Review: Dusk on Nintendo Switch
By: Roberto Nieves
Publisher: New Blood Interactive
Developer: David Szymanski
Available on: Nintendo Switch, Steam
It's been often said these days that great things do not come without struggle, and for the world of video games, this is most especially true and sometimes ends in disappointment. Players wait for years for a game, and the game can become underwhelming and unfinished. Originally announced in June of 2018, Dusk has had a long and tumultuous journey making its way to the hybrid handheld. At long last, and just in time for Halloween, Dusk finally makes its way to the Nintendo Switch eShop, and becomes a milestone for the system as a rallying cry for more FPSs and polished ports for the system.
Dusk begins its euphoric trip right from the start, breaking out of an underground cellar, just like BJ Blastowitz in the original Wolfenstein. The skies are stained crimson red, and around you are endless trees and plains. There are sinister forces at work around you. The land churns and bubbles with a twisting and stabbing evil. An entire army of religious fanatics sees you as a threat to their prophecy, which may bring about an unspeakable evil. You aren't a soldier. You aren't anyone special. However, you know how to use a gun, you certainly won't stand for these crazed cultists in your neighborhood.
Dusk is a first-person shooter, very much in the vein of classic retro first-person shooters, or "boomer shooters" as they have become more popularly referred to. This particular subgenre of shooters finds itself inspired by the Hallmark shooters of the 90s, from Doom to Duke Nukem 3D to Quake and so on. These older shooters were known for many attributes that today's shooters would evolve from, but we're nonetheless imperative to laying the groundwork of today's modern game scenes. Weaponry, visual style, level design, the feedback of controls and gunfire, were all wrapped into a gameplay style that was fast, fierce, unendingly satisfying, delivering untapped power to the player. Each weapon obtained was a small reward, and every enemy felled was a triumph and testament for the speed and skill of the player. Curious players were rewarded with new weapons and ammo, unlocking secrets that could gain the upper hand. Levels were not mere corridors with scripted slow-mo moments but labyrinthian mazes with height, secrets, and substance. Players scoured for resources, and health packs were in short supply. These older shooters were challenging yet always remarkably enjoyable as the swift gameplay and presentation spearheaded players into a new and unique dimension of immersion and satisfaction.
Dusk taps into this almost forgotten world of excitingly limited interpretations of the game world. The environments are polygonal and blocky. Weapons have rough edges, and enemies are jagged and filled with blocks and chonk. There are no fine-tuned details or photorealism, but instead, a world where there are enemies, darkness, and a world they inhabit. Some will inevitably be turned off for the lack of hyper-realistic graphics, but the goal of a game isn't to make something as jaw-dropping as possible but appropriate and fulfilled. To that end, Dusk does a great job in what it creates. Something familiar and visually nostalgic but modern and swift. To that end, Dusk's gameplay is front and center and is as much of a huge achievement as the Cubs finally winning the world series.
I bring this up as there have been plenty of games, especially in shooters, that work hard to emulate that feeling of years gone by but often miss the mark. Shooters like Ion Fury nail the 2D aesthetic, style, and gameplay of Duke Nukem 3D, providing a fantastic feedback of speed, ferocity, and violence. Then, there are titles such as Exodemon, which do a good job in the speed, atmosphere, and shooting aspects but doesn't quite give players the power they yearn for, at least not until towards the end of the game. Games are hard, game development is even harder, and a feeling for one may not be a feeling for many. A feeling is an interpretation with many components, from what the developer is looking for to what the player is looking for. To encapsulate that right sensation, and in this case, to recreate the philosophy established in older first-person shooters, it takes a deep understanding and synchronization of what makes these shooters so damn exciting and what players feel during their playthrough. It's a work in progress that has gone on for years now. I fondly remember playing Dusk at Pax South 2017 (Rip), when New Blood was demoing Dusk and Tonight We Riot. Even from its early state, it was clear that the developer making Dusk, Dave Szymanski, not only loved shooters but respected what they were, how far they've come, but to stand true to the fundamentals of FP's, even in an age of photorealism and military-oriented settings. Around when Dusk was first seen, it often felt that shooters were going to be annual brand installments tied to microtransactions and Army aesthetics, but Dusk served to remind and commit that shooters were about great power and fast combat could be weaved and stitched into
Dusk greatly excels in that sheer thrill of giving the players power and downing foes that are formidable. There's an insatiable reward in downing a foe that is smart, battle-hardened, maybe even more powerful, and knowing that there is power in your skill. First-person shooters, when done right, need to give players the ability to harness power, then discharge that power in a ferocious and satisfying way, all the while creating what can provide a strong but somewhat fair challenge. Part of this feeling is in the nostalgia as well. Dusk is reminiscent of titles such as Quake from the darker, surreal world to the more dread-instill color pallet. Dusk doesn't simply relish in the nostalgia and expect an audience to understand it, but it takes the nostalgia, modernizes it, and creates a familiar and innovative interpretation of what a first-person shooter is and what it can be. Dusk is a game that can be played by the deepest, most knee-deep in the dead player, a player that has modded Doom for hundreds of hours and has played shooters since before WASD was ever a thing. Dusk is also a game that can be played by players who have never before played an FPS, perhaps being familiar with the genre but having been put off by the highly-distraction signature of the Call of Duty games. The common theme with these players is Both will greatly enjoy Dusk. Dusk invites newcomers into its darkness and gives players the tools to pursue and punish the hatred that lurks in darkness. Hardened season players that have conquered many worlds and wielded hundreds of fictional weapons will revel in the speed and momentum of Dusk. It's a shooter for everyone and every player, and it delights in respecting the player's time and encouraging the player to go wild.
