Well, after what’s seemed like an eternity, Duke Nukem Forever has finally been released. I remember speaking to George Broussard many years ago about the development process through email (even then the game had been pushed back numerous times) and he seemed excited and certain that it’d be coming soon.

Fast-forward over a decade, and here it is. The game’s universal panning by reviewers for both the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions (48 and 56, respectively) led the title’s PR Rep to exclaim via Twitter: 

“Too many went too far with their reviews. We are deciding who gets games next time and who doesn’t based on today’s venom.”

The rep has since apologized for their comments, but the damage has been done. As someone from the outside looking in with no irons in the fire, I find this situation extremely troubling. I could potentially see if there were one review that was particularly vitriolic, then the PR people might have a leg to stand on. But there wasn’t an outlier this time around. It was universally detested.  While I’m not privy to the exact work that Gearbox put into DNF after picking up its rights, from the looks of it, I’d have to say that they kept it largely intact and simply updated the visuals and maybe some other minor things. We know that they have earned their chops, putting out 2009′s stellar FPS/co-op experience, Borderlands. The problem with DNF is that it’s a Pinto. Even with the baddest paint job and killer stereo system money can buy, it’s still a Pinto. Duke’s escapades were tired back in the day, it’s hard to believe that they’d be accepted today except by the most juvenile (or nostalgic) of gamers.

And this is the crux of the situation: where can/must the line be drawn? There are huge stakes at risk here. Games have huge budgets and a titles’ reception/sales have a direct impact on the livelihood of the talented developers who worked on the title (often for years at a time). Publishers owe their shareholders a positive return on their investment or there might not be another influx of capital the next time a project comes around. Reviewers have an obligation to their readers to give honest, unbiased opinions. And lastly, we gamers owe it to the developers of great games to support their efforts, thus ensuring the continued cycle.

What happens if reviewers are stymied or blatantly threatened? Remember just a few years ago Gamespot’s Jeff Gerstmann was dismissed and it’s still highly speculated that his departure was due to a poor review of Eidos’ third-person shooter Kane & Lynch. Eidos had spent a lot of money advertising the game prior to release on Gamespot’s website, so it’s easy to see how the connection is plausible. Of course we’ll never know for sure what exactly went down behind closed doors, but it offers a chilling scenario.

There’s no doubt that there are fanatical groups of outliers for every situation in gaming. I’m sure there is a contingency that thinks that DNF is the greatest game released since, well, the last Duke Nukem. Just as I’m sure there were plenty of people (not that they’ll admit it) that thought E.T. for the Atari VCS was a heckuva game. That being said, when an industry (in this case the gaming press) almost unanimously agrees that a title is bad, then there’s no huge conspiracy to bring that game down.

One thing that I find very telling is that Game Informer’s Andrew Reiner reviewed DNF and didn’t pull any punches. GI’s parent company is GameStop, so of course in theory it would benefit their reviewers to give a game good reviews wether they deserve them or not. But that’s not how GI does business. They are gamers first and foremost, and they prize their journalistic integrity above all else. This leads me to trust their reviews, even if I don’t always agree with them. The same should be of all major review outlets. If we gamers can’t trust the reviews we’re reading, then the source loses its credibility. If devs/producers get inflated review scores because of corporate pressure, then gamers might just shy away from their games. I can remember all too well the days when all I had to go on for a game was the box art and quick blurb on the back. More than once I brought home a dud, so when nationally-spread reviews came around, things were great.

I don’t know what the fallout is going to be over this DNF situation. What I do know is that when reviewers are unable to give unabashed criticism or unbridled praise for a particular title based on their experiences, we all lose. And DNF PR people, we’re gamers. We don’t want to see you fail. We’re smart enough to realize when a reviewer is reviewing a bad game and when they’ve got an agenda.