FBT plays the gaming equivalent of Stranger Things

Ahh, the 90s. It was a high-watermark in gaming. Huge advancements in graphics and PC power, the PlayStation, Online gaming … it was a new era - seminal titles like The 7th Guest, Gran Turismo, Diablo, Tekken, Broken Sword, Monkey Island and Myst brought a more cerebral, complex element to gaming, while franchises like Tomb Raider, Fallout, GTA, FIFA, Resident Evil and Elder Scrolls defined gaming genres; the decade was gaming gold but … what really kicked it in the balls was id. Wolf, Doom, Quake; id’s FPS trilogy caused such an impact, gaming’s balls were never the same again.

While the FPS genre has evolved to include a lot more emotional investment when we shoot people in the face, there’s always been shooters that reject that and try to return to id’s kill-for-keys ethos. Good on’em for trying but the intensity, the overwhelming odds, the plotless tone of the Doom era fails in ‘old school shooters’ because what it took to get that feel can’t be replicated in modern engines; idTech and Build might have been bleeding edge back then but they were still limited – those devs had to sweat those engines to create the games and that sweat, the ingenuity is on the screen. Modern shooters don’t have to sweat so when someone calls a game ‘old school’, it’s just a modern game without cut-scenes – they take less work than the more simplistic-looking Doom clones. At best they’re just copying Doom’s homework. New old school is like remaking Jaws with a CGI shark. Jaws wasn’t just about the shark.

And to prove me right, is Dusk. Some 90s game on the Quake engine I missed the first time, right? Nope. Released in 2018 this is as modern as they come. But unlike the other recent retro throwback, Ion Maiden, this isn’t on an old engine, it’s on Unity, which knows how to make a game fly. But Dusk looks like the 90s. What is this? This is an Old School Shooter.

This isn’t one of the golden-era games rebooted like the recent Wolf and Doom remakes. Dusk is our memories of the Quake era pulled together in one kickass retro dream. It is its own game, own world, own reality, but it’s steeped in every shooter you played between Wolf and Quake; and to recreate those memories so completely in a modern engine, you can see the sweat onscreen. So what’s all the sweat about?

Apparently, Dusk is a farming town where mysterious “ruins" were uncovered. The military and scientists descend, and things go unsurprisingly wrong. And that’s where our arm comes in. We’re an unknown treasure hunter who scales the quarantine zone to scavenge the secrets uncovered, and naturally winds up fighting for their lives against the otherworldly creatures and zombified/possessed/mutilated locals, military and scientists.

Initially we’re belting through environments like farmlands and swamps calling to mind the unfairly forgotten Redneck Rampage, while also taking cues from Blood and Heretic, while the second episode is more industrial and surreal/demonic, feeling more Doom and Quake-like. And inhabiting the levels are the in-bred cousins of everything you shotgunned in the 90s; nothing you’ve not seen before, but everything you miss and this time done pitch perfect. This is the 90s. You don’t even regenerate health.

You do occasionally pause and say to yourself “what am I doing?” – here I am, having paid to play a modern game, on a modern engine in a game that’s spent all it’s time trying to appear out of date; low-res texture, samey colours, repetitive designs, illogical levels, zero plotting. But that’s exactly what we wanted – not a modern game trying to drag 90s style into this decade, but a loved-up homage to the era played entirely straight. No winks to camera, no 4th wall breaking, no irony. Dusk is like going to see your favourite band play live and being transported back to your teens; it’s like flicking through an old photo-album. The kids on The Facebook wouldn’t understand.

Dusk isn’t perfect. Just like the good ole days, some of the levels drag, you get stuck, run out of ammo when facing bosses and occasionally just get fed up with it. There’s often no rhyme or reason to it, but that feels intentional; that’s the games and how we used to play. Just charging about tapping everything and backtracking.

Dusk is gaming’s Stranger Things – when you watch it, picking up 80s homages and yelling “I had that!” every time there’s a scene in one of the lads’ bedrooms, you realise it’s not just a collection of memories, it's also a really good show in its own right; Dusk couldn’t exist without the Doom era, but you realise it's a ripping-good shooter too; fast, clean, unforgiving, Dusk pisses on any of those bloated CoD's you've wasted your life on. It’s underselling it to say ‘if you’ve played Quake you know what to expect’. This isn’t just a homage, it’s a killer shooter that's set in a world where Doom, Heretic, Blood and Quake (don’t forget Redneck) actually happened.

Currently there’s two episodes available on Steam, with the third incoming. It feels like Shareware; about the only way this game could be cooler is if it was released only on DOS. The good news is Dusk’s publisher New Blood Interactive isn’t stopping here. They’ve cracked what is missing and the games they have lined up look insane. When’s the last time you got excited at a CoD trailer?

Companies like New Blood are supporting one-man-bands who are building the kind of games they liked to play and we want to too; games they sweated over, games free of corporate publishers and focus-groups and customer feedback, released on Steam Early Access and GOG in episodic formats; those guys are disrupting the way of things just how 3DR and id did 20-years ago. Leave the big publishers to their ‘old school’ shooters. We’ll stick with the new bloods doing it the old way.

2018 | Developer David Szymanski | Publisher New Blood Interactive

Platforms; Win (Steam)