Game name: DUSK
Release date: December 10, 2018
Price: US$ 20 (US$16.66 with the launch discount that ends on December 17)
Available on: Steam
Genre: First person shooter
Developer: David Szymanski
Publisher: New Blood Interactive
Is there such a thing as the perfect game? Is there a chance that I’m actually playing one? These were the questions that went through my head as I played DUSK back at the start of the Early Access period for David Szymanski‘s seminal first person shooter. Now that it’s finally out for real, with all three episodes bringing their own brand of madness to the mix, I think I can finally answer my own questions. But of course, since I love to tease, you’ll have to wait until the end of this review to find out (you could skip to the end, but that wouldn’t be playing fair, would it?).
While DUSK was obviously inspired by Quake, Doom and Blood, to name a few classics, after playing less than half of the first episode, I already knew that it wasn’t a simple clone designed to cash in on fans’ nostalgia and that Mr. Szymanski isn’t afraid of doing his own thing when it comes to games. There’s a lot to love here for people who know the pillars of the genre, and we’ll find easter eggs and secrets that would only make sense for FPS veterans, but everything, from level design to moment to moment gameplay, has been built from scratch to provide a new experience disguised as a 1996 game.
This is probably why DUSK feels so great. It’s not trying to copy Quake, because Quake already exists and most of us have already played it and savored every moment like a delicious bottle of Scotch. No, DUSK goes beyond merely emulating the games that inspired its author to bring this beast into this world. It actually improves upon almost every mechanic, and on top of that, which is an already incredible feat, creates a deeply unsettling, yet genuinely empowering atmosphere where we alternate between hunter and hunted roles at every turn, discovering powerful new enemies and delving deeper and deeper into the twisted heart of a cultist infected land that will fight back against our intrusion constantly.
Movement feels fast when just cruising around the level, but once our (probably) long dormant strafe jumping skills kick in, it becomes even faster, enabling us to clear rooms packed with enemies in the blink of an eye, as we dodge projectiles and rain our righteous fury upon their unsuspecting faces. Crouch sliding also joins the party, giving DUSK a more modern feeling, that gets even crazier when we find out that there’s a way to launch ourselves up into the air, and do full flips on the Y axis, bringing yet another dimension to a great number of gunfights. This is something that would make even Titanfall 2 feel like a Call of Duty clone, and anyone familiar with my thoughts on Respawn‘s shooter will know that it’s anything but that.
But what about gunplay? Many great modern shooters have failed in this aspect, due to things like poor hit feedback, muted gunshot sounds, or even a lack of weapon variety. I’m pleased to report that DUSK manages to avoid every single pitfall I described, and that every weapon in our arsenal deserves to be there, instead of just being a checkbox in a list of features. Foes hit by our weaponry die in pleasingly gory ways, and the sounds that come out of the barrel of our guns convey their power in a more than adequate way. There’s nothing like blasting away at hordes of weaponized deer with dual shotguns, or taking on cultists with a hunting rifle that sounds and acts like an anti-tank weapon. This also applies to our foes’ arsenal, as they will use all sorts of death dealing tools in their bid to stop us. Thankfully, no hitscan weapons seem to have been allowed in whatever arcane chamber birthed the monstruosities we’ll face (trust me, there’s enough enemy variety to make most shooters cry in a corner in shame, and they all look perfectly disgusting) so with enough skill we should even be able to skirt around their attacks unscathed.
Of course, amazing movement and great gunplay can’t carry the weight of a fully featured shooter by themselves, so we should also take a look at DUSK‘s level design. Here, the same pattern we’ve noticed thus far repeats itself once again. Each chapter has a theme, and as we move from map to map, we journey deeper into the madness of this strange new world, finding things that are hard to describe without going into spoiler territory. Levels feature multiple routes that not only make sense, but also cleverly conceal a multitude of secrets that will make any FPS enthusiast giddy with anticipation. The age old keycard mechanic is also present here, but instead of forcing the player to hunt them down in crazy places that don’t make a lot of sense, DUSK actually uses them as a tool to somewhat direct its frenetic pacing, while also giving us something to do as the action slows down in preparation for the next relentless assault or ominous moment.
Speaking about ominous moments, Andrew Hulshult’s masterful soundtrack kicks in at the exact moments it must, pumping life into a nightmarish world that doesn’t always play by our rules. I cannot overstate the importance of this extraordinary score, as the atmosphere it helps to create is second to none, elevating an already excellent shooter to new heights.
And since we are talking about more technical aspects of the game now, I feel that it’s time to praise the faux-90s art style, which comes complete with a pixelization filter, and options to turn off gloom or bilinear filtering. Having replayed Quake recently, I can tell that while DUSK is going for a similar style, it’s probably more concerned with recreating the visuals we think we saw, and not necessarily the ones we actually experienced back in the day. Crucially, this means that DUSK never places art before gameplay, and thus, I had zero trouble figuring out the environment or the kind of foe I was facing.
So, with all of this positivity out of the way, is there any negative aspect to this seemingly perfect game? Strangely enough, my answer is no, not really. I wasn’t particularly charmed by DUSKWORLD, which is David Szymanski‘s answer to QuakeWorld, but this is not due to a fault on the multiplayer suite that ships with the game, and more of a personal preference. The Endless Mode that lets us kill hordes of enemies in search of a glorious death didn’t particularly strike my fancy either, but that’s because I was so enthralled by the wonders of the three single-player episodes that I didn’t really care that much for standalone arenas and immediately dove back into the levels I’d cleared in order to find any secrets I might have missed.
Truly, DUSK achieves something that seemed out of reach until now, as it surpasses its inspirations in every way, not only standing shoulder to shoulder with the giants of the genre, but even going beyond that, and creating an adventure that must be experienced by any FPS fan worth their salt. So, to answer the two questions I asked in the introductory paragraph to this review, the perfect game exists, and it’s this one. How fitting that it was released on the 25th anniversary of the title that started it all, the always glorious Doom.
10/10 – Excellent.