Dusk feels almost tailor-made for my particular brand of smug liberal elitism. It’s a game where you fight a magical cult of rural rednecks with nothing but the tools of human ingenuity. It’s a game where a god might be on the enemy’s side, but you got fire power, which gives you the advantage. Near the beginning Dusk asks its players “would you like to shoot some Klansmen in the face?” to which I could only respond “I’d be honored”. I’m tempted to end every paragraph with that last fact to make sure you understand what it means to me. You get to shoot Klansmen in the face.
There is allegedly a story to Dusk, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you what it was. So, allow me to give you the cliff notes based on what I played: You’re stuck somewhere in the rural south and want out. If nothing else, this means Dusk has the most relatable story any video game has ever told.
Standing between you and the exit are a ton of yokels trying to ask if you have a moment to talk about our lord and savior Jesus Christ (not really, but they shout NON-BELIEVER! at you when you pass them, which is accurate. I am, however, a Belieber. He’s so dreamy) who simply want to exposit that slavery “wasn’t really that bad”. Because of this, you do the only reasonable thing you can: you find the nearest firearm and start mowing them down before anyone thinks to ask you why black people can say the N word but they can’t. But as much as I would love for that to be enough to justify the game’s existence, shooters live and die based on how good that shooting feels. So, while Dusk defiantly gets points for letting you shoot Klansmen in the face, the question is “does that feel as good in practice as it does morally”.
DEAR FUCKING HELL YES! While I do have plenty of issues with this first episode, one thing that I simply cannot complain about is the game’s controls. Even as someone who’s never been to fond of mouse and keyboard controls, there was a speed and smoothness to Dusk that kept the simple act of moving around enthralling. As I ran and slid around the games levels I was reminded of stories about how Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto wanted the act of running and jumping in Mario to be entertaining on its own. Thankfully the devs decided to end their mimicry at “it should feel good to move around” and didn’t add a bunch of platforming as well.
More importantly then that, the shooting feels great too. Larger weapons often turn enemies into piles of giblets, which gives a nice sense of impact to combat. And while it is rather easy to keep your distance or get the hell out of dodge when they get too close, there are usually too many enemies at any one time to make picking them off from afar a real strategy. No, this is a classic circle-strafe affair through and through, so constant movement is the key to survival.
So, moving from one Klansmen killing spree to another feels good and the act of killing Klansmen feels good, so all is good, right? Well, mostly. Like I said, I do have a few issues with the game overall. The first is the level design. Levels are big and open, which helps facilitate the style of play Dusk wants you to use, but that also makes them feel empty a lot of the time. Granted too much clutter would have gotten in the way of the circle-strafe heavy combat, but last year’s Doom remake proved you can still have this retro style gameplay without levels feeling barren. It might be unfair to compare the two games as they had wildly different budgets to work with, but at the end of the day I don’t think it could be helped. Both are retro style shooters that came out relatively close to each other, and I do genuinely love both games. But Doom knew where to modernize, and I really wish Dusk had taken some notes. Things do get progressively better though. There’s a level in a city that makes good use verticality as well as the openness of the streets juxtaposed with more claustrophobic interior spaces. You see, cities really do make everything better.
My other main issue is enemy variety. Wow, a game set in the rural south has an issue with diversity. Who would have thought? Okay, that’s not totally fair. In hindsight I can think of eight unique enemies outside of the three boss encounters, each with their own unique designs and attack patterns. That’s not altogether bad, and new enemies and weapons are introduced at a steady enough pace as to not get stale. The issue is that of those eight, three are regularly used while the other five are mostly there to spice things up every so often. Through most of the game you’re fighting Klansmen, Goats and Texas Chainsaw Rejects, with the occasional appearance from one of the other five enemies. That really is too bad, as the moments I remember the most are where Dusk bucks that trend and throws a good verity of enemies at you.
In the end, the few issues I had didn’t stop me from enjoying Dusk. If you’re like me and you either live or have lived in the kinds of places where “non-believer” or “race-traitor” are unironically used as insults, or just want to kill some racists but can’t afford Wolfenstein 2 when it comes out, I highly recommend picking up Dusk. The game is a little on the short side, I beat it in two hours on medium difficulty, but with two more episodes coming I’d say it’s still a worthwhile investment. But, I can’t say I blame anyone for waiting until the rest of the game is released. Plus, with a good number of secret’s left to find in each level, there’s more than enough content to keep you occupied for a while if that’s your thing. In the end, all I can say is that I enjoyed it and I am eagerly waiting episode two where, spoiler alert, I anticipate you’ll get to shoot Klansmen in the face.
Dusk was Developed by New Blood Interactive
Point of Sale: Steam
$20.00: It’s cheaper than living in California, but gives you the same warm feeling of coastal superiority.
A review code for Dusk was provided by the developer
William Shelton is awarding Dusk the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval.