What do you get when you mix up the classic shooters like Quake, Doom, and Blood; then tweak all the elements to max intensity, whilst also adding it some modern quality of life adjustments?
Well, you get something like Dusk.
Switch owners have been pandering for a port of New Blood’s classic for a long time now, and after playing it, you can see why. Dusk isn’t quite perfect, but it’s not that far off.
ASHES TO ASHES, DUSK TO DUSK
Much like the shooters of old, Dusk doesn’t concentrate much on story, instead it relies on general themes that progress a simple narrative. The Intruder, as he is referred to, is a treasure hunter who stumbles across a redneck cult. After surviving his execution, he wreaks havoc on his captors as he falls deeper into a Lovecraftian rabbit-hole. Aside from the mid episode text dumps (ala DOOM), the narrative is told primarily through environmental progression. Locations you trek through gradually show just how deep this rabbit hole goes. Over the course of the three episodes, the story ramps up in intensity until it reaches the final crescendo. For such a simple story, you really get a feel of the happenings surrounding the cult as well as their motivations – it’s very much a ‘less is more’ approach, but it’s to the game’s benefit.
What really sucks you into the world of Dusk is the sheer atmosphere the game exudes. Despite feeling like a rampaging, unstoppable machines with your completely overpowered arsenal, you’ll still feel tense at every corner. From the very start, you’ll be navigating cornfields as scarecrows with shotguns come to life, and exploring dilapidated farmhouses filled with cultists and chainsaw-wielding rednecks (a nod to Resident Evil 4, perhaps). You never quite know what to expect next, and the thunderous metal score helps to constantly keep you on edge. Not only does it add to the horror, but it also keeps your reactions sharp. It’s fight or flight, and you don’t want to get caught off-guard. Not that you’ll ever opt for the latter – at least not while you have dual shotguns at your disposal!
The first episode is just a taster of what’s to come, but don’t expect it to fall into a familiar pattern. The game is constantly shifting and the action gets more heated right up until the end of the game. The second episode delves into pure horror as you find yourself navigating bloodsoaked machinery in the dark, hunted by the wonderful Wendigoes. Don’t expect the horror to result in slower action – things are just as frantic as before, if not more so. As for the third episode… well, let’s just say that things get wild. There’s enough variety throughout the game to keep you invested, although the last couple of levels drop the ball with a tedious penultimate level and a disappointing final boss fight. Unfortunate, perhaps, but the remainder of the game is so damn good that it doesn’t spoil things too much.
DUSK. ANYBODY? NO? DUSK.
The combat is where Dusk truly excels though: it just feels so fucking awesome to play. It’s very clear that New Blood knows exactly what makes classic shooters so fun to play. First of all, the movement is fast… like really fast – but also buttery smooth, too. And if things aren’t fast enough for you, you’re able to strafe and bunny hop too in order to gain ridiculous momentum. Bunny hopping is a cinch too, as you only have to hold the jump button to pull off. It makes it extremely accessible for those who want to feel like a pro without having to do actually do anything particularly technical. There’s also various types of weapon boosting you can achieve for traversal: explosives are the obvious way, and work the same way as they did in Quake; however, you can also use the Crossbow to help propel yourself backward or upward – much like the Ballista in DOOM Eternal, but far easier to use. All combined together, everything just feels so good. There’s a slide available too, which is used to traverse tight spaces, but it feels a little bit contextual rather than something you can use in the heat of combat. It would be nice if you could use it to stagger enemies, or as a way to reach far places if combined with a jump, but ’twas not to be. It’s a small nitpick on otherwise perfect movement mechanics.
Movement is nothing though without the right tools for the job, and the weapons in Dusk are glorious! Despite their relatively low detail models, every single one feels fantastic to use. The sickles will probably provide the least amount of usage, being a melee weapon, but they are able to repel projectiles – meaning that they do have utility if you make the effort to use them. The aforementioned dual shotguns are probably going to be your workhorse weapons for the early game, and they are a particular joy. Whilst these are later outdone by the Super Shotgun, they’re still good to return to when you get the fast-fire power-up, as they can deal a shitload of damage in very little time. Many more weapons are available, including a Crossbow, Machine Gun, and a Rivet Gun; the latter of which is essentially a fast-firing rocket launcher – and it’s as ridiculously overpowered as it sounds! Even your melee weapon gets an upgrade later in the game, making it into one of the strongest weapons in the game. There’s no real BFG for your arsenal, but there is a certain common item in the overworld that acts a little like one: soap. Grab this bar and lob it at your foes to ‘clean away’ the darkness. It’s stupid, but it’s all part of the game’s charm. Ammo distribution is relatively plentiful, meaning that you’ll usually have ammo for all of your cool guns, providing that you mix up what you use along your journey. Switching is as simple as pressing the d-pad to cycle between weapons, or you can use the weapon wheel / quick swap button if you want to go straight to a specific weapon. The wheel doesn’t slow down the action, unfortunately, which makes it pretty tough to use until you memorise the weapon’s positions. Hopefully it’s something New Blood addresses in the future, as it’s pretty stressful to use in its present state.
All in all, it should take you around 8 hours or so to see things through to the end, and that’s while casually hunting down the secrets that are on offer. Secrets are plentiful and are usually quite fair to find, which makes them an amusing diversion to the main gunplay. Once you’re done, however, you can replay on one of the other five difficulty modes, attempting to earn each of the four tricky awards for each level, or you can dive into Endless Mode. Endless has four maps available: each one themed on an area from the three episodes – and the final being a special area that should be familiar to Nintendo fans. All you need to do on these levels is survive wave after wave of enemies, and see how far you can get. The arenas are all designed quite well, so it’s surprisingly fun to play around with. Not quite as fun as a deathmatch mode would have been, but fun nevertheless.
Failing that, there’s always Dusk ’82…
For those who preordered Dusk (or purchased a physical copy), a bonus game was given for free. It’s worth briefly discussing due to just how damn good it is. Dusk ’82 is not quite a de-make of the main game, opting to be more of a retelling of the general story using some of the key characters and themes.
Instead of being a first person shooter, however, Dusk ’82 is more of a puzzle game styled after old Sinclair and Atari titles. By collecting keys, and manipulating barrels and switches, you need to take out all of the enemies dotted around the level before proceeding to the exit. They only move when you do, allowing you time to think through your actions beforehand. There’s a time limit to solve each stage, which can be extended by collecting gems, but time is rarely an issue. Enemies act in different ways and have different weaknesses, so the difficulty lies in working out how to use your very limited inventory space (only one thing at a time!) to get the job done.
With 30 stages, the game introduces you to new concepts gradually, which will enable you to solve each level with relative ease. It has a very progressive difficulty curve that is extremely satisfying all the way through, with enough variety to keep you interested right until you take down the final boss. For a freebie, it’ll keep you busy for an hour or two and is a pretty flawless experience overall. Hopefully it will be available in the future for latecomers to buy, as it would be a shame if people missed out on such an amazing game due to limited availability.
Dusk‘s reputation is well deserved. With fantastic level design, and guns that are a blast to use, this is first person shooting at its finest. It’s cathartic, it’s intense, it’s so damn satisfying. Despite losing a little of its momentum at the end, it’s still a shooter that fans of the genre need to experience.