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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Sun Sep 01, 2019 10:46 pm 


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I think the reasoning is accessibility. There are still games being made for the hard cases on here myself included but not too many. With self imposed challenges and perma death on I've at least been able to keep Fire Emblem games interesting. Still need to play Three Houses though.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Mon Sep 02, 2019 4:59 am 


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Playing Control on ye olde PS4 Pro. The game didn't impress me much at first, what with its melange of modernist/brutalist architecture, a wooden main character, and wannabe Half-Life 2-ness. It definitely feels like a classic PC game, meant for save/load, with RNG in enemy spawns and behavior that will wreck you if you're not prepared for whatever particular situation you happen to be in. Yet it becomes more appealing the more it opens up, and as you progress you start feeling like a veritable telekinetic badass, vulnerable but able to parlay a string of enemy kills into victory. The weirdness of the atmosphere really helps—aside from the oft-mentioned X-Files and Twin Peaks influences, there's a strain of Annihilation in there with a hint of Twilight Zone, which all adds up to some nice worldbuilding.

Gameplay-wise, it sticks to the Western canon and there are no iframes or similar trusty tricks to help you through the chaos, but once you get built up you have such a variety of tools to use that the game becomes more about planning your approach (after a failure or two in the more difficult parts), hoping your plan works, and improvising where it doesn't.

The enemy design is largely pretty uninspired. You mostly fight possessed goons who for the most part might as well just be generic army men save for the menacing red aura that surrounds them. There are exceptions, but for the most part the enemies lack any character whatsoever and their design feels like a compromise allowing the insertion of standard action game gunplay into what is supposed to be a weird, otherworldly adventure. Again harking back to Half-Life 2, the Combine soldiers in that game were super generic but seemed infused with personality and intent while being augmented by a host of cool alien creatures and tech. The two saving graces here are: A. occasionally you have to deal with weird menacing extra-dimensional glitch monsters with great sound design and B. the regular enemies, once dispatched, explode in color and vanish in an LSD haze that seems directly lifted from Errol Morris' Wormwood.

One baffling design choice is the inclusion of open-world style objectives in what is almost entirely a linear game. Some of these are side missions that tie in pretty naturally to what your'e doing at the time, but at other times you'll be given a mission that requires you to travel to an entirely different area just to fight a few normal enemies in exchange for some paltry reward. These seem pretty cynical and almost entirely designed to pad out the experience in an unecessary way.

As far as boss design goes, some of them are easily cheesed, others are relatively rigid and force you to stick to a pretty tight script (at least as far as a Western-developed third-person action game goes), and then you have the more interesting third variety that open up completely freeform (and hence easily baited/tricked) but become more aggressive and taxing as the fight progresses.

Overall, the game is pretty satisfying, but due to the PC-centric quicksave/load nature mentioned above, deaths are a significant nuisance since the checkpointing is relatively conservative and in some cases you have to respawn minutes away from a major fight (which can be over in seconds if it goes badly). Another minor nitpick is the upgrade system—like a lot of contemporary games, it eschews an emphasis on a skill tree, with a majority of your upgrade choices coming in the form of swappable weapon upgrades and personal mods. The inventory for these is maxed out fairly quickly, which means that after you've gotten into the meat of the game you're constantly discarding the low-value ones-a boring and tedious time-sink that could have easily been solved in any number of ways.

In summary, I'd give it a cautious recommendation if you like this sort of game and the themes and inspirations involved. It's basically just bog standard videogame design with some really cool setpieces and atmosphere and decent gameplay layered on top. Entirely competent, with sparks of brilliance here and there, but largely uninspired.
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Mon Sep 02, 2019 9:33 am 


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I rather unexpectedly enjoyed Alan Wake and have had my eye on this one, though I recall reading that there were some technical issues with the console versions in particular; you didn't mention any here, so presumably whatever you might have encountered wasn't terrible. Am I also right in assuming that the game runs at 30 FPS on the PS4 (I don't recall reading that the Pro enhances it at all)? In a nutshell I'm going over in my head whether it's worth buying and playing on my (non-Pro) PS4 now and giving the developer some immediate support, or if I should wait until I eventually upgrade from my current potato laptop to a potato laptop with a bit of sour cream on it.
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Mon Sep 02, 2019 3:24 pm 


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I have heard that the game is pretty painful on the base PS4. On the Pro it runs at 30 (in 1080) which is totally fine, it's not really the type of game that necessitates 60fps. So far I've had only one instance of a really substantial frame dip, and it was situational—the game is highly reliant on physics and 2 or 3 telekinetic enemies spawned into a room filled with a bunch of physics objects like envelopes, debris etc. Experienced a few seconds of slideshow and then back to normal. I've heard that drops like these are much more numerous on the vanilla PS4, but I don't have any firsthand experience.
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Mon Sep 02, 2019 3:44 pm 


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I've seen the term unplayable used for base PS4.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Mon Sep 02, 2019 4:47 pm 


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Christ, I really like the look/sound of Control but have the base model xbone!


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Mon Sep 02, 2019 6:15 pm 


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Free, interactive coloring book. Not sure if I'd call it a game or not, but it is relaxing.

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1026 ... ring_Game/
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 03, 2019 8:39 am 


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I'm also liking the sound of Control, but being on a bog PS4 I think it's gonna be a sale pickup.
Currently still wading through Kiwami 2, but I think at this point Im pretty Yakuza'd out. Plus, unless I'm missing something, the story isn't a patch on either 0, Kiwami or 6.

Got a massive backlog, but a sudden itch to replace Dues Ex Human Rev, as I've the Directors Cut which I've never gone through.
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 03, 2019 1:34 pm 


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I went balls deep with Hedon yesterday. I'm really obsessed with it, proclaiming out loud multiple times to myself how much I was enjoying it. Made with Gzdoom with some really nice environmental and sprite work. Kind of plays like Ultima Underworld mixed with Doom. I dig.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 03, 2019 4:06 pm 


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I finished A Link between Worlds. Probably the most fun I've had with a Zelda game since playing Link's Awakening (and yes, that includes both LttP and OoT).

The game is really well-designed. I like most how the dungeons are short and to the point, with no fluff or redundant puzzles. The bosses are really fun, too. It's just a pity that there's no real incentive to learn their patterns, as just tanking them seems to be quite as effective. Not sure how I feel about having so much freedom to choose your path through the game, as this approach necessarily means that there's no difficulty curve from dungeon to dungeon. Quite the contrary, they get ever easier, because they are all roughly the same difficulty, but you get more and more hearts along the way.

I don't really get the point of item "renting", though. It might have been interesting if there was a real renting mechanic that forces you to keep a steady stream of money rolling and encourages you just to rent the items you need at a given time. As it is actually implemeted, "renting" just means the minor inconvenience of going back to the shop everytime you die. Except you don't die in this game unless you do it on purpose, and even that takes considerable effort. It also doesn't help that the game showers you with rupees. I was able to "rent" all available items at once as soon as I came back from the first proper dungeon, and I could outright buy all of them before I was halfway through the Lorule dungeons.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Tue Sep 03, 2019 6:23 pm 


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Mercenaries United in RE5 PS4. Probably all that I will be playing for at least the next month. Holy shit.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 05, 2019 6:36 am 


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Little Nightmares PS4.. Similar to Limbo, dark, tense with some puzzles to solve, really enjoying these type of games of late.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 05, 2019 7:10 am 


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Finally got around playing the Resident Evil 2 remake (RE2make) after having bought it a few months ago. I cleared the 1st run with Claire and the 2nd run with Leon, both on Hardcore setting. It took me around 12 hours to clear Claire's run and 9 hours to clear the 2nd run with Leon, so I got a C grade on both runs. Still haven't gotten around playing 4th Survivor and Ghost Survivors yet.

I thought the 1st Run was pretty solid. I liked how they made Claire's first encounter with a zombie (changed from a diner to a gas station) an actual part of the game and not just an FMV that plays before you start playing. The events in the game's story are arranged pretty cleverly and you even get to meet up with some of the surviving RPD officers before they meet their untimely demises, with Marvin Branagh (the black cop) even having an expanded role.

However, the 2nd run felt rather phoned-in by comparison and a lot of events don't match up with what happens with the 1st run, unlike the A/B scenarios from the original and you don't even get to explore the other character's exclusive area. In fact, even the final bosses are apparently fixed regardless of who you choose first (Leon always faces the Super Tyrant, while Claire takes on G Stage 4), with the only change being that the second character gets to face G Stage 5. From my understanding, they didn't intend to include any alternate scenario/paths in the remake until people started asking about them.

I was surprised that despite the switch to a third person camera and free aiming, the play mechanics are otherwise not that much of a departure from the original RE2. There are no melee attacks or item/ammo drops and thus, your resources are pretty finite. In fact, there were many instances where I almost ran out of healing herbs or ammo for a particular weapon.

A pretty solid game that I might revisit in the near future, but I view it more of a compliment to the original RE2 than a replacement.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 05, 2019 7:41 am 


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Herr Schatten wrote:
I finished A Link between Worlds. Probably the most fun I've had with a Zelda game since playing Link's Awakening (and yes, that includes both LttP and OoT).

But does it include the two ingenious Oracle games?

Herr Schatten wrote:
The bosses are really fun, too. It's just a pity that there's no real incentive to learn their patterns, as just tanking them seems to be quite as effective. Not sure how I feel about having so much freedom to choose your path through the game, as this approach necessarily means that there's no difficulty curve from dungeon to dungeon. Quite the contrary, they get ever easier, because they are all roughly the same difficulty, but you get more and more hearts along the way.

I've mentioned this several times, but I'll gladly reiterate. A Link Between Worlds is a great game that doesn't want casual players to realise it's great. The combat is excellently designed, but there's no reason to ever even avoid getting hit, which is a major flaw.
However, if you play "Hero mode" (unlocked after beating the game), and play the entire game through without ever picking up a single extra heart, playing with the original three, the game gets really, really good. In the final dungeon stuff will be able to one-shot you, and that's the way it should be.
The game still isn't hard, but it's much better, and I really recommend replaying it in this way!

