Games Hands On: Dusk (PC, 2018): Bringing Quake back

Amongst the litany of genre revivals going on in the indie games space right now, there’s one or two that are appearing more than others — Metroidvanias and ultra-hard, skill-centric platformers. Both are born of genres with audiences long-starved starved for content, and it means that interest is high. But, if I may, there’s a third genre I’d like to throw into this mix: the Quake-like. It’s a genre ripe for the plumbing and, as it stands right now, there are few examples of the form quite as good as Dusk.
Dusk is a throwback to the era of the 90’s PC shooter. It’s inspiration comes predominantly from id Software’s legendary Quake but it also pulls from games like Blood, Hexen, Heretic and even Redneck Rampage. The screenshot I’ve used for the header on this piece barely does the game justice. You have to see it in motion. Here’s a trailer.

Yeah baby, that’s what I’m talking about.

The run-and-gun shooter has died off in AAA as the demand for realism saw the industry move toward tactical shooters and the stand-at-a-distance, pick-em-off gameplay that Call of Duty has come to lean on (the notable exception, of course, being id’s stellar return to form with DOOM in 2016). Thus, it makes sense that it would fall to indies to pick up the old school mantle in their stead.

The first thing you’ll probably notice about Dusk is how fast it is. Your character absolutely flies around the level, dancing around enemies and picking them off. The second you’ll notice is how powerful all of your weapons are. Every gun in the game has just the right amount of grunt behind it and every new one you pick up elicits an exultant chuckle that recalls the best moments of the original Doom. I was happy to find the shotgun and quickly became best friends with it, but I was delighted to find the double-barrelled shotgun only a few levels later.

It’s levels, particularly its first world set in rural mid-western America, are a mix of Heretic and Redneck Rampage. The low-fi visuals are amplified by some really solid sound work and it results in an atmosphere that has a genuine dread about it. You know that the enemies aren’t anything you can’t handle for the most part but that doesn’t stop them giving you the creeps. Designwise, the first world is quite open and allows you to get a feel for the game before dropping you into the kind of labyrinthine hallway nightmares that were Romero’s signature. Health and ammo packs were placed logically and were always where I expected to find them.

Visually, its a near perfect recreation of the glory days of Quake. The models are chunky but not so much that they can’t be animated with a bit of character. The lighting is flat but in a way that highlights your next move. There’s little touches that nod to the game’s heritage as well — it boots up with a DOS prompt, the first time I ran it the game was in 640×480 res, you can scale the amount of pixelation up and down to perfectly match your memories of playing Quake on your old Pentium 133. It’s extremely tight and it leans into the nostalgia in just the right ways.

If Dusk has a problem at all its that it is one of about fifteen games available right now with very similar sounding names. Trying to talk to friends about this game invariably began with confusion over what I was talking about.

“Heard of Dusk?”

You mean Dust?

“No, Dusk.”

Oh, Rust.

“Again, no, I said Dusk.”

Gotcha, you mean DUSK.

“No, goddammit, I mean Dusk.

My question for development team David Szymanski and New Blood Interactive is “have you thought about changing the name? Because it seems like you’ve got a bit of a problem there.”

I’ve had a ball with Dusk so far and I’m looking forward to seeing what the team produces for it next. Other devs, get on this Quake-like train because I’ll play everything you’ve got.

Preview conducted with early access code provided by the publisher. Dusk is available in early access now on Steam and the Humble store.