would be lying if I said I didn't admire that they had a vision to create the most kick ass shooter of all time. And although it may have failed, they didn't go down without a fight.
I absolutely love the Alien film franchise, with its great atmosphere, tension and visual design. Aliens in particular is one of my favorite films, the characters are great, the setting feels authentic and the action is filled with tension. Its hard to top Aliens because its such a successful film that balanced action and horror brilliantly. And in a way that why I think Aliens Colonial Marines failed, it missed the point of Aliens.
Aliens while being an action film actually doesn't have an many gun fights as you would think, there are only about 2 big set pieces involving blasting Xeno's to squishy pieces with pulse rifles. The rest of the film uses its atmosphere to to great affect and builds the sense of the threat that lurks out side the doors the the nice cozy room the characters have taken refuge in.
Aliens Colonial Marines however ditches this approach and goes straight for non stop action, which quite honestly gets very boring very quickly. And why shouldn't it? I mean we are just shooting the same enemy types over and over again after all, with the occasional uninspired new Alien type being thrown into the mix at the halfway point of the game. The film doesn't suffer from this because its a 2 hour plus roller coaster ride of intense and awesome film making and it knows how to pace horror and action together.
Colonial Marines seems to fail at this greatly, with a nice slow build up with some good tension, followed by 6 hours of blasting poorly animated Aliens into chunks of disappearing pieces. It seems like the developers saw Aliens as more of a tough talk movie about bad ass marines saying well written lines, rather than a very well constructed experience with great character depth. For example Aliens is basically an allegory for the Vietnam War, and the film puts a focus on how the Marines start off as being sure of victory, then having it turn into a unprepared mess as the Aliens quickly overwhelm them despite the Marines having superior technology.
The way they run at you with outstretched arms really helps make them less threatening/
This doesn't translate into the game because its all about picking up big guns and blowing Aliens away. The characters are terrible and the story is a joke. Towards the end of the game a twist is revealed that doesn't make any sense and came across more like the writers saying "LOOK, WE RESURRECTED ONE OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS, WE DID SUCH A GREAT JOB DIDN'T WE?".
The only way I can think of making a great Aliens game is to do something different, and by that I mean don't put Colonial Marines in the game. It felt like too much of a repeat of Aliens, especially considering the game takes place in the same environmental and rarely shows us anything new. My ideal Alien game would be a survival horror game, with a focus on exploration and improvisation to fight back. Imagine how tense it would be to have a level where you frantically navigate a ventilation shaft as the screech of a Alien echo's behind you. You wouldn't be playing as a marine so you cant just rely on a pulse rifle to save you. You would need to flee and escape it, the Alien would actually feel like a threat rather that just being cannon fodder.
I would also improve the Alien artificial Intelligence so that they function more like a living, thinking threat rather than just spawning and getting gunned down. These thing would hunt you through the levels, using vents and other parts of the environment to their advantage. You would need to watch your back, check rooms, seal vent covers to slow the Aliens efforts, have the option to barricade doors or set traps. Instead of having the Aliens come at you from the front, there would be a focus on making them distract you so that you are exposed, perhaps working as a team to lure you into a certain room or location.
The setting would be something new, a different planet, a new location. Imagine a sequence in a dense jungle, you and other people are slowly walking through a chest high swamp. Then all of a sudden people are sucked under the water, one by one. You see the organic piping of a Xeno morph briefly breach the surface and then dive down again. The water ripples in front of you, its getting closer. You have no weapons so you quickly head for land. This is just an example of what Gearbox could have done with the Aliens licence, but instead they chose to just re create moments from the film and add some boring new Alien types. Its such a shame too because there are many different types of game you could make with the Alien licence, but for some reason all they could come up with was a repetitive first person shooter with unimpressive set pieces and a poorly written narrative.
The game never manages to look this impressive.
I don't want to go back to LV 426 or Hadleys Hope, I wanted to see something new, fresh, and original. Alien 3 had the prison planet concept and it expanded on what the Alien universe has occupying it. All the different locations and environments. Instead Aliens Colonial Marines spends lots of time recreating the environments that appear in the film, but doesn't really add any new ones.
Overall if a new Alien game is made, then it needs to ditch the high action approach and the marines and put more focus on horror and actual tension. I find it amusing that the games tagline was "fight the fear" seeing as how there wasn't any fear to be found. I did however find myself fighting through the boredom of many of the games set pieces and poorly thought out final boss.
Its no mystery as to why Resident Evil 6 divided gamer's between the middle like Moses departing the red sea, the game was a massive let down for many people (me included). It lacked any real horror, dread, or suspense and felt more like a remake of Day Of The Dead directed by Michael Bay while high on many different illegal substances.
Its the not the worst thing ever created, but it sure as hell isn't the best either.And that's what so frustrating about Resident Evil 6, it was a chance to revisit the franchises survival horror roots and it failed to do so. It was a missed opportunity that could have injected the series with a fresh dosage of T-Virus and transformed it into a brilliantly terrifying nightmare of a experience (In a good way)
Many people went to the aid of Resident Evil 6 and said that the series has never really been scary unless you are 10 years old. That may be true for many people but that doesn't mean that Capcom couldn't have made Resident Evil 6 a scary experience. Look at the Resident Evil 1 remake on the Gamecube for example, that Is one hell of a scary game. A great atmosphere, haunting sound design and moody lighting in a Mansion filled with tight corridors and lurking horrors made for a truly terrifying experience.
So why was Capcom never able to replicate this in the later games? Resident Evil 4 had a few good scary moments (that regenerator breathing sound never fails to freak me out) but nothing worthy of that remake. People said that Resident Evil 6 was just an example of something evolving with the times. Here is my proposal, why didn't it evolve into something scary. Why did it dumb down the horror and increase the amount of ammo you carry. Evolution in games these days seems to translate into more gunfire less horror. Even Dead Space 3 has been accused of following this method of evolution.
And that brings us to the million dollar question, is Resident Evil ever going to retake its place in the throne room of horror gaming? People want more from a series like this, they want it to be a survival horror game, not a dive on the floor and fire your weapon type affair. The idea of a Resident Evil reboot was mentioned recently and I think this is a great idea to put Resident Evil back in the positive spotlight.
Imagine if they completely recreated the concept of Resident Evil as we know it. They could use the old version of Resident Evil 4 as a basis for new enemy types and a different take on the series while keeping the survival horror game play intact. With supernatural enemies rather than biological ones, and a creepy atmosphere rather than a fast paced action sequence every 10 seconds. The story could be different, the characters could be different, basically it could save the series. A reboot is the perfect chance to save Resident Evil from the brink of destruction, and bounce it back into the survival horror experience people fondly remember it for.