Herr Schatten wrote:
As it is actually implemeted, "renting" just means the minor inconvenience of going back to the shop everytime you die. Except you don't die in this game unless you do it on purpose, and even that takes considerable effort. It also doesn't help that the game showers you with rupees. I was able to "rent" all available items at once as soon as I came back from the first proper dungeon, and I could outright buy all of them before I was halfway through the Lorule dungeons.

Yes, this system is incredibly stupid. I don't understand why people praise it.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 05, 2019 1:20 pm 


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Jonny2x4 wrote:
Finally got around playing the Resident Evil 2 remake.


I loved RE2make. I had been waiting for it honestly since the GC remake of the first game released and was disappointed that it never happened. But RE2make honestly made the wait feel like it was worth it.

Totally agree about the B scenario; the effort was so minimal I almost would have preferred they didn't bother. I actually played through the PS1 version roughly a week after finishing RE2make and the one thing that surprised me was despite the cheese factor I preferred the writing and dialogue of the original. It's likely due to the way the two scenarios entertwined but everything feels more fleshed out. If I have one criticism of RE2make it is probably how buddy-buddy Claire and Leon are by the end despite having only spent a grand total of 5 minutes together in the entire game. Their relationship makes a lot more sense in the original.

But anyhow, story issues aside I really did love RE2make. 7 was really great as well, so I have high hopes for the upcoming TGS announcement.
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 05, 2019 1:30 pm 



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Control. Weird game cut fun!


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 05, 2019 1:34 pm 


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They cut the fun? Sounds terrifying. :shock: :wink:


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 05, 2019 2:58 pm 


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Assault Spy

A one-man doujin stylish action game that's better than any other effort I've played. Head and shoulders above Mitsurugi Kamui Hikae. It feels like a cross between Devil May Cry and a Platinum game.

The environments are bland, but the attack effects are wonderfully over the top.

Protip: Turn "Camera auto-rotate" to OFF and use the lock-on button, or the fights will be an unintelligible swirl.
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 05, 2019 4:05 pm 


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Yeah remake 2 is solid. I'm only playing it now and enjoying it. Don't know why I was still worried it would go down the way of RE5 when 7 was already really good. I'm only playing on normal, probably not even halfway through and almost constantly out of healing items. The survival horror is real.

However the character models look nothing like the characters they're supposed to represent. So I'm actually using the original models they included as a joke. Claire's high poly model also looks surprisingly ugly - maybe that's because I'm not playing on a pro console?

As much as I'm enjoying it, it doesn't come close to the first one's remake. That one had a better atmosphere to it thanks to the prerendered graphics and great attention to realism (thanks to the low res?) - REm2 is littered with ridiculous objects that scream "this is a game". Hard to put but these HD 3D games often have all these objects lying around in a way that feels unreal and just screams "our level designer is bored" to me.
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 05, 2019 5:20 pm 


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Sumez wrote:

But does it include the two ingenious Oracle games?


I remember them being a bit tiring.
Looong time ago tho can't remember what else was going on in my life.
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 05, 2019 6:47 pm 


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ACSeraph wrote:
If I have one criticism of RE2make it is probably how buddy-buddy Claire and Leon are by the end despite having only spent a grand total of 5 minutes together in the entire game. Their relationship makes a lot more sense in the original.


I get the impression the RE2make was written by a Leon/Claire shipper since they come off like high schoolers who can't hide the fact that they're crushing on each other. Meanwhile Ada is a bit more manipulative and bitchier in the RE2make. In the original she had a more calm and cool attitude, whereas in the RE2make she's a bit more condescending. Now that I remember, they don't even mention her boyfriend John in the remake (I'm guessing they thought it was a too obscure reference to the first game), she just poses as an FBI agent investigating the G-Virus when she meets Leon.

ryu wrote:
Yeah remake 2 is solid. I'm only playing it now and enjoying it. Don't know why I was still worried it would go down the way of RE5 when 7 was already really good. I'm only playing on normal, probably not even halfway through and almost constantly out of healing items. The survival horror is real.

However the character models look nothing like the characters they're supposed to represent. So I'm actually using the original models they included as a joke. Claire's high poly model also looks surprisingly ugly - maybe that's because I'm not playing on a pro console?


Nu-Claire looked fine to me and I'm playing on a PlebStation 4 Slim. She has a few derpy expressions here and there, but that seems to be nature of facial capturing. I'm more disappointed her throwback costume doesn't exactly match her actual original costume (she should had been wearing a t-shirt, not a tank top). I can understand why they would go for a different design in a remake, but the throwback costume shouldn't be looking a bit off when the whole point is to make them look as close to the original as possible in modern.

I still haven't gotten around to playing RE7. I've been holding back on playing full game for a bit since I heard the PS VR support is really good.


Last edited by Jonny2x4 on Fri Sep 06, 2019 12:59 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 05, 2019 8:54 pm 


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Sumez wrote:
But does it include the two ingenious Oracle games?


Oracle of Minigames sucks! The other one is ok.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 06, 2019 3:25 am 


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I'm playing this really underrated ARPG for the PS3 called Trinity: Souls of Zill O'll. I never even heard of it until this year, but I'm really enjoying it. Thanks, youtube!


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 06, 2019 7:12 am 


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Jonny2x4 wrote:
I still haven't gotten around to playing RE7. I've been holding back on playing full game for a bit since I heard the PS VR support is really good.


It's a tad blurry, as with anything PSVR, but you'll have forgotten about it within 5 minutes of starting. It's a genuinely jaw-dropping experience.
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 06, 2019 8:59 am 


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Sumez wrote:
But does it include the two ingenious Oracle games?

It does. I enjoyed them quite a bit and found them really solid, but didn‘t think they excelled at anything in particular. I remember liking one of them more than the other, but I forgot which one. What I really appreciated was the extra challenge presented the TLB after playing both games back to back. That was cool.


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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 06, 2019 3:47 pm 


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Re: Re2 Remake

Personally I'm okay with B-Side routes being what they are. It's a missed opportunity, yes...but as a glorified "second loop" with some remixed enemy locations and challenges (you come to appreciate just how different your route and playstyle has to be when going for S-Ranks on Hardcore), I'm glad they put 'em in.

As for the faces, I think they're okay. My biggest complaint (and this is shared with DMC5 which uses the same engine and actor motion cap / modeling style) is that I just wish they went for a more stylizied aesthetic over gritty hyper-realism. It looks fine for the most part (though I admit it occasionally makes me raise an eyebrow), but not something that sparks anything in me.

But as I said before, the gameplay is simply the best out of any horror game I've played. I feel they nailed the perfect balance between adding nuance to the spacing and aiming against enemies while keeping you vulnerable and resource dependent. I played Remake 1 and Remake 2 back to back and I think I can say that even though Remake 1 has unfathomably classic atmosphere and art direction, I overall just enjoyed Remake 2 more by an overwhelming landslide due to the gameplay.


Re: Oracle games

I think I'd describe them as the ultimate logical extreme of the 2d Zelda's. They're huge and long as fuck, have some of the most complex dungeon layouts and puzzles in the series, and have probably the most well designed and "actiony" boss fights in the series. I guess you could say that they errrr closer to the later console format where there's lots of story and puzzles to solve around a dungeon before you actually get to go in, as opposed to Link to The Past and prior where you could more or less dash straight into a dungeon once you knew where it was.

However, I hold the same reason for rarely replaying them that I do the other 2d Zelda's: as good as they are, the combat, pacing, and puzzles aren't exactly the most "hardcore" thing in the world. For example, as fun as the more combat focused bosses in Oracle of Seasons are, it never moves half as fast as say Ys Oath in Felghana or Origin or something like that. I certainly enjoyed them in childhood, but as an adult who wants EXTREEEEME excitement from gameplay or EXTREEEEME feels from story, it's hard to go back.
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2019 3:13 pm 


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EXTREME TL;DR WARNING

I played some DUSK, an old-90’s low-inspired poly-throwback retro-school FPS made on the Unity Engine by one guy with barely any experience making a FPS, and Andrew Hulshult of Quake Champions fame doing the music. The gist of it is that you're some treasure hunter (called The Duskdude/The Intruder?) captured by some crazy cult and hung out to dry on a pair of meathooks, until you wring yourself free and have to go through 33 levels of madness armed with nothing but a pair of sickles and the weapons you find along the way.

EPISODE 0: DUSKY PREMONITION
Spoiler: show
At first glance it's hard to attribute what DUSK is supposed to be a spiritual successor to, as the references and the many sources of inspiration ooze just by looking at it. It's got the blocky visual quality of Quake, the horror-infused art direction and atmosphere of Blood combined with the setting of Redneck Rampage, the simple but fluid movement of Painkiller, the unrestrictive storytelling and campaign progression of Unreal, and weapon archetypes which have been seen in many past shooters. But despite all of this, DUSK does manage to carve out its own identity in this old crowded subgenre of first-person shooters and isn't merely a theme park ride through Nostalgialand; it does some neat things I've barely seen other classic shooters do, but more on that later.

The most striking thing about DUSK is its looks, which... I wouldn't call appealing, but not entirely off-putting either. The visual style aims to resemble the low-poly models of ancient 3D spaces like Quake or many other PS1 games. Enemy models are very crude and blocky, and enemy animations are incredibly stiff. Humanoid figures look deformed and amateurish. Weapon models are very lacking in detail. The barrels on your super shotguns aren't so much round as they're diamond pipes. The geometrical complexity of the terrain and buildings in a level are very basic. Considering that all the graphics in the game were made by one guy with next-to-zero experience in modeling, it kind of makes sense. While this is understandably the style DUSK is going for, it still manages to feel lacking in detail compared to games like Quake or Half-Life or Thief to the point where the style feels more like the result of a lack of skill than an intentional stylistic choice. However, the visual quality does improve as the game progresses.

