In an age of analytics, where publishers looking for more ways to keep players engaged, legacies of the past have been discarded or stripped away. One such legacy that’s still clinging to life is the art of the singleplayer FPS campaign, with the wide sweeping levels, full of secrets and monsters hidden behind corners, largely done with.
Thankfully, 2018 has been very good about bringing that part of gaming back to life.
The retro ’90s shooter campaign hasn’t had a resurgence the same way, say, Metroidvania-style games have. And it’s certainly not as popular a genre as roguelikes.
For people who grew up in that golden age, where multiplayer games were just starting to come to the fore and a good 20 hours bouncing through Quake 2, Redneck Rampage, or even older classics like Rise of the Triad, the last few years of shooters have been a letdown.
It’s a good thing we have games like DUSK, then.
Released from early access this week, DUSK is a retro shooter with a grim bent not too dissimilar from Blood. The general principle, which is teased out eventually but never explicitly mentioned in-game (as all good ’90s shooters are wont to do, is that you’re beating back some kind of eldritch horror. Masked cultists are calling you a non-believer in the opening minutes. Hooded men in red checkered shirts pounce out of garages armed with chainsaws.
At first, it’s a simple, straightforward retro shooter. Circlestrafing is the order of the day, weaving in and out of attacks to stagger enemy movements, traversing across desecrated farmland with the rhythmic ’90s jump sound.
As you work your way through each of the episodes, which have 10 levels a piece, DUSK begins to really open up. The environments themselves are fairly static and recognisable. The colour palette doesn’t change much. You’re running through sheds, farmhouses, tiny churches, and so on.
But bit by bit, DUSK‘s bag of tricks start to unfold. By the time you’re in the third episode, all conventions are completely thrown out the window: each episode is different aesthetically and mechanically from the last, and the metal soundtrack from Andrew Hulshult is banging.
And even though there’s some common tropes – you’re collecting blue, red and yellow keys to progress – the levels have a nice balance between exploration, firefights, open areas to manoeuvre, cramped spaces where you can’t, and lots of dark areas.
Those bloody dark areas get me every single time.
I’ve intentionally left a lot unsaid about DUSK, because part of the fun is really discovering the level design for yourself. That was part of the magic of the Quake campaigns and even some of the more unheralded shooter campaigns of the ’90s.
But between that, Ion Maiden, Amid Evil which I loved earlier this year, the re-release of the Turok games, the prospect of more ’90s shooters like Prodeus, the cel-shaded Project Warlock and even things like Overload and the return of Forsaken, it’s been a good year for circlestrafing nostalgia. DUSK had added to that pile, but with its third episode saving the best till last, and only launching this week, it’s helped make 2018 a real bright spot on the FPS front.
DUSK is available now through Steam for $24.31.