A Little More DUSK Episode 2

WE SOLD OUR SOULS FOR KNOWLEDGE
ALTARS OF CONCRETE
FED WITH BLOOD AND BONE

I finished Dusk episode 2. It has a bleak, oppressive atmosphere. That, plus the sense of reality breaking down made Dusk Ep 2 really great to play. At the same time though I’m in no hurry to replay it. All those wendigos, crying cyborgs, and Lovecraftian machinery fueled by corpses.

The second to last level was great, but the final level really could have done with more as it doesn’t deliver the payoff promised by the previous two levels.

In an ideal world Dusk would only be an average game in a sea of great shooters. Even then I’d still recommend it.

DUSK Episode 2

My sound card is buggered right now so I’m using headphones. I’m not sure whether that was a genius move or a terrible mistake. Dusk episode 2 is scary.  I yelped when the new bad guy spoke. I screamed the second time I met a wendigo (I expected the first one).

It’s also harder. I mastered episode 1 on hard but I feel off-balance in episode 2 on hard. In a good way – I think the difficulty so far is just about right for me. There’s a LOT of enemies and all of them are very dangerous if left alive too long. You’ve got to keep moving and weaving between cover if you want to survive. The popcorn enemy dies quicker but hits harder, and the tanky scarecrows have been replaced with the incredibly dangerous welder.

There’s plenty of new enemies, although at least one is a pallet swap (super cultists). There’s no new weapons, but that’s to be expected. This is/was supposed to be like the old 90s shareware games after all. According to the devs their ambition has grown since DUSK’s “shareware” episode got such great reviews. There may be further unique art assets and monsters in episode 3. I’m excited about this, even though the promise of uniquely styled episodes reminds me of Daikatana.

I had an initially rocky start with DUSK with the new climbing power up being bugged, but the devs have quickly addressed this in patches and it’s much better now. I never quite feel like I’m playing episode 2 properly, but maybe I’m just nervous from the thick atmosphere and new monsters. I’m surprised that the Black Mesa inspired episode is scarier than the Blood / Silent Hill themed episode – but I guess I didn’t play episode 1 in a dark room with headphones on.

I didn’t mention it in the episode 1 write up, but DUSK is being developed by one of the guys involved with the Rise of the Triad remake. I’m looking out for bad platforming sections but nothing egregious has popped up (the lava section in the Foundry secret level comes close). I’m also worried that episode 3 will have bad ‘gimmick’ levels, as that can sometimes be the case with “otherwordly” themed final levels in games (levels that make devs go nuts with portal tricks and frustrating mazes), but they don’t seem to be rushing development (far from it) so I’m hopeful they’ll come up with something nicely balanced. So far I’ve thoroughly enjoyed DUSK and not had any causes for concern.

A reminder for the people who are newer to FPS gaming – although I’m saying “episode 2″ it’s not a sequel or an episodic game. You buy DUSK and you get a full 33 level game with extra modes, it’s kind of like an early access thing. Getting the first 11 levels in advance was meant to be a pre-order bonus referencing 90s shareware, but the positive reception has meant they’re taking their time finishing everything off so now the episodes are released as they’re finalized. The entire package is $20 US or £15 UK.

It’s still the same DUSK that I loved first time around – just more intense. More enemies, more intense encounters, more intense atmosphere. I’m just under halfway through episode 2 so this is purely a first impression – but the fact that I felt the need to come on Tumblr to wax about my experience probably says a lot.

DUSK Preview

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.

Story

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.

Conclusion

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 development.

Dusk really is a return to form for the FPS genre.