I have to admit to a certain amount of skepticism going into my playthrough of Dusk; not because I didn't love that glorious generation of early shooters from which the game is clearly modeled, but because I'm in the clutches of retro game fatigue. I'm sorry, I simply like the luxurious fidelity and ever-growing graphical realism of current games, and I find retro titles filled with 8-bit blobs of jumping pixels off-putting.
So it's saying something that Dusk was able to penetrate my critical Fortress of Solitude and carry me back to the days of Doom, Quake and Redneck Rampage - my personal favorite - in a way that was unexpected and authentic. Essentially the passion project of one developer (David Szymanski) and his small team of compatriots, Dusk recreates the look, sound and playstyle of classic Build engine games. It would be unfair to say it does so with clinical precision, because that would deny the passion and enthusiasm that is clear in every low-poly frame.
For gamers familiar with the original Quake, Shadow Warrior or their brethren shooters, jumping into Dusk -- with mouse and keyboard, especially -- is an instantly comfortable experience. Compared to modern shooters with their endless supply of weapons, upgrades and the other side dishes we've come to expect, Dusk is a meat-and-potatoes meal, with a handful of basic weapons and an appropriately limited set of moves. The nearly three dozen levels are short, and movement through them is fluid and fast. The basic weapons -- pistols, shotguns, a bow, grenade launcher -- are exactly what you expect and remember them to be from the original Doom generation. Dusk is permeated by touches of lowbrow humor in the same way those 3D Realms games were: beer and carcasses boost health, toilets flush, scarecrows come to life and lovable farm animals turn into zombie monsters.
Moving through corn mazes, rural churches and spooky farmhouses full of evil priests brought flashbacks of Redneck Rampage and Quake. Dusk's art has a similarly muted art style dominated by grays, greens, and browns. It is punctuated by a few splashes of bloody color and magic effects, as well as a deep selection of options to make the visuals even more authentically retro. Although it doesn't reach the swampy perfection of Redneck's bayou-rock soundtrack, Andrew Hulshult's music recalls the ambient, tense spookiness and guitar-riff majesty of Doom and Quake.
Dusk's core gameplay is just what you'd expect: a zippy shoot and strafe loop with minimal story and lots of little secrets to find. Lots of games have tried this before, but Dusk realizes that the appeal of those early 90s shooters was largely in the level design and environmental details. They made the worlds seem more real than you might imagine, given their primitive processing. Although it isn't quite yet a complete package (additional chapters are coming later), Dusk comes eerily close to feeling like an undiscovered sibling of the classic shooters.