It could be argued, that shooters really found their footing with the release of Quake, which really took everything great about Doom and added a more robust level design, a new variety of weapons and settings and a full on 3D engine. Don’t get me wrong, Doom will forever be the grandpappy of FPS but Quake is when the code was really cracked on the modern FPS shooter. If you’re wondering why I am reminiscing about the old days and the birth of the true 3d FPS it’s because of Dusk, the Indie title by developer David Szymanski, really picks up and continues where Quake ended.
I’ve spent the last week, running and gunning (the run speed feels so good in this game!) my way through the first Episode of the 3 Episode game that is scheduled for release October 31st. I have to say that it does bring back a lot of the feels from the old days and I wanted to spend some time highlighting some of the highs and lows of my experience. Note that I’m going to hold off on a final score until I have played through the entirety of the three Episodes promised so treat them as more of a review in process. So with that in mind grab that coffee, sit back and check out our review of Dusk: Episode 1.
One of the things the best parts about Dusk is that it knows exactly what it is and it doesn’t apologize for it. This retro first person shooter is just that, straight out of the 90’s! For many of us loading up Dusk, which as an aside has a great DOS style boot up screen, it will feel like you’re back home in your parents’ basement on that Pentium one hoping it can run Quake without crashing or lagging out. Dusk plays very much like Quake, or other late 90’s FPS titles and it is glorious. Combat is basic, insanely fast and over the top crazy with hordes of enemies constantly trying to take you out.
The controls are pretty straight forward with a few modern touches that manage to add to the experience without taking away that retro feel. Specifically, there is a great roll ability that comes from running and tapping crouch which allows you to navigate and dodge quickly around the map and for Dusk movement = life. As mentioned the movement speed is crazy fast, more in line with old school Doom than Quake, and with no reload and quick weapon switching the developer has gone out of his way to make sure that nothing slows down the shooting frenzy. As per the 90’s formula, the game offers a wide range of weapons from the classic double barrel to more interesting things like the Rivet Gun and Long Rifle. I was particularly fond of dual wielding what looks like custom Winchesters with full flip reloading action.
The level design is brilliant in that it manages to replicate the feel of a 90’s shooter but add some nice modern touches. One of the things that made 90’s shooter level design so brilliant was that developers were forced to build with storage capacity in mind. Many times developers would need to shorten level layouts and thus make the space much more intentional simply because the level could only be so big. This is where secret rooms became such a huge it. Dusk nails this with each level containing that nice balance of 90’s restriction on modern freedom.
Dusk offers a few nice features that are both a node to old fans like me as well as young pups who want to take a trip back in time. For one there are three game modes; Story, Endless and Multiplayer.
The story mode is broken down into three Episodes with each containing a series of levels. Understand that when I say story here I really mean a loosely themed set of levels where the only real story is to get to get the yellow key, the red key, and the blue key and get out. This isn’t a criticism as it plays to the purpose of the title.
Endless is more of a horde mode where a player is dumped into an arena and must hold out against progressively tougher waves of enemies. You gather points with kills which get posted to a leaderboard. As the combat is crazy fast, relentless and a blast this is a great way to waste some time.
The final mode which I wasn’t able to play as the game hasn’t released is multiplayer. At this point, I can only speculate but I would venture a guess that it is going to see some serious competition. As it will most definitely play like old school deathmatch it might actually give some of us older gamers a chance to dominate against all the COD babies of today.
Visually the game looks and feels like the 90’s, in all it’s pixelated and polygons glory. This is not a title that will win an award for ‘most realistic design’, but that’s not the point. It does an incredible job of emulating everything that made these titles thrive. Simply put it creates a world and enemies that leave room for your imagination. This one one of the greatest things that early gamers have going for them, we grew up with crappy graphics but huge imaginations. We worked for immersive experiences and titles like Dusk play pay tribute to that.
To be honest, if you have never played any of the old 90’s shooters it would be easy to take one look at Dusk’s visuals and wonder what broke in the code. Yet Dusk isn’t trying to be any more than what it is, and what it is, simply put, is a wonderful tribute to 90’s gamers. A wonderfully well thought out and implemented tribute to the 90’s.
Final Thoughts… For Now!
My only real concern with Dusk is that it’s catering to a very specific demographic. If you’re a gamer from the 90’s or grew up loving those older FPS titles I think you will really like Dusk. It really does look, feel and play great. However, there is definitely a crowd out there that have never really been introduced to what is now considered ancient history in FPS gaming. It may be very easy for this crowd to overlook the beauty and complexity of a game that, by today’s standards at least, is a rather simple title. Thankfully we have seen a resurgence of some very successful retro looking games over the last few years and I think it has opened us up to try out things that might not normally be in our wheelhouse.