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I played DUSK back when it was in early access before episode three was out. It’s a first-person shooter inspired by genre classics from the 90’s. It aims to deliver fun fast-paced action that feels like a blast from the past. Developed by David Szymanski and published by New Blood Interactive, DUSK was released for PC in December, 2018. If you there’s a checklist of how to make a shooter feel like it came straight out of the 90’s, the developer of DUSK checked all the boxes.
When it comes to the plot in DUSK, I’ll be honest and say I had no idea what the hell was going on for most of my playthrough. There’s minimal context or setup. You’re basically thrown into this strange world and have to kill to survive. The campaign plays out in episodes and your ultimate goal is to discover what lurks beneath the Earth while being hunted by cultists and dark forces. Clearly inspired by classic shooters like Quake and Doom, DUSK maintains a unique identity thanks to its mysterious world and dark and gloomy atmosphere. The world in DUSK is something to be admired. Even though nothing is ever abundantly clear, the strange world and mysterious voice that would speak to me always left me curious. Like many classic shooters, the story does take a backseat to the gameplay but the atmosphere in DUSK is memorable on its own.
DUSK is described as a retro first-person shooter. Many developers use the word “retro” nowadays to describe their games, especially when it comes to shooters. And what does it mean? It means the game is trying to imitate something from the past. In DUSK’s case, it’s trying to imitate the style of classic shooters. And it actually succeeds. From the gameplay mechanics to the level design, DUSK could pass as a shooter from the 90s. Each episode consists of multiple levels and your objective in each one is to find your way to the exit so you can proceed to the next level. And you’ll get to shoot plenty of enemies along the way.
You can walk, run, jump, crouch, slide, and activate a flashlight. You do have to be mindful of your health and morale. Morale is the game’s form of armor. Health can be slowly replenished by smoking your cigar or by picking up medical kits and magic potions and Morale is acquired by picking up treasures. I would say DUSK is a fast-paced shooter and genre veterans will feel right at home. Your survival will depend on not just the difficulty but your skills. The best way to survive most encounters in DUSK is to just keep moving and shooting. It’s that simple. Run, strafe, jump, and shoot. Knowing what weapons to use is also important. Some weapons are better against certain enemies. You’ll get your hands on ten weapons total. You’ll start with sickles but soon get your hands on traditional firepower like pistols and shotguns and they can be dual wielded. If you turn on the Intruder Mode when selecting the difficulty, you’ll start every level with just sickles, adding an extra layer of challenge.
As you progress through the episodes, you’ll acquire deadlier firepower including a Super Shotgun, Hunting Rifle, Mortar which is like a grenade launcher, and the Riveter which is like a rocket launcher. You can even use it to perform rocket jumps. My favorite weapon is the assault rifle simply because I like the feedback when firing it. That and it’s great against most lower tier threats. Two of the game’s standout weapons are the Crossbow and Sword. The Crossbow performs as you would expect and the bolts deal a good amount of damage. However, what it makes it special is that the bolts can go through multiple enemies and walls. The Sword is special because if you have one hundred health or more, you can charge up a stab that deals significant damage. If you have more than fifty morale, you can block attacks and deflect projectiles.
To help you on your journey are different pickups, most of which offer temporary bonuses. Hallowed Health increases your health by fifty. The climbing thing lets you climb on any surface. The fast fire totem increases your firing speed. Then there’s the serum of blistering heat which is probably the most interesting pickup in the bunch. It will freeze time, only moving when you do. Finally, there’s the lava suit which lets you walk on lava without taking damage.
There is a good variety of enemies in DUSK and each episode throws some new foes at you. Like the world itself, the enemies and their designs convey a sense of mystery. Furthermore, several of the enemy designs and their behavior add some creepiness to the action. And the game does feature infighting. One minute your shooting Mages which look like KKK members and the next thing you know you’re being shot at by Possessed Scarecrows. One of the more iconic enemies is Wendigo, a deer-like enemy that remains invisible until it takes damage. You know it’s coming when you hear it’s distinct breathing and you can spot it by looking for the bloody footprints it leaves behind. You’ll also engage rats, Possessed Soldiers, Scientists, and other strange beings and creatures. Some of the tougher foes are variants of bosses.
DUSK’s level design is one of its biggest strengths. The environments often contain a nice blend of claustrophobic and open-ended areas. You will have to find keys to progress and if you take the time to look around, you’ll undoubtedly make your way to secret areas which usually house resources. Levels are primarily non-linear and many will feature jump pads and teleporters. Many environments are more vertical and the jump pads make it easier to get around. Plus, they make for some fun combat scenarios. I did get stuck from time to time because it’s not always clear what you need to do or where you need to go, especially in the darker environments. You might have to do some backtracking and there’s often multiple ways to a destination. Each episode takes you to a different variety of locations spread across the countryside, military facilities, and a dark parallel dimension. Some levels are more traditional in their design and others are a bit more abstract. The levels are detailed and contain many objects that can be broken or picked up and thrown. You will want to watch out for hazards like explosive barrels, lava, and traps, but you can also use these to your advantage.
In addition to the campaign is the Endless mode and DUSKWORLD multiplayer. In the Endless mode, you choose the map and difficulty, and the goal is to survive as many waves of enemies as you can. You can try for high scores and killing enemies in succession will increase your multiplier. DUSK does feature multiplayer in the form of DUSKWORLD. I did find some active servers but they were password protected. I tried hosting a match but nobody joined so I didn’t get to try the multiplayer.
Not only does DUSK play like a game from the 90’s, it looks like one, too. Character models are blocky and you can adjust the amount of pixelation. There’s actually quite a few options to configure when it comes to the presentation, from the crosshair style to the color palette. DUSK features some neat visual, atmospheric, and gore effects. When you shoot enemies, blood will spray, puffs of blood fill the air, and enemies can explode into gibs. The entire game has this gloomy and mysterious atmosphere as mentioned earlier. Every level is kind of eerie. But the visual presentation is only part of it. I think the soundtrack is what really drives it home. Composed by Andrew Hulshult, the jamming metal tunes perfectly compliment not only the atmosphere but the action as well, helping to build up tension. The weapons fire sounds okay and some enemies spout lines during combat. Others grunt, groan, and make other noises. The tune that plays when Wendigo is revealed is chilling, making for an incredible introduction in my opinion. On the technical side, the game ran smooth and I encountered no bugs.
DUSK is a great game. I had lot of fun with it. It captures the spirit of the games that inspired it while managing to feel unique on its own. But it’s more than just a love letter to the classics. DUSK is a lot of fun to play. The weapons are satisfying, the environments are well crafted, and the enemies put up a decent fight. The difficulty ramps up nicely as you progress and each episode introduces new stuff. If the campaign isn’t enough to keep you coming back, DUSK also comes with an Endless mode, multiplayer, and it supports mods. In fact, from what I understand, you can actually play through Quake and Half-Life maps.
I would absolutely recommend DUSK to anyone. It feels like a blast from the past and sticks to the basics. Running and gunning. That’s what its all about. And it’s fun and atmospheric. Ultimately, DUSK is one hell of a game that you should definitely check out.