Brought to life by independent developer David Szymanski and producer David Oshry; Dusk 90s stylized-retro shooter that tells a harrowing tale of good versus evil as a cult has begun their devious work in order to bring an evil unlike any other into our world. Find out what we thought in our review.
+A true homage to 90s era FPS titles
+Tons of video/graphics customization options that help bring the retro vibe to life
+Rather high replayability
+Easy to play, hard to master
There’s a lot of ways I like to spend my free time when I’m not reviewing games. I’ll dive into Eorzea in Final Fantasy XIV to beat down some primal’s, I’ll run through DOOM to rip and tear the heads off of a few annoying demonic a**hats, or I’ll simply sit at my chair, sip a cup of coffee and not notice the bloodied scythes being held by the man with a burlap sack over his head in the corner of the room ready to slice away at anything near.
But what does it feel like to enjoy an evening with DUSK? Adrenaline pumping, heart throbbing, blood rushing and headphones rattling at the Children of the Corn-like mayhem unfolding before you as the ambient-to-face-melting heavy metal soundtrack from composer and musician Andrew Hulshult blares to life. A 90’s rollercoaster Hellbent on making your heart explode from excitement.
Thematically, when you talk about DUSK, you have to think back to the games of yore – BLOOD, HEXEN, DOOM, DUKE NUKEM and yes – even Quake. Thematically, they’re all dark, filled to the brim with occult imagery as dark magic and an even darker plot that revolves around a mysterious and undeniably evil cult. Surprisingly enough, the games art direction also sets the mood, following through with a 90s-horror inspired design that somehow eloquently nods to some of the best horror and shock-horror games of the 90s ranging from Quake to Splatterhouse.
The 90s never left
When you look at a game like DUSK, you can’t help but dig into those nostalgic elements it draws together from those that came before it. It builds itself upon key design choices from the 90s ranging from super pixelated and polygonal graphics to the key gameplay elements where strafing, spraying-and-praying, and never-stop moving kept you alive.
Even small hints such as where you need to go, what doors to open and a subtle hint of hidden items around the maps make DUSK truly stand out among its predecessors. It’s a humble way to pay homage to those that came before it. But what stands out isn’t just its key elements such as strafing, shooting as rapidly as you can or weaving your way through intricately designed open fields and shoulder-tight corridors – it’s the actual atmosphere in itself.
We aren’t talking atmosphere such as the noticeably-blocky-by-choice fog over the way, we’re talking about the overall feel, the vibe, the very core elements that stand out among the entire game. DUSK doesn’t back down from what it intends to be by any means necessary. It’s an action-horror shooter at its very core, one that blends itself together through the use of industrial yards, gothic castles, physics-bending institutes and corn-fields filled to the brim with subtle nods to Children of the Corn.
If this was intended or not, that’s beyond me. In many ways, DUSK isn’t actually anything close to what you would hope to be like QUAKE or even DOOM. Over my 20+ hours and two years playing the game at select gaming events when I could – I’ve actually come to realize it’s more closely related to HALF-LIFE than anything else; a series hellbent on exploration, atmospherically driven narratives and the lack-of-need for massive guns like DOOM and the BFG 9000.
The maps are the real characters here, not you, not those cultists and certainly not the weapons
Much like games from the 90s, one of the most important things about them is their maps and their designs. The maps themselves are the setting whereas their designs are the story they wish to tell. Whether it’s the intricately designed maze’s, the open fields, country-side houses or the industrial segments of a sewer or factory-like building, DUSK does it right and still wants to keep it fast, loud, bloody and dumb as a box of rocks on Christmas morning, which is where the game really shines.
Even with movement cranked to the max, there’s still time to appreciate the story that unfolds: An evil cult has taken over a small farming town and has already begun their plot to bring something more terrifying than they themselves to our world. For what it’s worth, they never expected hay hooks to the neck or a shotgun blast to the face, something they are highly susceptible to when you aren’t flanking around the room avoiding their attacks.
But the interesting part about it all is the maps themselves and how they subtly change their tone as you explore. Sure, you’ve been to a farmhouse, but have you really looked at it, taken note of the effects the cultists have had on the world about you? Did you notice how everything is slowly rotting and decaying as progress has been made or have you only let it be a fleeting subconscious thought as you play?
As you play through the game, you’ll notice that your overall big-infused bloodbath of cultists is separated into three ten-level chapters, starting in the rural outskirts of the town before heading into the industrial sectors only to head into the Escher Labs, but as you explore, the taint of the cult is noticeably taking over as things get grimmer, darker and even more maddening as you go.
You never thought waking up from a nap would include a bunch of cultists jerks
When it comes to gaming standards, you probably want to know how you got here and you probably want to know how this entire mess actually got underway. It’s simple, you’ve awoken in a basement of sorts, a trio of hooded cultists are coming at you quickly and you manage to grab the nearest pair of scythes before sinking them into your assailants.
Just as you already know, DUSK is designed around the 90s ear appeal, jagged textures, low-polygon count enemies and low-res textures, plus, a little extra polish with the use of added jagginess to the game. Something you don’t often see in games of this very type as of late. Now, as you get the living Hell drummed out of you while you adjust to the game, there are a few things you need to know that you may pass up as you get into the game itself.
