Wow, Dusk is a blast to the past to an era I thought I would never see again. I’m certainly showing my age here, but Dusk harkens back to a time when games were stored on 3”1 ⁄ 2–inch floppy disks that you had to insert sequentially. A single game might be spread across five floppy disks which had to be inserted one at a time and booted up through DOS (Disk Operating System). I grew up on these early shooter games, like Wolfenstein 3D, Quake, Doom, Hexen, and Rise of the Triad. Dusk seeks to channel the frantic energy and insane gameplay from that era, and largely succeeds in doing so.
Dusk follows almost all of the conventions of the early shooters: the multitude of weapons, no reloading, actual projectiles rather than hit-scan weapons, and the use of colored keys. You can run, jump, strafe, and shoot with near impunity. Health does not regenerate and your best bet is to locate the ubiquitous floating health packs that spin in place.
Those who say that episodic gaming was championed with the rise of Telltale games don’t remember the era of DOS shareware games. The games were released in episodes, with each usually being around the same length. In the shareware business model, the first episode was free, but you would have to pay to gain access to the following episodes. Dusk mirrors this model as well, which is certainly an interesting throwback as well.
The graphics are quite simplistic with primitive and low-res 3D models and really capture the spirit of the old classics. Is that a good thing? For most gamers, it probably isn’t. But for an old crank like me, I couldn’t get enough of it. The blocky graphics look great anyway, even though they absolutely shouldn’t. My only complaint is that it was a missed opportunity to not use sprite-based enemies, rather than polygonal ones. That would have really sealed the classic deal, so to speak. The purposefully poor textures have a nasty haunted quality that makes rundown farm houses, rusting tractors, and psychotic hillbillies look creepy enough. The sound work is phenomonial as well and has been purposefully down-scoped to recapture the old Soundblaster cards in DOS-era machines.
The gameplay is fast, frantic, and loads of fun. It’s seeped in classic horror tropes and despite the cheesy setting and ancient graphics, I did find myself being spooked or creeped out from time to time. The game really channels the speedy combat of the classics. Your best tool for victory is to use your exceptional speed to zip around the battlefields and avoid the projectiles. The weapons are fun and varied: a pair of sharp sickles, dual pistols, lever-action rifles, double-barreled super shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, and grenade launchers. You also get swords and crossbows later on. DUSK also includes an endless mode where you take on an endless waves of enemies in increasingly difficult challenges. It was fun while it lasted, but I moved on from it rather quickly.
The game even nails the old level completion screens that taunt you with how many secrets you have missed. And secrets are there to find galore, usually by pressing the interaction key on suspicious objects or moving barrels or piles of bricks out of the way to reveal secret passages.
For an old nostalgic soul like myself, Dusk is great. It’s simple, elegant, and succeeds exactly in what it sets out to do. This will certainly not be for everyone. Gamers who grew up in the HD era with an entirely different set of mechanics and gaming conventions will likely find it archaic, perhaps excruciatingly so. However, for those yearning for their glory days, or those who want to see what gaming used to be like in the early 1990’s, Dusk is certainly for you. It even nails the loading screens of yore. How could I not love it?