Thankfully, the game at least remains consistent in its visual QUALITY, so there's nothing in DUSK that looks jarring in terms of looking strangely better (or even worse) than the rest of the game. After a while you'll just get used to it and stop getting put off by the fact how amateurish everything looks, like after watching a 70's anime for long enough. There's some post-processing filters you can slap on like bloom, pixelization, limited colors or whatever to make it look more like a game ran on an old Pentium/an old game ran through a modern sourceport which adds ugly modern visual effects everywhere, but something that bears more mentioning is the readability of the screen. There's no detail clutter or abuse of visual effects that makes it unnecessarily difficult to tell apart foreground items and enemies from the background, instead it achieves the same quality most old games had where you can see item pick-ups a mile away, without having to cheat using colored item outlines or Batman Vision to make up for a cluttered visual style.

Though that's not exactly true. Important items like keys will have a colored glowing aura to them which decreases in intensity the closer you get to them, so they stand out from a distance, but up close the effect is diminished because it'd be redundant otherwise. Visual cues like these are helpful, but more importantly they're not used as a crutch. Sadly this glow doesn't apply to weapon pickups, so it can happen time to time that you'll miss a distant weapon pick-up. At the same time, some enemies also have a different type of colored aura around them to make them stand out from the background more and even in badly lit environments.

Despite the visual quality, DUSK does manage to succeed at establishing its horror atmosphere through effective use of color, lighting, and also very excellent sound design. E2M4, The Infernal Machine, begins by breaking your flashlight after falling too hard, and then has you crawl through a badly lit crawlspace while you're practically deafened by the oppressive reverberating sounds of industrial machinery all around you, to simulate crawling through the guts of a massive grotesque machine. E1M3, Old Time Religion really nails that mysterious backwoods atmosphere with the sounds of crows flying away, the dusky red skybox, and the soundtrack setting up some excellent ambience which intensifies the deeper you get into the level.

The same can't always be said for the level architecture, especially the levels of Episode 1, which tend to fall on the more unappealing simplistic side. You'll get plain rectangular undetailed hallways with no geometrical variation, flat ceilings with a single texture, and sometimes even all four surfaces of a corridor sharing the same texture, which can't be described as anything but lazy. That is not to say the whole game looks like that, in fact you can see the level designer improving over time, where Episode 1 often looks simplistic and crude architecturally, Episode 2 grows more bold with increasingly vertical levels and abandoning common sense for its architecture, and Episode 3 manages to be consistently unique on this front by regularly avoiding the aforementioned pitfalls. It also helps that Episode 3's theme is more of an abstract interdimensional clusterfuck not representative of reality at all, which suits the crude low-poly visual style better.

The soundtrack isn't something I'd listen to on its own, as it primarily sets out to suit the game as background music. However, as background music it is excellent. The score is dynamic, where the music will change if you reach certain points of the level in order to suit the level, intensifying during heavy combat encounters and mellowing out during moments of quiet, which helps in making individual moments in levels stand out more by accompanying them with their own shifts in music.

DUSK's story has been a particular feature of interest to me, especially in the context of retro shooters. As far as the actual story goes, there isn't much of a story to begin with in DUSK, as is expected from this style of FPS. What little story there is is conveyed in greater portions through the text crawls at the end of the episodes as seen in many other 90's shooters, but most of the time you have to figure the story out for yourself based on your surroundings, cryptic messages on the wall scrawled with blood, and the voice inside your head, which belongs to the leader of the cult telepathically communicating with you.

Thankfully, the magic voice is used sparingly and rarely utters anything longer than one line. It has the decency to only give you a Skype call when you either aren't fighting something or right as an encounter begins or ends, but never during the heat of battle. Because God knows I don't have enough spare attention left to listen to deepest lore while I'm fighting for my life. Similarly you won't find massive loredumps scribbled on the walls, as the messages are rarely any longer than six words. The mental dialogue is just short enough to suit the pacing of this type of game.

Up until Episode 3 (when the game goes full abstract mode) most of the locations you visit have a tangible and sometimes decipherable purpose in the game's setting. It's not all just for show or being crazy for the sake of being crazy. In E1M5 when you enter the mine you can see a cart with two mysterious green crystals on top, which are called Crystals of Madness, which when thrown causes enemies to infight. Later on in E3M1 you will see a whole altar filled with these crystals. In E2M4 you will stumble upon a massive machine where even the enemies are shredded to guts so their blood can be processed elsewhere, and at the end of E2M8 you will trigger a machine to operate something which needs HUGE GUTS delivered via a pipeline running throughout the entire level, which continues running through E2M9 and E2M10 as well to fuel... something. Coincidence?

And it's not just spooky voices, messages on the wall and environments with which you can tell a story. The progression of your journey through the game is also a greatly underrated factor. The feeling of starting upon something (relatively) down to earth and then experiencing how it slowly unfolds into batshit madness is certainly how I'd describe the start to end progression in DUSK, as enemy designs become more nonsensical and levels less adherent to reality as we know it. Not just in terms of visuals is that progression felt, but gameplay as well. The first episode plays out fairly standard in the context of most retro shooters whereas the third is loaded with all sorts of out-there gimmicks.

And it all manages to work because the tone of the game suits the grotesque and suspenseful nature of most levels very well. It takes largely after Blood's dark humor, but is surprisingly serious and straightforward about the madness inside much like Quake, yet self-aware enough to not turn out straight up edgy in the process. Your player character doesn't have a voice actor and doesn't spew out one-liners every time you gib an enemy, which actually lends itself well to the intended atmosphere of the game. DUSK allows some room for tomfoolery, but it doesn't exactly set out to be a power fantasy. During scripted moments (like a boss appearing or dying) your player character will quip an one-liner which just shows up on your HUD as text, and rarely are they inappropriate for the situation.

One thing that should be pointed out is just how well DUSK nails the basic movement and overall handling of the weapons. There's nothing like deceleration on jump/landing or changing strafe directions to halt your momentum in the middle of a gunfight. Your speed can be further increased with bunnyhopping, which is more Painkiller-style bunnyhopping than Quake-style, as you only need to move diagonally while jumping repeatedly to gain more speed, without the need of subtle mouse shifting to control your direction and speed like in Quake. It's a definitely more simplified method of input which doesn't allow for as much finesse in control, but I find it more suitable for a singleplayer game where you're facing off against several enemies at a time and don't want to divert your aim to focus on your bunnyhopping; instead you can bunnyhop in any diagonal direction while tracking the enemy. DUSK also gives you huge amounts of air control. As an example: you can initiate a jump forwards, then hold backwards the moment you're lifted off the ground, and when you land you'll end up even further back from your starting position. This degree of air control is especially necessary for the mid-air evasion of projectiles and being able to traverse the more vertical structures in DUSK using the jump pads.

There is no falling damage to make you take damage because realism, which allows DUSK to go nuts with jump pads and other tall structures without having to worry about the player breaking their bones. Underwater swimming controls feel very intuitive since you move as underwater as you do on the ground, just with no gravity. The standard controls are a bit strange because the move/swim up/down buttons have you move up and down along an absolute direction instead of one relative to your current viewpoint, meaning that if you have Vertical Flipping enabled so your vertical axis isn't locked when you're swimming or high up in the air (enabling you to do sick flips) and if you are swimming upside down, Move Up will move you to your bottom and Move Down will do the opposite. Thankfully the options also allow you to enable 6DoF controls to make all movement relative to your perspective rather than absolute to the world. If you want underwater controls without weird flipping shit, you can opt for Standard controls and disable Vertical Flipping so you move and aim around more like a box as seen in Duke Nukem 3D and Quake, though you can't aim all the way up that way.

The collision detection with the terrain is very well done and ensures you won't get stuck on anything other than stray physics objects. Trees are solid objects, and you can even jump from treetops to treetops. Invisible walls are very sparse, and it's easy to move around the terrain without suddenly getting halted by some weird piece of terrain. The steepness of the terrain you can climb is a bit ridiculous and would make Todd Howard jealous. Here I accidentally fall down a crevice, but somehow manage to hold onto a wall that's 99% steep, and practically walljump myself to safety. I sure am not complaining. Thankfully the levels aren't designed in such a way where you can easily abuse the terrain to get to points in the level where you shouldn't be yet (speedrunners might disagree).

This also extends to the feel of weapon handling. Weapon switching is practically instantaneous. When switching weapons, you don't have to wait until your newly selected weapon's unholstering animation finishes before you can fire it. The exact frame when your current weapon is done refiring and the crosshair switches styles to indicate you have switched to a different weapon, you can fire your new weapon, which is less time spent waiting on fancy animations to finish. It strikes a nice balance between form and function, where Quake did have instant weapon switching but unceremoniously just made your weapon viewmodels appear without any unholstering animations when switching weapons, whereas in DUSK it's the same but the unholstering animations it has are cancelable. Some fluff doesn't hurt if it doesn't get in the way at all. Weapon viewmodels also slightly sway to the left if you are moving left and vice versa to add to that feeling of momentum. The only downside is the jerky reset of the weapon viewmodel position when landing on the ground from a jump, where the weapon viewmodel just instantly snaps back to the original position after you land, which looks unnatural.

On top of the basic FPS movement, you also have the ability to slide; giving you a slight burst of speed in any of the eight cardinal directions while placing your hitbox closer to the ground, but it slightly kills your momentum afterwards so it is not to be used for maintaining speed. Instead it is used for quickly dodging incoming projectiles. One absolutely neat feature of the slide is that it lets you slide under projectiles, which when timed properly allows you to close in on an enemy about to fire at you, slide under its attack, and then blast its face off up close with your super shotgun. It feels incredibly rewarding to pull off a risky move like that. Normally projectiles in shooters are avoided through sidestepping, but having to factor in projectile elevation in your dodging by having to jump over/slide under projectiles is something most haven't explored.

