I’ve been playing DUSK
I’m 90 minutes in and I feel compelled to make a blog post about it. Here’s my thoughts on Dusk.
Dusk is a retro inspired first person shooter game that I’ve linked to previously. It doesn’t pretend to be a Quake-like 90s shooter while really being a procedurally generated rogue-lite. No. It really is a retro-inspired FPS. It has actual levels designed by an actual person, that offer variety, good map flow, carefully crafted challenge, and a sense of progression.
It’s good is what I’m getting at.
It’s amazing how much secrets they manage to cram into each level; I actually feel like I’ve learned something about level design from playing Dusk. Each level is full of secrets, some quite fiendish but virtually all of them signposted and dangled in front of you in some way.
The gameplay feels really smooth but took some getting used to. When I started I was surprised by the sheer speed at which everything moves. It took some getting used to; I initially thought it was too fast, with my character shooting across whole rooms and colliding with walls, but after taking a break and getting back to it, I didn’t have any issues with it at all. In fact the movement is responsive, precise, fluid, and just all around satisfying. Is it because I’d just come out of an extended map testing session using a keyboard only Chocolate Doom setup? Or has it really been too long since I last played Quake? Whatever the case, I jumped back in and had an absolute blast.
Did you know the best way to avoid a scarecrow’s shotgun blast is to sideways power slide while you blast him away with the double barrelled shotgun? Combat feels really awesome.
Levels feel Duke 3D influenced, semi-linear environments made with ‘abstract realism’. They all look like real places but not at the expense of gameplay. There are also some underground sections that feel very Quake-like.
Combat happens in encounters like in Doom or Duke, not in the arena style shooting of Painkiller, Serious Sam or Doom 4. While there are a few arena style challenges these are far from the norm. There are also some miniboss encounters which I found unusual for a Doom/Quake style game, but which are very welcome.
Difficulty and Accessibility
Let’s talk about challenge. I played the game on Ciro Miede (hard mode, basically) and following the Gggmanlives review I expected it to be similar to Doom’s ultra-violence. Well, it wasn’t – it offered up a hell of a lot of challenge, but there are other difficulties too.
Difficulty doesn’t seem to affect the numbers of monsters, it alters their AI and other variables. Lower difficulty enemies move slower and take a bit longer to react. You also start with more health and your armour (actually called morale) is a lot more effective. I really like this kind of difficulty. I intentionally played a lower difficulty setting in a ‘tanky’, non-exploratory style, and did very well. While experimenting with lower difficulties, I felt pleased with the range of abilities it could cater to.
Difficulty levels vary from Accessible (for people with reduced mobility) to Ciro Miede (true hard mode) and Duskmare (a one shot kills novelty hard mode). I really think that the different difficulty levels will accommodate any gamer, and Dusk is probably the most disability friendly FPS game I’ve seen.
I find that interesting that Dusk is so inclusionary since most faux-retro indie games try to market themselves as exclusionary – things for high skill people who remember the Good Old Times and not filthy casuals. Dusk though, seems to be made by people who really love 90s FPS games and who want everyone to try 90s FPS games because they’re great fun. It really says a lot about them and their game, which seems to be a true passion project.
There’s a wider lesson there I’m sure. When the big AAA games companies try to make games “accessible” they alter gameplay according to narrow focus groups and strip out or water down core features for a (possibly imaginary) ‘casual’ audience. With Dusk, New Blood have made a game able to challenge ‘hardcore’ FPS veterans while also accommodating ‘casual’ newbies without sacrificing the complexity of their design.
You wake up hanging on a meat hook underground. A disembodied voice calls out “Kill the intruder” and three huge guys step out of the darkness with chainsaws. You pull yourself off the hook and grab two sickles. It seems the whole town of Dusk has been overrun by a mysterious cult, so you’d better kill everything.
That is quite literally the entire plot, but I look forward to over-examining the level visuals and announcing that Dusk has the ‘deepest lore’.
The atmosphere really is something special. It’s horrifying. Despite
being a game about over the top running and gunning, Dusk exudes a
bleak, oppressive horror atmosphere. It’s scary.
Dusk is separated into three story episodes. Only episode 1
is available at the time of writing, but buying Dusk gives you access to
all three just like the Dooms and Dukes of old. Episode 1 (“The
Foothills”) is the protagonist escaping the farms and entering the town
of Dusk. It shows influence from Redneck Rampage, Blood, and every kind
of hillbilly-themed horror film. Episodes 2 will supposedly have more of
a military base or Half-Life theme, while episode 3 will be heavily
Lovecraftian and probably Quake-inspired.
The protagonist is mute, but communicates via text pop-ups. Everything about them is up to you to decide, but do note that there is a dedicated button for doing tricks with you gun and a secret ‘smoke cigar’ option. The disembodied voice talks to you a few times in episode 1, sounding exactly like I imagine all 90s heavy metal band members to sound like, and he may or may not be the mind-destroying Great Old One waiting for you at the end of episode 3.
To summarize, I’m
really pumped about Dusk. The devs have made all the right noises and,
even better, they’ve actually followed up on that with decent gameplay
and strong map design. It’s clear there’s a lot of love gone into
Dusk really is a return to form for the FPS genre.