Concise Game Critique - Dusk

Concise Game Critique - Dusk

Developer: David Szymanski
Publisher: New Blood Interactive
Released: December 10, 2018 (Windows)
Played on: Windows
Played for: 12h (played through once on normal difficulty)

Dusk is a lovingly crafted throwback to the bloody and fast-paced first-person shooters of the 90s.

The game starts with three hooded, chainsaw-wielding figures yelling "Kill the intruder!" That's you. Armed with two sickles, you've got to defend yourself. Soon enough you get your first pistol, then another (so you can dual wield them), then a shotgun, then another (so you can dual wield them, too). Most of the weapons feel very familiar (in addition to your pistol and your shotgun you get a hunting rifle, a grenade launcher and a crossbow to name a few), but they look, sound and feel so good that the thought of needing something more unique never crossed my mind. The weapon variety is great, and the game has just enough ammo lying around that you need to think about which weapon to use, and maybe save those powerful shots for powerful foes.
There is a good amount of enemy variety as well, with one particular enemy type in there that almost gave me a heart attack or two.

The level design is extremely varied and skillfully crafted. You'll go from creepy corn fields to deep dark mines, from sinister cultist hideouts to well armed military bases, each with a number of secrets to find. The atmosphere is thoroughly ominous from beginning to end, which makes you ready to blast whatever comes at you to bits at a moments notice. Colored keys that the player needs to find in order to progress in a level are very much a thing as well, and most of the time the need to find a particular one nicely nudges the player toward the right direction. Some of the later levels introduce slightly mind-bending bits, reminiscent of the works of M.C. Escher, into the mix.
Some of these areas feel quite brilliant, others less so, but it's an interesting touch for sure, and it adds to the mystical weirdness that the game is clearly going for.

Dusk wears its inspirations on its sleeve, and it does so to great effect. The DOS-looking start screen, the episodic nature that harkens back to the shareware era, the low-poly art style everything feels authentic, and the way the game combines mechanics and features from classic FPS games feels great. The movement and certain items and weapons made me think of Doom, Blood and Heretic, the physics-based object manipulation is very Half-Life, and the heavy metal soundtrack by Andrew Hulshult is like a mix of old and new Doom, with some Hexen and Quake thrown in there for good measure. The presence of Duke Nukem can be felt as well, with many hidden jokes and fun attention to detail. It would be a disservice to call Dusk just a great blend of the classics, however. It is that, but in doing that, it has become its own beast. And what a beast it is.

Apart from the occasional physics object glitch, I encountered no bugs, and the game ran smoothly (above 100 frames per second) the whole way through. The game has a couple of sections with too many enemies coming at the player at the same time for my liking, and the attacks of a few specific enemy types felt slightly irritating to dodge, but take these complaints with a grain of salt — I might just be bad at the game. The story is mostly told through short snippets of dialogue and writings on walls, which fits an action-heavy game like this well enough. It isn't the most compelling story in the world, but its dark, culty mysteries kept me intrigued and made me want to know more.
Unfortunately I couldn't really check out the multiplayer (as no-one else was playing), but based on the campaign, and a few rounds of the Endless Mode, I believe it would be a fun time.

Dusk is to 90s FPS what Shovel Knight is to NES era platformers: it isn't exactly like those games, but it looks and feels like how I remember those games. Fans of old school first-person shooters will find a lot to like here, and even if you're into more modern games, if you liked the recent Doom, Wolfenstein, or Shadow Warrior reboots, you should probably give this one a go.

4/5 Something below is calling us.

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Jay Marksman, February 02, 2019

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