In terms of difficulty, DUSK ranks pretty low compared to most retro shooters. The hardest 'regular' difficulty setting, Cero Miedo, will even warn you before entering that it's not recommended for newbies, but this is a brazen underestimation. Health kits and ammo are ever-present, and things don't really start getting hairy until Episode 2. If you assume that most players would savescum their way through, then they've got nothing to fear. Of course, then there's DUSKMARE difficulty.

One aspect DUSK can boast about over all other retro shooters is that you can finish the game on the highest difficulty without taking a single hit. Yes, you can technically beat games like Doom or Blood without taking a single hit (good luck), though the universal presence of hitscan enemies and other types of chaotic attacks make this very difficult to do in practice. Of course, almost nobody does this because the designers never designed retro shooters around being no damage-able, else they wouldn't have scattered medkits around everywhere or put in hitscanners with a random chance to hit you depending on several factors. They're designed around attrition and the idea that some damage is inevitable. But one thing that makes DUSK stands out from its peers is that there's completely zero hitscan. Every attack is either projectile-based or melee-based. Everything is fully dodgeable, and you can see everything coming.

Overall there's very little bullshit in DUSK to begin with. Some dickassery and trial 'n error was simply par for the course in 90's PC gaming. But here you won't find yourself reloading your saves from a swarm of hitscan enemies teleporting in, or triggering some environmental trap, or some other kind of trap there's no way you could have seen coming. The no-hitscan rule makes every attack reactable, and is what makes DUSKMARE difficulty actually doable. In DUSKMARE difficulty, you die in a single hit of any attack. From fireballs to shotgun pellets, and even Rats nibbling a teeny bit off your pinky toe. Thankfully this does not extend to damage taken from environmental hazards or splash damage from explosives, so it's lenient enough in that regard so you don't die to getting a secret which pretty much requires you to step on lava, or to splash damage from an explosive projectile you have dodged but ended up exploding on the wall right behind you. At first glance it seems obvious enough to everyone that DUSKMARE is just a bonus mode like Nightmare difficulty in Doom or Damn I'm Good difficulty in Duke Nukem 3D, where enemies would respawn after death and just facilitated an entirely different playstyle, but here I believe DUSKMARE isn't some wacky challenge mode and that DUSK is really best played on DUSKMARE.

For starters, every other difficulty is too damn easy. If you finished the game on Cero Miedo and rightfully found it too easy--don't stop playing there. Pick the difficulty setting whose font is covered in blood and gore. It will make a world of difference. DUSKMARE is pretty much Cero Miedo + die in one hit. Now if you introduce a difficulty setting where you die in one hit, it normally doesn't require a change of playstyle so you can usually go about spamming the dodge button like you normally would, only there's less of a tolerance for mistakes. Thankfully avoiding things in DUSK doesn't come down to just pressing a dodge button at the right time. Because everything kills you in one hit now, enemies who can fire super-fast spreads of projectiles now become much more threatening and practically require you to slide in order to consistently avoid them. Enemies which spew bullets in random directions become a much more terrifying presence where an unlucky roll of the dice and inattentiveness can send one of the hundred bullets spewed per second flying your way, and even tiny Rats can kill you in one hit with their bites, elevating them from a joke enemy to an actual menace. DUSKMARE actually requires you to get good at dodging projectiles and being able to dodge them consistently, no longer can you just tank them or rely on medkits to pull you through. You are given the means to evade all incoming fire, and the game is largely fair enough so you can beat it without taking a single hit.

Another extension to that is Intruder Mode. Intruder Mode is an optional setting you can enable for any difficulty setting so you start off each level with nothing but your Sickles. Instead of starting off each level with full gear and maximum ammo for your rocket launcher, you first have to find all the weapons and ammo for them before you can start creating some carnage. DUSK already has a problem with ammo being too plentiful in its levels, so taking away all your ammo at the start of each level helps to prevent you from powering through everything immediately. Each level is designed to be beaten in Intruder Mode, which the levels take into account by placing a bare minimum of weapon and ammo pick-ups where necessary. Playing on Intruder Mode also helps maintain the intended pacing and progression of a level. Levels where you start off with nothing but a weak pistol and have you fighting enemies in dark enclosed spaces don't work as well when you can take out your rocket launcher or super shotgun and blast through everything before it gets to you.

It's very much like how each level in Doom is designed around pistol starts, except this time it's not a hidden bit of trivia you'll only hear about in message boards, but an actual modifier in the main menu, making it appear much more 'legitimate'. After all, if a game offers a challenge mode as an option, the devs wouldn't put it there if it wasn't beatable (on paper at least). The only weird part about Intruder Mode is that your health and armor do carry over between levels, even though the whole idea behind Intruder Mode is to start off fresh. The game doesn't even offer the courtesy of resetting your health back to 100 after entering a new level when your HP is under 100, so good luck if you happen to start a level with only 5 HP because of all the damage you took last level. Regardless of difficulty setting, I find that DUSK is best played with Intruder Mode enabled to prevent the player from drowning in ammo or making parts of some levels much easier than intended.

Therein also lies some of the drawbacks of the existence of both Intruder Mode and DUSKMARE. Because the game has to accommodate both being able to beat a level without taking damage and starting off a level with only your sickles, players who play on anything but DUSKMARE + Intruder Mode will find themselves swamped with ammo and find that enemies are lacking in aggression in relation to the punishment you can take, as the healing items scattered around the level combined with the ease with which you can avoid incoming projectiles allow you to mitigate most incoming damage, giving the game the impression that it's too easy.

For some reason, secret areas in levels will contain ammo for weapons which might not even be present in the same level, making the spoils completely useless if you're playing on Intruder Mode, and making finding secrets feel potentially less rewarding. In DUSKMARE health items are largely pointless since everything kills you in one hit anyways, except environmental damage. But because you're playing under the assumption that you aren't taking any damage in combat, you'll have a large enough margin to soak up environmental damage from all those Hallowed Health pickups you weren't going to be using for anything else anyways. I think it would have made more sense to multiply all damage taken by a large factor like, 2.0x, in order to compensate for your surplus of health. The only thing you need bonus health/armor for in DUSKMARE is to be able to use the special functions of The Sword, but then the opportunities for taking splash damage or environmental damage aren't all that common.

Also consider that each level is designed around being able to completed non-lethally as part of a bonus challenge (at the end of each level you can get four medals, one for killing all present enemies and finding all secrets, one for taking no damage at all, one called 'Pacifist' for completing the level without killing a single enemy, and one called 'Low-Tech' for only killing enemies with melee weapons or the crossbow), which also means levels are designed around being able to simply run past most enemies or to use the ability to pick up items and use that object to block incoming projectiles. In fact, objects are incredibly overpowered in DUSK, as thrown items insta-kill most low-tier enemies, making them more powerful and preferable over your sickles. There's also a hidden bar of soap in each level which instakills everything, even bosses (granted, there is at least some skill in using it as grabbing something as tiny as soap is incredibly finicky in-game), but at least that one is so brazenly overpowered that you know you're just cheating if you use it.

The unfortunate side-effect of all these disparate ways to play the game is that if you don't play towards getting some kind of medal using some kind of restriction, the game starts feeling loose, in the same way that games where both a loud and stealthy approach are possible have to make some inevitable compromises to accommodate both whereas a game which focuses on only one of them doesn't need to suffer from such compromises. One guy I saw playing DUSK was immediately put off by it by the second level because he found he could just bunnyhop past all enemies without taking a single hit, giving him the impression that the level design and AI itself were just shit as a whole if he could just run past everything so easily and the game would allow it. The fact that you can run past everything only starts making sense if you realize pacifist runs are a thing, but that's not something the game makes sure you know (nor does it have to, really). But because all of this is possible in the main game, it starts becoming a bit more dubious as to how the game is actually intended to be played.

While I would like to say that the most legit way to play is DUSKMARE + Intruder Mode, No Throwable Items, No Mid-Level Saves, Final Destination because I personally believe it is the most fun way to play the game as it is the one that expects you to git gud the most, there is no real answer to this question. As is usual with these kind of games, everything goes. This means that someone could savescum their way through instakilling everything of note with soap while using their vast reserves ammo on other enemies even if they were playing on DUSKMARE, without even considering whether the way they are playing might be considered cheesy or not, only to conclude afterwards the game is too easy despite there being other options to make things more difficult. If the game normalized the difficulty curve more with its settings so going from Cero Miedo to DUSKMARE doesn't seem like such an impossible leap, then people might be more prone to appreciate the game more if they're more nudged to respect the challenges instead of being able to power through with minimal effort.

On Cero Miedo a basic Wizard's fireball deals only 40 HP damage, even though in the difficulty setting above Cero Miedo they basically deal 500+ HP damage. Ideally difficulty settings should also affect the amount of enemy spawns + enemy types spawned so Cero Miedo can be made more suitably difficult without simple number tweaks only, but in DUSK they sadly only affect damage output/enemy speed/projectile speed. While running past all enemies and never having to kill them is a degenerate strategy which only has a place in survival horror and speedrunning, the fault with that one lies more with the levels being too open and general projectiles not being difficult enough to evade, which in turn has more to do with enemy/level design and can't be tweaked as easily per difficulty setting. Difficulty settings not changing how (or how often) you can quicksave in the game also seems a bit strange, because if the highest difficulty promises to rip out your intestines and turn them into a lampshade, then it would be a bit of an oversight if savescumming on the highest difficulty is still possible.

Lower difficulty settings are there already for those who need it or prefer their experience the mild way, and Cero Miedo ought to do what it says on the tin. There's five difficulty settings already; Cero Miedo can afford to be more brutal.

To go back to challenge runs, the optional challenges to play non-lethally/low-tech/whatever would be better off relegated to their own separate modes with levels designed specifically around those challenges, instead of having levels be designed to make everything work at once to the detriment of the 'default' playstyle. The presence of the Low-Tech medal is probably why there's more Crossbow ammo than you would ever reasonably spend. While the inclusion of Intruder Mode is an interesting one, it is a massive oversight to retain the ammo drops intended to make Intruder Mode playable even if Intruder Mode is disabled, resulting in non-Intruder Mode players having way too much ammo while running into the same problem Doom 1/2 had of levels having too much ammo in the long run because they were balanced around pistol starts. Arguably having Intruder Mode disabled should have lowered the global amount of ammo you find throughout the level so people who don't play on Intruder Mode don't find themselves swamped in ammo.

