Over the past few years, there’s been something of a revival of the so-called ‘retro shooter’ with titles such as Shadow Warrior, DOOM, and Wolfenstein: The New Order. But I’ll let you in on a little secret – none of those games are actually all that retro. Sure, there all elements of old school shooters strewn in there, but there are still long stretches of non-stop talking, cluttered upgrade systems, and very corridor-esque level design found in all the aforementioned titles. In fact, while they’re all wonderful games, part of me was starting to lose hope we’d ever see an authentically old-school shooter ever again.
And then I played the DUSK demo.
From the very second you start the level that makes up the DUSK demo, it is abundantly clear what this game is trying to do. There’s no exposition, no cutscenes, zilch – you get thrown into a room with your trusty melee sickle in hand and there are three chainsaw-wielding lunatics already making a bee-line for you. It’s undoubtedly a bold way to start a game, but it established the tone perfectly. This is a game about killing as many crazy enemies as possible. Good luck. This ‘always in danger’ attitude sticks for the entirety of the level, with dangerous enemies of all shapes and sizes – including the likes of decidedly Klan-looking arcane spellcasters and sentient, shotgun-wielding scarecrows – all waiting around every corner to turn our faceless hero into mincemeat.
Thankfully, the danger only adds to the already brilliant level design, which takes you from a backwoods farm to an underground basin of lava and hellfire all in a single stage. While playing, I couldn’t help but be reminded of some of the very best from Blood and Duke Nukem 3D, with the map striking a wonderful balance between ‘fun place to shoot enemies in’ and ‘believable level design’. While it certainly is great to just blast through baddies in a faceless labyrinth, the added context and believability of the farm playable in the DUSK demo just makes it all the more impressive.
The level design also fits right in with DUSK‘s unique aesthetic, which I can only describe as ‘Deliverance done by the way of Quake‘, mixing expected Southern backwoods iconography with a dose of over-the-top heavy metal fun. Sure, you’ve got chirping crickets and marshland, but it takes on a new life when being coupled with an army of Leatherface pastiches and hunting rifles that turn people into sloppy chunks after just a handful of shots.
Speaking of, the demo for DUSK featured what I can only assume to be the full roster of weapons, and let me tell you – they did not disappoint. You have your usual pistol/shotgun/assault rifle/long rifle lineup, but also a handful of unique weapons that aren’t even trying to hide what they’re inspired by – just one look at the designs for the Super Shotgun and Crossbow and you just know that the developers spent a lot of time playing Doom II and Heretic before building the models. While I have argued that every 90s FPS game has very traceable inspirations, few are quite as blatant with it as DUSK, from the aforementioned weapons to human soldier enemies that may as well be named ‘Not-HECU Marines’. However, the real surprise came to me upon the level’s completion, when I got a face-full of the forgotten ‘Secrets found, enemies killed, time taken’ screen from days gone by. While this may come off as a knock against the game, it’s really not – in fact, I’d argue the sincerity of what it’s drawing from adds a great deal to DUSK‘s charm.
While DUSK does its best to stick to the tried and true 90s FPS mold, it does take some welcome liberties as far as movement is concerned. Crouching while in motion will put you into a slide, giving you a brief boost of speed before you continue on your merry way with knees bent. Given the right circumstances, you can even flip through the air, using your newfound height advantage to mow through enemies without any of that pesky cover getting in the way. While it is entirely possible to beat the level without making use of any of these techniques, they certainly don’t hurt and add a lot to the title’s already-insane mayhem.
Still, while I have nothing but praise for the gameplay, it’s very clear that I was playing an early build of DUSK. The HUD basically just consists of numbers over a gray bar, there’s no option in-game to rebind keys, and I found myself clipping through the staircase in the creepy murder house near the tail-end of the level. However, this is a self-proclaimed early alpha, and it’s a miracle that the gameplay can be so tight even in such an embryonic state.
DUSK is the embodiment of those ‘happy accident’ games, a game you never knew that you wanted so badly until you had it. Everything about it has put me under its spell, and I’ve nearly spent all day thinking about just how excited I am to see it get finished. While it may be rough around the edges now, if the team can get it all sorted out by release, I can say without a trace of hyperbole it may just end up being one of the most exciting games of 2017.
DUSK was previewed on the PC via Steam with an Early Alpha Demo provided by the developer.