After years of playing demos at various PAX events, Dusk is everything I ever thought and hoped for it to be. The movement is sublime, smooth, like a single turn of the joy-con turns my character on a dime. Each weapon is ferocious and powerful, from the handgun to the super shotgun. Some shooters make you feel like you are holding a paintball gun, but Dusk lets you know, from the HD rumble to the effects onscreen, that each weapon has an attitude and feels like a small cannon. There is a feeling of heft and weight as each shot perforates an enemy onscreen. Dusk's gameplay is all about having this attitude reciprocated on hateful foes.
On a technical level, Dusk's performance on the Nintendo Switch should stand as a milestone and a rallying cry for all developers to aspire to. There have been earth-shattering ports to the system, such as Sniper Elite III: Ultimate Edition, and ports that throw hands up in agony, such as the port of Mortal Kombat 11, but Dusk is one of the very best, if not the very best port on Nintendo Switch. It looks, feels, and sounds just like it's relative on PC. Even the strongest of nitpicks against Dusk on switch weight nothing more than the smallest grain of sand. Even this port of Dusk contains Quicksave support, doling down the directional button on the d-pad allows for a quick save anywhere at any time. The game runs at a smooth, unending 60fps with no jank or slowdowns. A weapon wheel gives players more control over what weapons to use, and for those who wish to, gyroscopic controls can be enabled to further enhance the gameplay experience. Load times are quick, and the options for controls and visuals are bountiful in this port, allowing players to craft their preferred experience of Dusk. It's an excellent means of giving players options. Speaking of the options, there are five different difficulty modes, giving players multiple choices to better enjoy Dusk. The presentation is done tremendously well to instill a sensation of dread, fear, and madness, a difficult feeling to create in a game that gives players plenty of firepower.
Dusk's presentation is fully realized, as haunting Pennsylvanian barns and forests and mysterious mines give way to twisted and unsettling lands and imagery. The soundtrack by Andrew Hushult instills a bubbling sense of dread that explodes when all hell breaks loose onscreen. It's a hell of a jam, especially when the magic fireballs and bullets start flying.
Dusk is filled to the brim with content. Its three campaigns and many chapters are filled with enemies and secrets, leaving plenty of replay value for those looking to test their mettle. Additionally, there is an Endless Wave survival mode that challenges players to wipe out as many enemies as they time before they inevitably fall to the cultists. There is no online multiplayer, but Dusk doesn't need one. The gameplay and campaigns alone dwarf any add-on of a multiplayer. While those ideas sound intriguing, Dusk wasn't made around that, and its focus on an incredibly strong single-player greatly pays off.
It's fun! It's exciting! It's violent! It's Dusk. If there were a tagline I could add to a trailer or a physical box, it'd be that. Dusk is a great first-person shooter. It has all the elements that feel just right, anon the Nintendo Switch, doubly so. The controls are as tight as a Les Paul, with plenty of options, and the presentation is phenomenal. The gameplay is extremely strong, polished and fully realized to its maximum potential, a nearly perfect mix of the old and the new, and perfect for anyone to play. In short, anyone and everyone with a Switch needs to have Dusk in their game library.
Many first-person shooters could make the jump to Switch, from Illuminascii to DESYNC, and Dusk represents what is possible. It is a rallying cry for more FPS and ports for the Switch. It is a demonstration of what first-person shooters represent. And ultimately, it's a damn fun game to play. Darkness is dark, but it's nothing compared to you. Make evil fear you.
Dusk was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch eShop thanks to a key generously supplied to Stack Up Dot Org by New Blood Interactive.