That's not to say all games should relegate every potential challenge run idea into its own separate mode, but trying to make every playstyle work at once will come with its drawbacks. Even so, people will find a way to make challenge runs work in games whether or not they were officially tested to make it work, regardless of the inhuman patience required.


EPISODE 1: WALLS IN THE EYES OF SILENT HILL
Spoiler: show
That leads us to E1M1, Head Cheese. The first 10-15 seconds will teach you a whole lot, and is probably one of the most effective openings to a FPS I've seen. When the game starts off you pull out your Sickles and find yourself in some dark dungeon, a mysterious voice says "KILL THE INTRUDER", and you're immediately jumped by three chainsaw-wielding Leathernecks coming out of the darkness. Just in those first handful of seconds you can already tell that the tone of the game can be described as "WE DON'T FUCK AROUND". Without being able to even get your bearings or having some obnoxious tutorial shoved in your face you're immediately put in a combat situation where you just have to improvise against these guys with your Sickles.

The Sickles are useful for stunlocking enemies, but most of the time you're rarely forced to use it. It has the interesting ability of being able to reflect projectiles back if you strike an incoming projectile at the right time, which is especially useful against homing fireballs if you can't outrun them in time. The Pistols are your fallback weapon, which you'll only ever use for shooting things if you don't want to waste ammo for anything better. Though you can pick up a second Pistol to dual-wield Pistols so you don't feel completely gimped when relying on them. On their own dual Pistols aren't that weak either, it's just that later weapons are overall more effective.

However, Leathernecks are a joke. Because they always stop moving before attacking, you can always outrun them as long as there's enough free space. Even so you can just kill them before they get to you as well in most situations. Now, if a Leatherneck is spawned and I can backtrack smoothly without any problem, there's barely any reason for that Leatherneck to be there other than to fill up the dead space in between encounters. I do think the game understands this somewhat as Leathernecks are usually placed in indoor areas, but rarely are they ever utilized effectively where they become a serious threat. The only times Leathernecks are a tangible threat are in this intro since you're locked in and have only your wits and Sickles, the claustrophobic entirety of E1M6, and this bit in E1M9 when you're teleported in a room where the only way out is the way forward, but the way forward is blocked by several Leathernecks, making it a case of killing everything before they can get to you or making real good use of what little space you have. Their AI also has a kind of cooldown between each swing instead of always attacking when you're in melee range despite recovering from their attack animation, which looks more like a technical glitch and provides an unwelcome surprise when they do nothing at all but suddenly swing their chainsaw.

Something to consider is that Leathernecks are basically identical to Pinkies in Doom, down to stopping in their tracks when they move, but the difference is in why Pinkies worked there and why they could pose a threat is how they were utilized. There (and especially in Doom II with the addition of the Super Shotgun allowing you to one-tap them) Pinkies are often used in large groups to create large encroaching walls of meat in enclosed spaces who slowly take away your free space to move around in, and make it less desirable for you to use your rocket launcher so you don't suffer from the splash damage. You'd also get frequently harassed by ranged enemies on elevated positions while having to simultaneously deal with the Pinkies on the ground. In DUSK there's rarely more than a handful of Leathernecks you have to deal with at once, let alone in an enclosed space, or let alone in combination with other enemy types, where Leathernecks could potentially shine more. Instead Leathernecks are often used as a filler enemy to give you something easy to kill inbetween encounters. But for the intro of the game, they work marvelously precisely because you have to deal with three of 'em in a small space.

This intro gives you a good idea of how the Leatherneck enemy type works and that you're expected to move around to avoid attacks in this game, but it also gives you some hands-on experience with how your Sickles work. Alternatively, you might discover while running from the Leathernecks that you can throw items like the two barrels present in the current room (and find that they deal ridiculous damage), or your Gamer Instinct might kick in and recognize that the red gas canister might be EXPLOSIVE and be used against the Leathernecks. Alternatively you might even find the Pistol behind the barrels to retaliate with, which teaches you that secrets in this game are in fact A Thing. While this intro is overwhelming, the game starts you off with 200 HP and 75 Morale whereas normally most levels start you off with 100HP/25AP, just to give you a good amount of leeway for taking damage if it's your first time playing the game. Even if you die right here you won't lose much progress at all, so any deaths at this point are more easily tolerated.

Down the line you'll come across some Lever-Action Shotguns. These can be dual-wielded Marathon style for increased rate of fire (I'll refer to them as single or double Shotguns from here on out). It's useful for dispatching small fry at medium range in one shot like Deers, but largely pales in comparison to the Super Shotgun, a break-action double barreled beaut. It turns all medium-tier enemies to a bloody pulp with a single blast, which should immediately tell everyone that DUSK isn't just a Quake clone if the Super Shotgun can actually kill things in a single blast. Gibbed enemies will simply disappear in a Monolith-esque cloud of blood interspersed with raining giblets leaving arcs of blood in the sky as they fly around. Firing it has a pump 'n dump rhythmical satisfaction to it that's borderline primal, the same way you see the two Double Shotguns twirling right after the other one stops. When you fire the Super Shotgun, the barrels go down, the two ejected shell casings go up, and they go down right as the barrels come up again. Rinse and repeat. Especially neat with the Super Shotgun is that it can take out multiple enemies in a single blast, so with proper positioning you can optimize the amount of enemies you hit per shot to get more boom for your stick. And look, there's some Wizards right there for you to try your shotguns out on.

The basic enemy type you'll face throughout Episode 1 is the Wizard, robed cultists who shoot fireballs from afar. Practically identical to the Imps from Doom. However, their fireballs are rarely ever a threat because of how wide open the levels tend to be. The speed on their projectiles isn't such a big deal as they're consistently avoidable by strafing or bhopping to the side, even at short distances. Moreover, strafing isn't even necessary when you can just slide under their projectiles while moving forwards. And that's the problem I have with Wizards. They're not a real threat, yet they're the most common enemy type.

Imps as an enemy in Doom worked when complemented with hitscanners, because their slow fireballs provided you with a long-term threat that denied you free space on top of having to properly position yourself to avoid getting into the line of sight too long of the hitscan enemies. But in DUSK, there are no hitscanners. Which it doesn't necessarily need either, but there exist almost no enemy types in E1 who do pose a serious threat in the many open fields of E1 to fill up that gap in the enemy roster. There are the Scarecrows (more on them later), but they're not used as often as they should. Considering how a lot of encounters in E1 rely on only the Wizard but end up feeling trivial because dealing with the Wizards themselves is trivial, the Wizards ideally need some kind of buff to pose a noticeable threat and to be able to hit you even if you are circlestrafing at hundred miles an hour. This could have been accomplished by having Wizards fire a series of projectiles in a wide arc like the Death Knights from Quake 1, by having a minor form of projectile leading present so they will aim where you are going instead of directly at you, or by firing wider and/or faster projectiles which require to be slid under. The other option that doesn't require changing how the enemies work is to use Wizards as a companion enemy with stronger enemies, however it doesn't help that all the stronger enemies only start appearing from Episode 2 and 3, leaving Episode 1 on the short end of the stick here.

The Black Philips (or Deers as I just call them) are a bit redundant. They're effectively a reskin of the Wizard but with changed stats like faster movement speed and higher projectile speed, but less HP. The only thing that makes them stand out is their higher projectile speed, which in practice means that you should always be strafing when you're in contact with them (which is the same for most enemies in the game, Deers are just a bit more strict about it) so you don't get hit by their superfast blood spit. It also means you want to keep a minimum distance from them because you often can't move fast enough to dodge their projectiles from point-blank range given how fast the Deer's projectile speed is. Deers do have a higher threat priority than Wizards because of their higher projectile speed, but they don't require much of a different change in tactics or approach that would warrant them being their own enemy type. They're more or less there to make it feel like you're not only fighting Wizards in the early E1 levels.

When you're trying to find your way out of the start of the level, the game is nice enough to display a tooltip that you have a flashlight for illuminating the darkness. When you find the staircase leading up, the game is also thoughtful enough to display a tooltip that you can carry around objects in the game world, right before placing a giant wooden crate in front of the door you have to pass through, immediately providing you with an opportunity to test out your object-holding skills (or just push the crate out of the way instead by just walking forwards). A similar method of teaching is applied to the end of the level which is blocked by a fallen tree, but a tooltip hint will tell you that you have the ability to slide, which you can use to slide under the tree. That one certainly isn't unwelcome since it is easy to overlook the existence of sliding (or be confused by it when hitting the crouch button without knowing what it is) if you didn't sift through the options menu.

Effective introduction aside of several mechanics aside, the rest of the level isn't particularly noteworthy. Enemies like the Wizards and Deers do get introduced and so is the Fast-Fire Totem power-up, but this level feels more like the result of the idea that a fair challenge curve of a game should begin at zero, so you end up with a very short cakewalk level; you will mostly face only one or two basic enemies at a time (until you step outside), and the secret containing the Super Shotgun completely trivializes all of it. Though for an easy starting level being short works in its favor. You can breeze past this one on replays without it bloating its own length with a multitude of absolutely trivial encounters, since it is unwise to go full-on Nightmare with the difficulty at the very beginning of the game to the point where later levels barely feel like a step up in difficulty.

It also has to be said that this level does nail the Texas Chainsaw Massacre atmosphere really well, with the way how the fog and smoke are used to make the basement feel more musty and decrepit, how the textures for the walls of the house you enter make it seem rotten and run down while inside the kitchen is a huge mess because of all blood everywhere from the meat being prepared, and the skybox is gray and depressing. Each room is also architecturally unique to it doesn't look uninspired and repetitive, which I feel is worth mentioning since later levels in this episode progressively skimp more on architectural variety and consistent visual detail.

