I played Dusk
This is a 2018 game. I'm late to the party.
I'm a huge fan of the retro FPS rebirth on PC. A retro FPS is what we call a modern first person shooter that looks and feels like it came out 25 years ago but on purpose.
Great retro FPS include Dusk, Amid Evil (same publisher), Prodeus, HROT or Ion Fury—that last one runs on a revised version of the 1995 Build engine used by Duke Nukem 3D and is brilliant.
Dusk is the original creation of David Szymanski.
The look of Dusk
Unlike say Amid Evil which is absolutely stunning (until the very last chapter which is absolutely jaw-dropping) and nails its own unique retro aesthetics with smart use of modern tricks, Dusk looks ugly. It was released three years ago but is the most recent retro FPS that I finished even if it was one of the firsts to make a name for itself, as the promo material never appealed to me.
When I say that Dusk is ugly, I mean it. It's like a Lovecraftian nightmare drawn by a ugly child:
That doesn't mean that Dusk can't surprise. With grand architecture or epic battles, I was often in awe of what the game could offer. To be honest by the end of the first level I wasn't bothered at all by the graphics anymore. I remember some of the best set pieces clearly, more so than much prettier AAA titles. In episodes 2 and 3—which are available from the start as it's often the case for old/retro FPS that aren't contrived by story—Dusk has very clever level design.
This is not a game I should have judged by its cover!
The sound of Dusk
As part of the presentation package with graphics, Dusk's OST is great! It alternates between thunderous and eerie melodies. It's quite rare in video games that I want to stop to appreciate the music but Dusk has excellent compositions that serve the game perfectly. The games relies heavily on that soundtrack to build up identity and atmosphere. The compositor, Andrew Hulshult, also did the music for Amid Evil which I could praise for the exact same reasons.
It's worth mentionning that Dusk has unique audio cues for all enemies when they appear, shoot at you, get hit or die (so you can stop wasting bullets on dead meat). An experimented Dusk player could tell you what's happening on screen without looking at it. It's accessibility that everyone can take advantage of.
The feel of Dusk
That's where Dusk tends to hook everyone who try it. I cannot stress enough how much the gameplay of Dusk is a total blast. It is fast-paced but precise, brutal but fair, and I have yet to find an equivalent in AAA modern gaming except perhaps DOOM Eternal.
The Dusk guy crawls faster than your generic FPS grunt can sprint on a stamina boost. And when the Dusk guy does sprint, it feels like you're gliding around the levels with no friction whatsoever to slow down your rampage. It's always refreshing when nothing in a game stands in the way of freedom of movement. It's easy to take it for granted until you play another FPS. Combat is frenetic and enemies are here to make you shine. Dusk is a real dance battle.
There are also no hitscan monsters (monsters that hit instantly) in Dusk and this is to its benefit. Dusk only features projectile monsters. The way AI often works in modern shooters featuring hitscan enemies is that those enemies will first be instructed to miss one or two shots as to warn you of their presence, which gives you time to either kill them or go behind cover before their aim gets more accurate. Difficulty levels can easily be balanced around this accuracy-over-time window and it is less frustrating to lose when you know that you had a chance not to, even if it means that the devs did some reverse cheating to fake a more pleasant experience.
Not using hitscan enemies at all solves this problem. You always see the projectiles coming and that leaves you a chance to dodge them. It's better in terms of gameplay mechanics at the cost of realism, which is not really what Dusk aims for—not that real life bullets aren't projectiles but they usually travel faster than you can avoid them...
The weapons of Dusk
Unlike enemies, half the weapons of our Dusk guy are hitscan.
One thing Dusk does well is keeping all of those weapons interesting from start to finish. They're not the most original on paper but with the enemy roster and various powerups, they all get their usefulness. For example, one of the powerups slows everything down unless you move (like in the Superhot games) which is a godsend for the laser crossbow that penetrates through everything. Another one is a fast fire totem that will turn your weaker guns into flesh shredding machines so you can conserve precious ammo for the stronger weaponry.
I would be sad not to get my super shotgun equivalent in a retro FPS and the super shotgun in Dusk is one satisfying room cleaner. Other cool weapons include the mortar (a slow but powerful grenade launcher with predictable rebounds and the ability to trigger explosions at any time), the mighty rivet gun and the sword: its magic abilities can be activated if you meet the armor/health points criterias. Oh, and there's soap too... Not really a weapon, the soap is like a pickable object found in random places. If you find some soap try throwing it at an enemy.
The reload button (the R key) is just for fun as none of the weapons need reloading, but it makes them spin. If you're like me, you will spin your weapons a lot for nothing because of muscle memory. Spinning the sickles or the sword at the right time can grant you a special achievement though!
The monsters of Dusk
Dusk's roster of freaky monsters is a sight to behold. You can't really take a break to really appreciate the beautiful ugliness of their 3D models but their mechanics are all unique and fun to fight against. Featuring:
- The medieval torture cart dogs. They slowly aim their trajectory toward you before rushing like mad rams.
- The Wendigos are invisible if not for the bloody footprints they leave and audio cues, and they make your flashlight flicker. Hit them at least once to reveal them for good. Guaranteed panic moment the first time you meet one.
- What the hell are Mamas? I really don't know, stripper robots maybe, but they killed me more than any other type of monsters. I think they shoot the same rivets as the Dusk guy. In any case they hurt.
- And more.
I loved it. I'd play Dusk II in a heartbeat. If you're hesitating between playing either Dusk or Amid Evil, then don't and play both. Amid Evil's presentation (art direction/vfx/music) is out of this world so I think it would be an easier sell for most people but gameplay is king and Dusk's meaty gunplay proves it. On Steam, there's a bundle with both. This is the super-duper pack of retro FPS awesomeness.