The situation is hardly uncommon these days: a developer puts out an anticipated/remake of a game, the game does terrible critically and then the developer calls out reviewers with oft-used phrases like “they weren’t playing the game properly”, “they didn’t understand the game” etc. Borderlands developer Gearbox Software seems to be the latest to join in on the review-bashing in defense of their product, stating that Duke Nukem Forever wasn’t reviewed fairly.
These accusations come straight from Brian Martel, who is known as the co-founder of Gearbox, though his comments towards the reviews seem more like direct attack on review outlets than the standard defense of artistic direction.
For example, when talking about review scores, Brian cites that reviewers often found the game either a modest accomplishment overall, or a completely failed effort. While reviewers should have rated the game on its own merits, Martel suggests that Duke Nukem Forever was judged for more than just the experience it delivered:
“There were things towards the high and things towards the low, but the middle just didn’t get any traction. It’s pretty obvious that people were using it in some ways to kind of use it as a soapbox or whatever.”
Martel also makes mention that some players just weren’t able to get into DNF, blaming the years that have passed since the franchise was a household name:
“A certain amount of gamers today are not used to [a game in the style of Duke Nuke Forever]. It was what it was meant to be, which is a more old-school style game in what is today’s technology.”
Martel could have a point, if it were not for games like Hard Reset and House of the Dead – huge throwbacks to the bygone shooter era – that were still able to hold a metacratic score almost twice that of Duke Nukem Forever, which despite mediocre reviews was still able to generate a profit.
The Gearbox co-founder also goes on to cite the game’s lengthy development schedule as something that reviewers should have taken into consideration. The problem with that justification, of course, is that a bad game is a bad game regardless of who’s developing it and how long it took to make. Just because the game took almost two decades to see the light of day doesn’t mean that it should be regarded as something better than it is, or have less responsibility to live up to its price tag.
To be fair though, the odds were stacked against DNF before it ever hit store shelves, which is clearly something the publishers understood:
“I think there was no way that anybody could manage expectations. Name another game that’s in a similar situation. This is a game that was around for 15 years and it went through a number of engine cycles. It could never be everything for everybody, right? It is a caustic game in some ways, so maybe in some of that respect it could’ve been softened, but it’s [3D Realms’] vision and people should understand that in a world where we embrace the creator’s vision for something, we let that go. We let that be what it was supposed to be. And that is the team’s vision.”
Perhaps the part that irks me most about this whole situation is when Brian states:
“Gearbox made sure the world got to see what they [3D Realms] made and I think everybody should really be thankful that it existed to some degree at all. Because it really would’ve just gone away.”
It’s bordering on stomach-turning to hear any publisher, of any media in general, claim that their fans should be thanking them for releasing a product. Unless it’s free. Martel is clearly passionate about what he sees is the raw deal that the game received, and the fact that he’s having waited this long to voice his opinion shows that he really believes it.
But considering how disappointing Duke Nukem Forever turned out to be, Martel has an uphill battle trying to make the ability to play Duke Nukem Forever into a privilege bestowed upon gamers by Gearbox. There’s nothing wrong with being upset about reviews or sub-par scores (including our own Duke Nukem Forever review), especially considering one has put years of their life into making the game in question. But when a developer makes it sound like the fans were ungrateful for a product that disappointed more than it impressed, that’s where we draw the line.
Hopefully these don’t reflect broader sentiments at Gearbox, because it would be a shame to see one of the most talented developers around add their name to those who try to control review scores.
What’s your take? Do you think that Duke Nukem Forever suffered from bias or overly-harsh reviews? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.
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