E1M2, Down on the Farm is the first 'real' level of the game, taking place on a, you guessed it, farm. It's also not a particularly remarkable level, given how most of the combat takes place on wide open fields which makes dodging projectiles effortless and combat encounters consequently not thrilling. Moreover you can also run past most enemies without being forced to engage them because of how open the level is and how spread out the enemies are. The empty space in the level isn't compensated for in enemy numbers either.

This level introduces the Scarecrows, who are the only enemy type present in Episode 1 who demand immediate attention from the player because of their extremely lethal super shotgun. They're the closest thing this game has to a hitscan enemy. They fire four projectiles which are by far the fastest projectiles in the game and also spread out in random directions, making simple lateral strafing not a consistent option to dodge them at all. Instead, you're better off sliding to keep your hitbox low and slide under the pellets. The only unfortunate part about this is that the random deviation on the Scarecrow's shotgun pellet trajectories also extends to its vertical trajectory, meaning that it can also randomly move at a downwards angle, with the consequence that even if you are sliding under a burst of pellets there's still a chance that you will get hit regardless. If anything the random spread could have been only applied to the horizontal deviation of the shotgun pellet trajectories instead of the vertical one, in order to make sliding under them 100% consistent.

I would have liked to see Scarecrows appear more often instead of the basic Wizards because they're a lot more engaging to deal with, making them a better fit for the too flat open areas in most of Episode 1's levels than the basic Wizards. Thankfully Scarecrows as they are aren't placed in such a way to be complete BS, the game never spawns one outside your field of vision and always makes sure there's some good distance between you and a Scarecrow, because trying to dodge a Scarecrow in a very narrow space where there's a difference in height between where both of you are standing would make both sliding and strafing to deal with their shotgun blasts near impossible to do. Though Scarecrow placement doesn't feel on par with Blood's Cultists because Scarecrows get sparsely used in the first place.

Their introduction is also an amusing one. Scarecrows will first appear in an inanimate state like an actual scarecrow, and only come to life when you pass them. Of course, you can't destroy Scarecrows when they're in an inanimate state, so they're often just right there looming over you. The first Scarecrow you encounter at the house is permanently inanimate, so first-time players are more likely to ignore it as a background decoration. Then the second one you encounter at the exit of the corn maze subverts your expectations by suddenly springing to life when you pass it, and you find yourself having to somehow deal with this guy and his massive super shotgun. Then you fight another Scarecrow down the line which is already animate to begin with, and over the tunnel entrance leading towards the exit of the level you have another inanimate Scarecrow looming over the exit, making you think it's going to pop any life any second, yet this one's permanently inanimate anyways.

It's unfortunate that only E1M2 makes real use of inanimate Scarecrows this way, as most Scarecrows you encounter later on will be already animate before you see them. Much like the Gargoyles in Blood, I like the idea of having to move past an inanimate unbreakable enemy which you know might pop to life any second, but doesn't, screwing with the player's expectations. But it can also be used telegraph the exact shape of the rod that will be shoved up your ass if you dare trigger that switch or grab that key, so it gives you a bit of an idea what to expect and prepare for.

There's one pretty obvious secret, where there's a crack in the silo tower wall and a explosive gas canister right next to it. I think it's perfectly suitable to have such an obvious one right in the second level of the game, as it teaches you that cracks in the wall you can blow up are A Thing and probably something you can expect later in the game. While there was one in the previous level, this one is much more obvious about it. Later levels at least (sometimes) make an attempt to make cracks in the wall less obvious to find or to hide the means with which you can blow one up.

You don't have to enter the corn maze, with some on-the-box thinking you can take a nearby wooden box and use it to hop on top of the corn maze and just run over it. Full object manipulation is a bit of an uncommon feature in this style of shooters, so I wouldn't be surprised if some veterans missed this opportunity altogether. This level also features a super secret, where if you find the hidden basketball in one of the other secret areas and shoot it into the hoop hanging from the big house, an area will open which contains nearly every weapon in the game.

I do wish there were more super secrets like these with obscure but logical solutions (the basketball goes in the...). DUSK relies a bit too much on breakable grates which inevitably contain secrets, or cracks in the wall, or hidden walls with misaligned textures you have to interact with. Sometimes secrets are as simple as just looking behind a certain object or looking under a staircase, which are so simple that they rob a bit of the satisfaction from finding secrets, depending on who you ask. With stuff like secret walls and breakables the secret comes more from finding them in the first place. To the game's credit, some of them are indeed very well hidden (usually by placing them somewhere dark), but there are many whose location and solution to finding them isn't hard at all to figure out. At least with goodies which are obviously visible but placed in seemingly unreachable areas or hidden switches which trigger something, there's at least some inherent mystery involved in figuring out how to get to that secret. I don't think that every secret needs to be super secret-levels of obscure, if anything it's fine to have some more obvious secrets mixed with well hidden ones so there's at least some reward if you don't have the Perception stat maxed out. But when I look at a crack in the wall or a breakable grate in plain sight I think that's just too on the nose because of how often you have seen it already.

To go back to my earlier point, DUSK barely utilizes object manipulation for its secrets at all, which is rather disappointing. The basketball super secret shows a glimpse of potential of what kind of secrets you could pull off by being able to move objects. I don't wish for DUSK to have HL2-style environmental physics puzzles, DUSK isn't that type of game at all to begin with, but for secrets only it would have been neat for there to be more environmental interaction using objects since it could allow for more creative secrets like this one which break the breakable mold and mess with your expectations. If anything, object manipulation is barely featured in Episode 2 and onwards.

E1M2 ends things with a big ol' battle, and even the music is intensifying to tell you it's all business. Unfortunately the actual challenge does not match the increased intensity of the song at all, making it sound like total overkill. When you first approach the woods your way is blocked by a fallen tree, which has the humorous effect of preventing the aggroed Leathernecks from ever reaching you while you can safely pick them off, which seems like a minor oversight. The shape of the woods area is a large bend with most of the enemies sitting past the bend, allowing you to easily pick off enemies one by one while breaking line of sight with the others by staying near the inner part of the bend. Even so the amount of enemies present are only a handful, with the only real threat being the single Scarecrow. A second Scarecrow could have been present here as a logical progression from fighting the lone Scarecrow popping to life from before, but also to suit the music better. Alternatively nothing in the level could be changed and the music would only get a slight bit more tense instead of going full aggressive, because the music should at the very least match what's happening on-screen. It's incredibly jarring when it doesn't.

This battle becomes a double joke when you find the secret Riveter. The Riveter is a rapid-fire rocket launcher whose usage is analogous to the Devastators in Duke Nukem, being the one weapon in your arsenal with the highest DPS, but ammo for it is rare and usually relegated to secrets, so you can't rely on it as your workhorse weapon. It fills the role of the BFG weapon, but unlike your regular BFG where you press a single button to make everything die at once without much effort required, which is boring as it'd be basically a "skip encounter" button, here you actually have to hit enemies to make them explode quickly (before anyone gets upset, I do not consider the BFG in Doom 1/2 to be a trademark boring BFG because of the weird way hitscan beams are fired from your body, which allows you to kill a Cyberdemon with two BFG shots only if you fire them at point blank range, which makes it much more nuanced to use than nuDoom's BFG or AMID EVIL's Aeternum for example where you just fire somewhere and the magic orb will automatically kill everything nearby). It is only a shame that the visual design of the Riveter itself resembles little more than a nondescript gray slab.

So what new perspective can the Riveter offer on this epic final battle? Well, it's basically overkill. The Riveter further trivializes an already trivial encounter. If all these enemies came at you at once then that would be a different story, but because they're placed in such a way where you can only have an active line of sight with only two or three of them at a time it really doesn't warrant such a powerful weapon as the Riveter, even if it's hidden away.

This level also contains a secret exit to the secret level of the first episode: E1MS, The Dim Slough. This level is shit. More precisely, this level is either unfinished, or feels like an early proof of concept test level that was thrown in last minute to fill the position of the secret level for this episode. The reason I'm more inclined to believe that this level was made very early in development is because it has so many amateur mistakes which the rest of the game rarely makes. For example: the level first branches into two paths. To your left there's a whole group of Wizards in the middle of a shallow but wide open flat lake. The problem is that they will huddle together instead of spreading out if you move around the shack that holds the second single shotgun in the level, so the end result is that you can effortlessly run circles around them where their fireballs have absolutely no chance of hitting you as long as you simply keep moving, resulting in an incredibly trivial and meaningless encounter.

From there you can crawl into a sewer pipe and fall into some raw sewage. Underwater there is a secret passage in the wall, except it only leads upwards which is a dead end and overall pointless for you to visit, so why is it even there? To your left in the sewage there is a ladder leading to some yellow doors and another manhole, which only leads to the sewer section part of this level. Yes, not even DUSK can escape the omnipresent grasp of the SEWER LEVELS. And it's about as inspired as you expect, a repetitive highly rectangular environment where the only combat challenge is a single rat behind each corner in the sewers. Only one at a time. At least the entire level isn't a sewer level.

Escape the sewers, and you'll find yourself in the factory(?) of the level. You can kill the dudes upstairs, but your progress will be blocked by a red door, the red key for which is placed at the end of the other branch at the start of the level. That's right, if you were enough of a schmuck to have followed the left branch from the beginning of the level, you're going to have to backtrack aaaall the way back to the other branch, and from the right branch you have the backtrack aaaall the way again to the left branch again where the red key is. What is the point of having branching paths in your level if the main path to complete all the level and find the keys in the correct order requires you to take the 'correct' one, leaving the ones who picked the wrong path to meander aimlessly even though there's nothing encouraging you to take one route over the other? Having Y-shaped levels in terms of progression is kind of a bad idea in general because it enforces large-scale backtracking by design. Backtracking is tolerable to some extent, but only as long as it's kept brief and doesn't go too long without presenting new paths or combat encounters along the way. This level isn't even polite enough to spawn some additional enemies on the way back to keep you a bit engaged on the way back. If the goal here was to create a more non-linear level where the player can take multiple paths through the level, then a more ideal solution would have been to create a level more circular in terms of layout, so you can at least always keep moving forwards regardless of whether you decide to go left or right at first. Hell, being able to unlock some shortcuts between the two branches to save you the time of bhopping around from A to B would have done wonders.

