Retro revivals are all the rage these days. We have 3D and 2D platformers, Metroidvanias, Bullet-Hell shooters, isometric RPGs, point-and-click adventure games and more. But the genre that still hasn’t returned is the Classic ‘90s PC First-Person Shooter. Engaging level design, mad guns, iconic enemies, tons of secrets, and pure addictive gameplay – the hallmarks of Quake, Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, Doom, Redneck Rampage, Shadow Warrior and the like.
Well, one game has answered the call. Its name is DUSK, it plays like a homage to Blood and Redneck Rampage, and it’ll be out on January 11 in Early Access. We’ve played through the game already and are here to tell you to buy it right now if you like any of those games we mentioned.
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Much like the FPSs it references, DUSK does not care one jot about whether you know its story, even though it has one. The Steam page for the game doesn’t even fill it in. More to the point, the game itself does not start you off easy – it throws you in a basement, unarmed apart from a couple of mean sickles, with three masked weirdoes wielding chainsaws. You can either use a bit of skill and chip away at their health, or you can just pick up nearby objects and throw it at them – then make your escape.
Everything about DUSK is designed to emulate classic ‘90s shooters – you know, the kind that Half-Life, Call of Duty, Halo and Far Cry did away with by “growing up” the genre. You can hold all your weapons at once and have to pull the right one out for the right enemy. Secrets can be uncovered by blasting walls, finding hidden switches or pressing “Use” on suspicious areas – and they’re occasionally really clever, like having one (much more rewarding) Secret hidden within a crappy Secret. Enemies don’t take cover and are out for your blood, but if they hit each other they’ll fight amongst themselves. The graphics aren’t realistic but are stylish and distinct. There are jokes as much as scares.
DUSK gets all this right. As someone who will occasionally pop on Doom II, Blood or Duke Nukem 3D for an hour of relaxing gaming comfort food, I’m astonished that it’s taken this long for an indie developer to make this kind of game. The remakes of Doom and Shadow Warrior are great, but they still lack that speed and simplicity that makes the FPS period 1993-1998 so great.
In particular, the levels and monster design are most akin to Blood, the first game from Monolith (FEAR, Condemned, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War). Creepy houses, farming communities, industrial areas, horror movie moments, weird cultists in robes, hellish enemies, and a similar bad-ass demon-guy player character who occasionally talks to himself. Since Blood is one of the most fun FPSs ever made we have no problem with getting a spiritual successor.
The levels in Episode 1 start with farmhouses and farmland, before venturing through the woods, factories and mountainous areas to the titular town of Dusk. Here cultists and Half-Life-style military forces are engaged in battle, hinting at the story again without ever stating it. One thing DUSK occasionally does though is dip into outright horror – level 6, ‘The Cutty Mine’, is almost totally dark, has some actual scripted scare moments, and contains one of the scariest monsters in the game. Episode 2’s level 2, ‘The Unseen’, is even more terrifying, with a slow build-up to a freaky new enemy.
Episode 2 has just been added to the DUSK package for pre-order customers, and if anything it’s even better than the first episode (each Episode has 10 standard levels and a secret level). As cool as a lot of the enemies in Episode 1 are they never really present much of a challenge – Episode 2, on the other hand, ramps things up in a very satisfying way, with massive Doom II-esque firefights against dozens of enemies over massive distances… and that’s just the first level!
DUSK will get released on Steam Early Access on January 11, which includes the completed first two Episodes and the beta version of their DUSKWorld multiplayer. The full game will be completed “within the next few months”.
Quick notes about the enemies and the weapons before we sign off.
The enemies in the game are really cool, especially in regards to how every level seems to introduce a new one. Soldiers, fireball-spewing cultists, and the chainsaw guys are predictable, and others are introduced as big surprises so I won’t spoil them. In Episode 2 the enemies get so much tougher it’s actually a shock when Episode 1 enemies make an appearance.
The weapons are also neat and all have appropriate uses. The Hunting Rifle holds only 15 bullets but can take out most enemies quickly at long range. The Crossbow can shoot through enemies and objects. Even basic pistols and shotguns suddenly become useful again once you start dual-wielding them. The game’s Rocket Launcher equivalent, the Rivet Gun, is rare and that goes for its ammo too. It’s all managed very well, although in doubt we’d fall back on our trust double-barrelled shotgun.
DUSK is, in many ways, the game we’ve waited 20 years for – a proper sequel to Blood. It’s not quite there – it could do with a few more truly inventive enemies and a more liberal sprinkling of horror movie references – but the fun value is. It evokes classic FPSs of the ‘90s while still feeling new, and that’s something I’m shocked no other developer has tried to do. We can’t wait for the final version.
Most Anticipated Feature
The next Episodes, naturally. And for all those people making Doom, Duke Nukem and Blood mods to stop making levels for old games and start putting their talents to work on a fresh new experience like DUSK.