One, you can move things. A nice addition if you ask me. I never thought that moving a barrel, a rock or even a bucket could be so enticing or even reveal a few secrets that manage to hide off to the side. Secondly, those barrels and rocks become pretty damn useful as throwing items, quickly knocking a cultist or two down and allowing you to be on your merry way. Thirdly, there is crossfire and it’s just as satisfying on here as it is any other game. What’s better than hearing a cultist make an explosion and then taking out half their group? Nothing, the answer is nothing.
The biggest return from the 90s era of games is rocket jumping to get to secret areas. While you do still take a substantial amount of damage, this form of exploration shouldn’t be ignored for the completionist deep inside your heart. It’ll help you get to previously hidden areas and obtain some ammo, powerups or even weapons you didn’t previously have.
Even as you explore every map, which is drastically different from the previous, you’ll find that there are plenty of subtle changes from the previous place entry. You’ll find different enemies scattered about, some secrets are harder than the others to find and you’ll even find that exploration is a major plus for those that are completionists.
Just don’t forget to grab that little red key, yea? Also, don’t worry about the rats following quietly behind you in that otherworldy fortress-like building you are exploring, focus on your sword, health, and energy levels as you dash about like Link on steroids while hacking and slashing all your foes to pieces.
Guitars blaze, guns blast, and the enemies scream for mercy when the Dusk Guy is near
One of the highest points of this game that stands out above them all is the games sound design. Whether it’s the astonishingly addictive score from musician Andrew Hulshult (Quake Champions, Bombshell) or the retro-like sounds of chains clinking, Dusk Guy jumping and “ugh”-ing when he does, or the cultists groaning in agony as they take damage; DUSK is one of those FPSes that does things right.
Everything sounds clean and designed in such a manner that it truly stands out among its peers. Wood creaking from your movements, water splashing as you jump into it with no regard for your safety or the sound of zombie-like bucks trying to maul you, the sound is absolutely of the highest quality. It fits right on in, again, with Andrew Hulshults soundtrack which ranges from a soft atmospheric feel with subtle synthesized guitar rifts to full-blown metal tracks that seek to make your metal-hating relative have an aneurysm as the tunes only grow moodier as you progress through the game.
And it doesn’t just stop in the games singleplayer element where every weapon has its own unique sound or feel and every stage has its own atmospherically designed gameplay elements. No, it carries onto DUSK World and the Endless Mode, which, as they sound, are two modes of their very own.
DUSK World is every Quake fans wet dream and Endless Mode, it’s a major blast
Just like any FPS on the market, multiplayer is a key ingredient and making sure your multiplayer modes are even more important, is a much larger key ingredient. For DUSK World – a mode you can opt to load the moment you begin to play – you’ll find that multiplayer has quite a bit to offer.
You can take on a deathmatch multiplayer where rules can be modified and bent to your gameplay preferences. The best way its played? Just enjoy the default settings where you, a few friends and a few random strangers will dart about the massive maps, picking up weapons, finding secret rooms and rocket jumping past one another with your ever-so-faithful rivet gun.
Surprisingly, lag isn’t much of an issue thanks to nearly a year in testing to ensure every bug and issue could be ironed out before its official launch. From the rooftop of a cathedral-like structure to an extra-planar field, DUSK World has a lot to offer and could easily see itself entering the esports arena if enough fans get behind it. Not that the team hasn’t already done an amazing job at bringing forth some of the best retro FPS players at any gaming event the guys at New Blood Interactive are at.
The ‘Endless Mode’ is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a mode where you jump in, find weapons and ammo as quickly as you can and fight for your survival. Enemies drop supplies needed in order for you to continue forward, making it so you can keep your Morale (armor) and health maxed out or close to max depending on your skill level with games such as this.
For those who have a knack for a right of passage as a completionist or you Speed Run junkies, DUSK has you covered thanks to a timer and secrets found marker you can enable by simply hitting ‘Tab’ on your keyboards and then tearing your way through the game as quickly as possible.
Dusk is near and there is a cult that needs taking care of – The Conclusion
DUSK is by far and large a pure-action FPS and it’s just one of the few to have released in recent years. Through mixing gunplay, exploration and well-designed sound effects and an ear bleed worthy soundtrack; you have a lot to enjoy through the countless hours of gameplay elements DUSK has to offer.
Whether it’s the astonishingly-well designed maps, atmospheric narratives or the depth to every level through exploration; DUSK is as unique as they come and its one of the best in its very own right. Loaded to the brim with content, endless reasons for replayability and some of the best damn retro-stylized graphics on the market, you’ll have a lot to do and even more to come accustomed to once you get knee deep in the dead and really get to enjoy the game from start to finish.
Platform Reviewed: PC
Developer: David Szymanski
Publisher: New Blood Interactive
Release Date: Available Now
Cost: $20 (Basic Edition) | $29.99 (Intruder Edition
DUSK is now available for PC via Steam and coming soon to Nintendo Switch.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 9 out of 10
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.