When going down the right branch at the beginning of the level you'll get jumped by three Leathernecks in a straight line. Hold S to backpedal and unload your shotguns into them. No worries at all. After that you have two Wizards at once, one Deer, two Deer, and a Scarecrow with tons of cover to hide behind from him. Again, no worries at all. There's actually another Scarecrow behind the shack which can be a bit tricky to deal with, but only by a little. I feel Scarecrows are just better utilized in spaces without any cover at all, because a single tree is enough to break line of sight with a Scarecrow and get him to stop attacking while you take potshots. Then you get the red key and backtrack all the way back to the other branch. At least nearby the red key there is a jump pad which lets you jump over the fence and save you some time walking. If only there was more of that.

If you found the yellow key inside one of the secret underwater tunnels, then on the way to the sewer sections you have two separate yellow doors to open, both of which contain separate secrets. It's a bit redundant that you can find multiple secrets using the same solution (find the secret yellow key and a yellow door to use it on), especially since these yellow doors are right next to each other. The yellow doors are already dead giveaway secrets anyways because they're placed right on the main path. If you found the secret yellow key then you don't even have to look for them. It's not much of a secret if it's not really hidden. One of the yellow secrets also contains a reaaaaaaaally long tunnel which leads... to some Morale and four rivets. And because this tunnel is completely linear, you have to go backtrack the exact way you came in. Just why? Why does it need to be that long? Nothing is gained from stringing me along such a long corridor other than tiring my patience. Having a high movement speed is not an excuse for stretched out levels.

Inside the factory you can grab the blue key, except there's also an high-up overhang where a Scarecrow is standing guard and will shoot you if you make a grab for the blue key. But because the overlook is hanging over the entrance to this room instead of being on the other side where you can't get under it because of the machinery, it's very easy to cheese the Scarecrow's line of sight by moving under the overhang and quickly taking potshots. Then after grabbing the blue key you backtrack some more because the main path has you go back to the start of the level where there's a blue trap door leading to the end of the level. Just... why? Having a trapdoor outlined with blue in the middle of a grassfield already looks tremendously out of place to begin with, but now you have to backtrack along the same route again when you grabbed the red key. Again without extra enemies spawning in. The whole backtracking-fueled route throughout this level feels more like the result of trying to make an unfinished level playable more than anything.

That brings us to E1M3, Old Time Religion. There's a run-down church right in the middle of the field which is locked by a yellow key, which in turn can be found in the very close nearby graveyard. This colored gate/key placement is basically redundant, since both key and gate are not too far away from each other, nor is the yellow key hiding an enemy encounter that's triggered when you pick it up. The intent here must have been to have you go to the right after starting the level so you can pick up the pistols and the yellow key in the graveyard, though a more compact and less redundant approach would have been to omit the yellow key/gate placement entirely and have the player start the level in the graveyard area instead. The usefulness of colored keys is providing the player a sense of direction through a non-linear level ("To open this yellow door I have to find a yellow key first by exploring around, and after finding the yellow key I know where to go next"), but for such a small distance having to use a colored key-gate is overkill.

Another way of entering the church is to grab a box, put it under one of the church windows, break the windows, and enter the church that way without having to pick up the yellow key. On-the-box thinking 101. In fact, you can do the same thing to hop over the red fence without ever having to pick up the red key. These aren't really considered secrets, but I like the fact that you can do stuff like this in DUSK if you're creative (as dead simple as it sounds). Instead of secrets always containing additional health or ammo, some actually give you alternate paths through levels, allowing you to skip some parts of the level or teleporting you to alternative vantage points where you can take out enemies more easily. In this level there's actually a secret which contains a secret second blue key for the final colored keygate in the level, allowing you to skip some of the encounters in the level, even though you 'officially' get the blue key later on.

While it's one thing for a secret to give you a different vantage point for initiating encounter, it's another for the secret to let you skip the entire encounter. You'd essentially get rewarded with less content, which is total overkill since you'd probably want to play DUSK to shoot things, not skip the things to shoot outright. In any case, it's helpful to have the blue key secret be accessible after doing the red gate skip, because otherwise after grabbing the red key you'd have to backtrack along the way you came in again, which involves swimming through an underwater tunnel with nothing in it for about 10-15 seconds which honestly could have been made much shorter. I wouldn't be surprised if the blue key secret was placed solely so you wouldn't have to backtrack as much when doing the red gate skip, in which case making the red gate skip possible isn't really worth it.

The official route has you enter the church and tumble through a one-way twisting underground tunnel which goes down down down. This leads you to the catacombs where you can get your hands officially for the first time on the Assault Rifle, to which the game happily offers you a chance to try it out by having a horde of Rats swarm in the moment you pick up the AR, which is an actually scary moment on DUSKMARE with Rat bits being a one-hit kill and the amount of space you can backpedal in here being limited, so there's an actual time constraint present here to force you to kill the Rats as quickly as possible. I sincerely appreciate the game forcing you into a certain kind of situation when you pick up a new weapon, as a means to give the player an idea of what kind of situation that weapon should be used for.

The Assault Rifle is useful for wiping out all low-tier enemies in quick succession. It's got a big erratic muzzle flash when fired that oozes power, but is transparent enough so it doesn't become an eyesore. Empty bullet casings swerve around your view depending on the direction you're moving to further add to your sense of speed when firing while moving, since speed is more clearly emphasized when objects are flying past you. The only thing I do not understand is why the Assault Rifle (and the Pistols) have a random weapon spread instead of just being 100% accurate, as I do not understand what purpose the random weapon spreads serves other than making sniping weak enemies from long-range arbitrarily harder. Most enemies in DUSK aren't that tanky to the point where being forced to control your rate of fire makes a significant amount of difference in the time to kill them.

Unfortunately the Double Shotguns are rendered redundant by the Assault Rifle. While the Super Shotgun is primarily used for high damage at close range with a slow rate of fire, the AR and Double Shotguns both excel at wiping out low-tier targets, except the AR ekes out a bit more in terms of DPS and overall versatility. It takes two Double Shotgun shots and four AR shots to kill a wizard, and half of both values to kill a common soldier. But the AR has a faster fire rate and lets you be a bit more lenient with missing the enemy because of it, ammo for the AR usually isn't rare, and the AR has a much larger effective range than the Double Shotguns. When it comes to wiping out large amounts of soldiers at medium-range the Double Shotguns are still an attractive and viable option, but overall the AR just has more versatility on top of its own separate ammo pool so you don't have less shells to spend for your Super Shotgun.

After finding the red key and going through the red gate the way you're supposed to, you can try out using the red key on the other red door from the larger building in the corner of the map. Instead it causes the ground to break below you and send you falling a hundred feet into a room where you're surrounded by several Wizards, all of which are positioned higher up instead of on the ground. I do like sudden sticky situations like these because they force you to adapt to a sudden new situation with no clear way out other than to fight your way out, while the fall to the bottom gives you some time to process what's happening and mentally prepare yourself, as being suddenly teleported into this room would give you very little time to assess the situation and prepare yourself.

After that you find a jump pad which sends you flying up all the way inside the building you just tried to enter, except now you're stuck in another crowded unknown place surrounded by three Leathernecks, and the room you're in has a giant hole in the middle (from which you just entered) which makes running from them considerably more tricky without falling back into the whole. I guess we can learn from this that scattering a combat area with obstacles and environmental hazards can also make fighting Leathernecks more engaging since you have to worry more about where you can move away from the Leathernecks, though I haven't seen later levels really take this approach to Leatherneck combat.

However, this encounter is completely broken when you jump on top of the forklift, since the Leatherneck AI isn't equipped to deal with the player being in line of sight but out of reach of their melee attack, so they'll just aimlessly run around waiting to be killed. If Leathernecks could jump or if the AI could handle variation in level geometry height this wouldn't be as much of a problem, but the obvious alternative is to not design levels in a way the AI is not equipped to handle.

Much like the previous Wizard encounter where you had to flip a switch to unlock the passages to the next part of the level, this encounter requires that you pick up the blue key before you can exit through the blue door of the building. The effect of suddenly thrusting the player into a seemingly locked room filled with enemies is that the player is much more inclined to fight instead of flight. Else some players might end up just running away behind a corner/door so they can bottleneck all enemies to take them out one by one as part of a degenerate strategy which doesn't allow the enemies or level design to play to their strengths, or alternatively the player might end up preemptively triggering another encounter after running away from the previous one while not even having dealt with the previous one yet, resulting in the player unintentionally overwhelming themselves.

Step outside and the small brick house with no windows or doors at all opens up to reveal three Scarecrows. Neat. The outdoors area of the level is pretty open, so enemies like Scarecrows are a good fit to pose an actual threat to you. Inside the brick house there is a crack in the ground which lets you fall straight towards the catacombs within two seconds instead of having to go through the long-ass underwater passage or the twisting downwards dig of the church again, which saves some backtracking time. At the bottom there's also some extra enemies coming out of the wall to give you an idea that you're on the right track towards the blue door. After E1MS having a level with actual shortcuts and pointers to the main path feels like a breath of fresh air.

After the blue door you'll get to face the first boss in the game. The bosses in this game... they're not good, but at least they're not offensively bad in that they're also very easy. It's mostly just bulletsponges you shoot until they die, and all of the boss fights tend to be easily cheesable. What you get here is called Intoxigator, a giant alligator that shoots a spread of projectiles at you and has a lot of health. In practice, you just slowly walk around one of the pillars in the arena taking potshots at the Intoxigator and then break line of sight as he's about to fire. Rinse and repeat and he's dead. He's basically a Scarecrow with a lot more HP. In fact, not having anything to break line of sight and having the Intoxigator fire his spread from a higher elevation so you could reliably slide under his projectiles would go some way to make this fight less repetitive by virtue of the boss being able to pose an actual threat when you can't keep breaking line of sight.

