Dusk Impressions: A True Throwback

David Szymanski’s Dusk is a ’90s-inspired first-person shooter set in rural America. The game feels like Quake and looks like a marriage of Blood and Redneck Rampage. It releases Halloween, but if you pre-purchase it on Steam you can play Episode 1, The Foothills, right now. Unlike other throwback shooters — Serious Sam, Painkiller, and Strafe, for examples – Szymanski has captured the spirit of ’90s-era FPS games.

The map design and pacing of the game is clearly ’90s FPS. There are colored keys with matching doors. There are secret areas. Maps aren’t linear but are open areas you move back and forth in. Some are tighter, others have large open areas. They all feel Redneck Rampage, Blood, and Duke Nukem 3D, more so than they feel Doom and Quake, though those games’ genes are certainly in the pool.

Movement is similarly inspired. You can strafe-jump and bunny-hop to ridiculous speeds, more easily than in the Quake games. I was able to jump up very steep slopes, rendering the laws of physics null, exactly how it should be in this kind of game.

The AI behavior is ’90s-shooter style. Enemies run straight at you or hang back and shoot, and there has been no coordinated strategy on the enemies’ part so far. Different enemies have different attack styles, so some strategy is required in what weapon you use and how you dodge the enemies’ attacks. Blood and gore is present but not insane, which is true to the game’s spiritual predecessors.

There are pistols, shotguns, and machineguns. There is a powerup – the Fast Fire Totem – that enables your gun to fire rapidly. You may duel wield, a feature that, while not in Doom or Quake, was in Blood.

The game system is throwback as well, with an old-school menu, a quick-save feature, and no checkpoints except at a level’s start. The results screen after each map and the level select screen are based directly on the same from Doom.  

Not every part of Dusk is specifically Quake and its contemporaries and predecessors. Enemies speak, like in Quake II. There’s a flashlight, which is an element from Unreal and Half-Life. You can zoom in, which was also in Unreal and Half-Life, but only on certain weapons. There’s no fall damage, unlike each of the classic FPS games noted in this story. It still all counts as ’90s style.

The game consistently offers variety. Maps become more complex, new enemy types appear, there are boss battles, and new weapons are doled out. The design builds on itself.

The core quality of Dusk is that it captures the soul of the ’90s-era FPS. Other throwback shooters like Serious Sam, Painkiller, or this year’s Strafe claim ’90s FPS design but only have parts of it. None of those games are exactly like Doom, Quake, and their contemporaries. Dusk is. I could tell right at the start.

If you loved ’90s-era FPS games, I recommend you pre-purchase Dusk now and check out the first episode. It’s a great, true throwback shooter. Hold off if you’re not a ’90s FPS enthusiast, as then you may not appreciate Dusk’s design.

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