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SummaryIndeed, DUSK is worthy!
- Spectacular combat
- Level design goes from good, to great, to amazing
- Decent pricing
- Is far more than it appears at a glance
- Soundtrack firing on all cylinders
- An immense attention to detail despite simplistic visuals
- Replay value
- Gives you your full tool set way too early
- Weapons lack the playfulness of the era its aping
- Initial levels may turn off veterans
- No Co-Op or Modding Tools
- Multiplayer is good but forgettable
The Bottom LineLooks can be deceiving. From the outside, Dusk will look to most like an imitator. A game riving a wade of nostalgia for classic shooters that was sparked by the success of the 2016 Doom reboot. Those were my own impressions upon seeing the game and these initial impressions remained with me during my first crack at the games first episode in an earlier build.
Was it slick? Sure. Was it fun? Sure. But nothing said to me "This can stand with the classics." It was all too... quaint. Well produced, but quaint. As time went on I continued hearing more and more about subsequent episodes and decided to wait until the game was released and play it all in one big chunk.
The game came out. I played it. My "meh" impressions of Episode 1 remained somewhat, but became more easily quelled as I started noticing details I hadn't before. Started finding myself more and more immersed in the games atmosphere. Found myself noticing things such as the way you can strafe jump up slopes. Found myself finding secrets. Finding a rhythm. Soon enough, I couldn't put Dusk down.
The game is not a mere love-letter to the shooters of yore. It is a full-blooded release. A game that picked up where Quake and Blood left off. While Dusk certainly cribs from many others in that field, Quake and Blood feel like the biggest influences. From Blood it takes the mish-mash of horror iconography, cults, and it even has a cameo from Stephan Weyte, Caleb's voice actor. From Quake, it takes the abstract mish-mash of worlds and the sense that you simply don't belong.
Yet Dusk ends up being more coherent than Quake and more carefully thought out than Blood. Quake felt disjointed, but not intentionally so. While it still may have given Quake a unique, creepy feel no one is ever shocked when they learn it had a troubled development and was a mishmash of games that never were. Blood sometimes bogged itself down in chasing detailed, tangible worlds with a sadistic twist and while it had great level design overall, sometimes the insistence on making it all feel like it took place in a realistic playspace meant the game couldn't play with its level design.
Dusk solves these problems and better yet - builds on them. Perhaps it is even learning a little from Half-Life of all games, as there's a tangible sense of progression and a connection to the world that many old school FPS games lack. One of the moments that first truly epitomized this for me was in Episode 2, when the game itself kept speaking of a mysterious beast known as the "Thresher" - and soon I realized the levels had been feeding me into an increasingly gargantuan machine imbued with a sinister magic. It became a whole level in and of itself eventually and it all felt surprisingly natural.
In general, Dusk shows an immense attention to detail that is not immediately apparent with its intentionally low-fidelity visuals. There are story clues throughout the game and while the story isn't exactly the deepest thing out there, it actually works. If you want to pay attention you will find interesting clues as to just what is going on in Dusk and in spite of how thin the story ultimately is even that aspects ultimately is compelling. You want to know what the hell is going on, despite its commitment to the eras wanton disregard for deep and complex storytelling. The answers maybe aren't the most satisfying, but there's clearly a desire shown to say and do more.
It is not surprising to me that the games creator, David Szymanski, has primarily spent his time making independent, moody horror games. He's nailed the art of subtle, environmental storytelling - and it lends Dusk a certain edge. The game is far creepier than one would expect. Andrew Hulshult's music is helping there as well. There's an equal balance of incredible, driving metal tracks (Real metal, by the by. Not the quarter-Industrial, Quarter-Electronic, Quarter-metal, quarter-ambient stuff from Doom 2016) and moody, Akira Yamaoka-esque mood tracks that permeate the rest of the game. There's a palpable dread to Dusk and a genuine fear of what, or where, the game could take you next. And there are moments in some of the games later levels that are visually stunning to behold and ultimately unforgettable which is an achievement considering the intentional limitations of the games visuals.
The gameplay itself is relatively simple: It's a Doom/Quake clone. If you've played one of those games (And let's face it, you have.) then you know what to do. But with that said it's an incredibly elegant one. Strafe jumping is easier to do here than in Quake, yet it still requires immense skill to master the art of strafe jumping and slaughtering your foes. But it is almost necessary on the games higher difficulties. One of Dusk's most brilliant decisions in regards to its combat is one of its simplest: There isn't a single hitscanning enemy in the game. Even enemies with shotguns such as the Scarecrows file tangible projectiles, and this allows you to learn range and spread of different enemies. It also makes the largest arenas feel like 3D bullet-hells. Nailing Dusk's movement is a necessity, but when you do, it is rewarding.
My biggest gripe regarding the combat is in the weapon selection. The weapon selection is not bad, but it is standard and the game spoils you early. If you do even some basic secret hunting, there is a legitimate chance that every single weapon in the game can be in your possession during Episode 1. While there are new enemies, locales, and styles of level throughout each episode it is somewhat disappointing that you don't get a new toy to play with.
Nor is the game as playful with its weapon selection as it perhaps should be. There certainly are standouts, a crossbow that pierces entire crowds of enemies (Especially satisfying on hordes of gribbly, lower tier enemies) that also pushes you back if you fire it while in mid-air - a trick that can essentially let you fly across the map, if you have the ammo and skill to spare. It also has perhaps one of the most devestating rocket launchers ever - the Riveter. A nightmarishly overpowered rocket launcher with an absurd rate of fire, limited only by the rarity of its ammo and how little of said ammo you can carry. But for a game inspired by Blood, you don't see anything as unique as even Blood's bundle of dynamite. A mundane weapon on the surface but memorable because it in and of itself had a learning curve. There is nothing quite like that in Dusk, but perhaps in the future there will be.
Dusk also feels lacking in its relatively sparse multiplayer and the omissions of Co-Op and level editing tools.. The game SCREAMS for the latter two and while the former is fun, it is nothing more than a deathmatch mode and a small handful of levels.
Yet even with those omissions and the paltry multiplayer option - Dusk is a genuine mustplay. It is not a mere imitator of the classics. It does not live in the shadow of Doom, Quake or Blood. Instead Dusk stands besides them - tall, proud and defiant of modernity. Indeed, Dusk is worthy. If you pine for this era of shooter, or even if you never experienced it but loved Doom's 2016 reboot - Dusk is a must play.