There was a time when every first-person shooter tried to be the next Halo or Call of Duty, favouring heavy plots and linear levels. Health would regenerate magically, and you could only carry two weapons at a time. In short, it was a dark time for retro-shooter fans. A fair share of game developers and companies released pseudo-nostalgic “DOOM-clones”, which were little more than randomly-generated labyrinths with pixel-art graphics.
DUSK, however, stands out from the rest. Developed solely by David Szymanski and published by New Blood Interactive, this game is near-enough built upon FPS tropes from the nineties: action-packed gunfights, atmospheric environments, a big emphasis on speed, and so much more.
In the retro-chique DUSK, you play as the treasure-hunter “DuskDude”. During a quick visit in the town of Dusk, you end up being captured by its twisted inhabitants, and are hung on a pair of meathooks. Not contempt with a painful death, you escape, shooting anything in your path. The game is split between three chapters; “The Foothills” is set within predominantly within farms and mines, while “The Facilities” is a homage to the predominantly-industrial settings of Half-Life and Stalker, eventually leading into obscure, otherworldly territories. “The Nameless City” is the trippiest chapter of the bunch, entirely set in a different realm with bizarre locations, often home to the occasional fortress or ruined chapel, à la DOOM. The whole thing looks like Quake, but with much more colour and smoother animations.
Level design is predominantly non-linear, filled with monster-closets, secret areas, jump pads… y’know, cool stuff. Progressing through each level requires key cards in order to reach the exit. Collecting said keys may close off certain areas, unleashing a swarm of baddies that’ll need killing in order to escape Its missions are brilliantly-designed full of memorable locations like environments snow-filled landscapes, dilapidated factory interiors, lava-filled caverns, and more.
A lovely selection of guns and power-ups are on offer here. Aside from the usual stock weapons, like pistols, shotguns, a rocket and grenade launcher, etc., some of the cooler guns include a long-range hunting rifle and a crossbow that shoots through enemies and walls. Special artifacts will give you double the firing speed, the ability to climb walls, or alter the flow of time based on how much you’re moving. All of these are oh so satisfying to use. Alongside all of this, not only can you grab and toss items at enemies, the controls are so silky-smooth that you can perform mid-air front or back-flips like a deranged show-off.
The opposition is fierce. Expect chainsaw-wielding hillbillies, spell-flinging hags, assault troopers, and fireball-flinging cultists, among other crazies. There are quite a few critters that’ll no doubt spook you during your first encounter with them, like a skeletal moose-like monster that is invisible until harmed, which will produce a distinctive, ear-piercing noise. The most annoying enemies you’ll come across are zombified rats, which chew away at your health a lot with each bite and are a bloody nuisance to get rid of. The higher-difficulties will increase the damage-output quite a lot, perfect for anyone after a real challenge.
Outside of the campaign, there’s the “Endless” survival mode. Health is limited, but power-ups and weapons will always keep coming back, much like the enemies. There’s plenty of replayability here, even if the selection of maps on offer is a bit limited at the moment. Finishing off the package is the multiplayer component, DuskWorld, which can host up to 16 players. Anyone who is not used to fighting other players sprinting, sliding and bouncing across the map like a cybernetic-cheetah on a sugar-binge will no doubt sweat. Featuring a sizeable amount of maps littered with weapons, jump pads and the occasional switch or door you can fiddle with, it’s a literal adrenaline rush. Sadly, it’s limited to only deathmatch at the moment, making it a nice distraction in relatively-short bursts only.
Forget chiptune soundtracks or MIDI compositions; Andrew Hulshult (Rise of the Triad 2013, Rad Rodgers, Amid Evil, etc.) decided to go a step beyond with the soundtrack. Taking influence from Nine Inch Nails, Type O Negative, Rammstein, the after-effects of copious amounts of alcohol, and “a dark place from in your own head” (as explained in this wonderful interview with a supersexy British dude), DUSK’s soundtrack will no doubt chill you during those moments of solitude and peace, and will pump you up when all hell breaks loose with loud, in-your-face guitar riffs that’ll melt your face off.
On the topic of sound, the game’s SFX are all fitting enough, too, and while some of the voices you hear are a bit cheesy with how ‘growly’ they sound, soon enough you’ll be longing to hear the rattling of the machine gun as cloaked-up crezzy bois start muttering “heretic!”, “blood!”, etc.
DUSK is a remarkable achievement. It‘s literal fan-service for fans of mid-to-late nineties shooters with its unsettling atmosphere, maze-like missions, wonderfully-designed environments, and numerous nods to the very same titles that influenced it. While the multiplayer and survival mode feel a bit light in content, what’s on offer will no doubt stick keep you hooked. With a twisted soundtrack by Andrew Hulshult sealing the deal, DUSK is one hell of a re-experience. In other words, it’s like 1999 never ended.