E1M4, Steamworks is a bit of a short interlude level taking place in an underground pipe maze. I do dig it, because this is the level where the Super Shotgun gets officially introduced and makes a memorable first impression with the level letting you fully go to town with it. Picking it up triggers enemy closets where you're surrounded by Wizards, and each side of Wizards is conveniently grouped together so you're more likely to learn about the SS's ability to gib multiple Wizards in one blast. If that doesn't do it, then the following narrow corridor filled with Wizards will. Some rooms later you'll come across a Fast-Fire Totem and a large group of fodder to match, which really lets you go all-out.

One complaint I have with this level is that the encounter with the two Scarecrows is a so-called "Door Problem", where you enter a room or turn a corner and see some enemies inside, and after assessing the risks you decide it's safer to just hang back and take potshots. You don't have enough time to get a feel for the layout of the room ahead because of the enemies present making it too dangerous to be in their line of sight for too long, and you know that everything behind you is safe, so naturally retreat is the wisest option. You could suicidally charge forwards into the unknown, but that's, again, suicidal. What then follows is that the most optimal way to proceed with the least amount of risk to yourself is to either take potshots around the corner, or bottleneck the enemies near the door entrance/corner where only one or two enemies can have a clear line of sight on you, allowing you to avoid an otherwise harder encounter where you'd have to deal with multiple enemies at once coming at you from multiple directions.

This is a problem because it leads to a boring and sedentary playstyle where you have to wait for enemies to come to you and where you take as little risk as possible. The other problem is that allowing the door problem to persist causes enemy encounters to feel homogenized. The combat space layout, enemy placement and item placement for creating a compelling encounter are effectively rendered void when you can sidestep it all by having the enemies leave their positions and move towards you and letting themselves get bottlenecked. None of the aforementioned factors of level design matter when you can apply the same solution to each encounter.

This can be solved by giving the player an incentive to actually push forwards and be more willing to take risks. One thing that can be done is leashing the enemy AI and prevent them from moving beyond the platform they're standing on so they can't move towards you; you have to move out of cover to get them. Another is to place more cover in the combat space to give the player a foothold in the combat space by reducing the amount of potential lines of sight on the enemy. Or you can use item pick-ups like power-ups or medkits to encourage the player to push forwards, or only spawning in enemies/hiding enemies outside the player's line of sight after the player has entered and observed the room, or softlocking the player into the room to prevent them from escaping. Each method has its drawbacks and relying too much on one will make levels predictable (see: arena progression in DOOM 2016), so it's a good practice to vary up these tricks to throw the player off guard.

For those who are interested about the door problem in greater detail, this blogpost by Andrew Yoder is an excellent read that explains its ins and outs.

A much more flexible alternative would have been to introduce an enemy type which adds an element of time pressure, or in practical terms, an enemy you want to kill as soon as possible because the threat it poses increases the longer said enemy is active. The Archvile and Pain Elemental of Doom 2 are great examples of this. They're both highly dangerous enemies which you immediately want to prioritize because the Archvile has a highly damaging hitscan attack that impedes your movement by forcing you to break line of sight, and it will also resurrect fallen enemies when it's not attacking you, giving you more monsters to deal with the longer you let it live. The Pain Elemental is very liable to spawning additional Lost Souls (because of infighting) when not immediately dealt with, giving you more Lost Souls to deal with later on. Both enemies can tank quite some damage, which requires commitment in terms of weapon selection and player attention to bring them down, as opposed to them having very low HP which allows you to quickly deal with them before they can even begin to pose an actual threat. Depending on the encounter design, if you try to apply the same safe sedentary playstyle against these enemies, you're setting yourself up to get fucked over in the long-term.

Arguably chaser melee enemies like the Leathernecks fall under the category of enemies who put time pressure on you, but because in practice they're so often easily separated from other enemies because they mindlessly run after you and because they're so easily dealt with a single Super Shotgun blast, the actual perceived threat they pose is often minimal. Another enemy type in Episode 3 also fits the bill, but that one will be covered later on. While I won't fault DUSK for not having a particular enemy archetype its levels were never designed around, such an enemy could have posed a fitting solution to the prevalence of the door problem.

This level has a triple secret where one secret holds a secret that holds a secret. I do think that in this case it's very much on the nose because all three of them are secret misaligned-texture wall secrets. If you find one, you'll especially be on the lookout for other similar secrets in the nearby future (I wonder what's in this dead-end hallway that leads to nowhere...).
The third secret contains the Riveter which is kind of OP for this level as by this point in the level the level of remaining resistance does not call for a Riveter at all (about two Leathernecks and five Wizards) as your SS would be perfectly adequate for the situation. OTOH outside of IM you might take it as a secret Riveter that's sooner meant to be used in future levels, but that might be one of those IM/non-IM disparities where something intended for one mode doesn't make much sense for the other.

There isn't much to say about this level. The way it introduced the Super Shotgun was great, and the tight nature of the space you can move in makes even the regular Wizard and Leathernecks encounters more engaging. The basic bitch-ass texturing and repetition of the brickwork texture (especially in the secret areas) combined with the rectangular level geometry and uneven level of detail for each room still makes the level look incredibly amateurish. The finale is also wholly underwhelming. Overall, a forgettable level.

E1M5, Sawdust, is the first level in the game that's actually non-linear because of its circular design, giving you more options for deciding how to tackle the level. Instead of facing a whole sawmill filled with enemies to your right with only your Pistol, you can instead go to the abandoned train to your left to find some stronger weapons first where the resistance is much weaker (of course, this isn't a consideration as worth making on IM...). I wouldn't say the level as a whole makes strong use of its non-linearity, as it can be used to skip some encounters altogether like the woods filled with Scarecrows or the canyon fight, without placing keys in such a way to force the player to traverse through all main paths of the level. As an example that DUSK doesn't get non-linearity completely wrong, the red key in this level is placed in the center of the sawmill that's surrounded with enemies, which you will inevitably have to fight to get to it, and the yellow key in the mines is also placed in the middle of a group of enemies. Meanwhile after getting the red key you can instead go to the left alongside the bridge instead to the right where all the Scarecrows are, saving you from having to deal with those bastards. I don't think non-linearity in levels for games like these should be used as a means to skip encounters, else what's the point in putting those enemy encounters there not everyone is going to face?

There's a canyon to the left of the bridge which holds a Super Shotgun plus Hallowed Health, and a Fast-Fire Totem not too far away from it. Picking up either causes a separate group of enemies to teleport in. The weird part is that this fight is completely optional, and yields no valuable rewards to use for the remainder of the level (you can find the Super Shotgun in there, but so can you find one near the level exit without needing any keys or having to deal with enemies spawning in). This canyon is not even on the main path. It doesn't even gate you in when triggering the encounter (you can escape using the jump pad at any time), nor does it trigger as soon as you land in the canyon. nor does it even hide any secrets. This existence of this encounter is just mindboggling since there's not much of a reason you'd ever want to bother with it unless you're doing a completionist run. It would have been a fitting final encounter for the level, but I guess it must've got displaced from the level exit by a few units by accident.

Anyways, this level is the first to give you the Hunting Rifle, which you find inside the sawmill watchtower. The Hunting Rifle is your preferred long-range weapon, being a slow-firing single-shot hitscan weapon which can zoom in pretty far and can kill most high-tier enemies within two shots. One interesting thing I like to point out is that you feel more naturally inclined to use the Hunting Rifle when possible, because of the low maximum ammo capacity and the high ammo yield per hunting rifle ammo box, so you don't end up falling into the common trap of hoarding powerful items for a hypothetical situations later on where you could potentially make better use of that ammo, only to end the game with maxed out unused stacks. But here if you have an ammo type maxed out early on because of the low maximum ammo count and see a good amount of ammo items lying around for that weapon, it's not using that weapon what starts feeling wasteful, since each ammo pick-up fills up a third of your maximum Hunting Rifle round capacity (5 shots for a maximum of 15). If rifle cartridges were only findable one by one, then you'd be more inclined to be more frugal with them since you are only being drip fed ammo, as opposed to always getting 5 rounds at once. The low maximum ammo capacity also means that there's less of a point to hoarding ammo for some potential big future encounter that may warrant the HR more (as with the Riveter), so you don't need to feel as bad about spending some Hunting Rifle right now.

You're immediately given the opportunity to test out your new toy by spawning some enemies a safe distance below you. In fact, the Scarecrow woods area to the right of the sawmill is great for teaching you that the HR is incredibly effective against Scarecrows. Two shots and they're out, and you can shoot them from very long ranges without having to deal with their super fast shotgun pellets up close.

Inside the building to the level exit there is a switch, which when triggered makes the ground beneath you disappear and have you suddenly face two Forkmaidens for the first time in a very constrained space. It makes for a good OH SHIT moment and memorable introduction of the Forkmaiden, and since they're really just reskinned Wizards it's not too difficult to get them to infight each other or to slide out of the way.

It's another mediocre level. The open outdoors nature of this level involves a lot of dead space between the points of interest and could have been downscaled to reduce the amount of walking required. The placement of the canyon encounter is highly questionable and so is the fact that you can escape from it using a jump pad at any time even after the enemy spawners have been triggered. Placing the Super Shotgun near the level exit which you can grab uncontested when sickle starting the level because of the level's non-linear nature involves a lot more backtracking than really necessary, since if the risk of getting to the Super Shotgun is so scant, it may have as well been placed near the start of the level to reduce the time spent walking and backtracking to get to it. Combat-wise most encounters are neutered by the lack of movement restrictions put on by the level, so sniping and running circles save the day yet again.

The Forkmaiden duo at the level exit also neatly ties in with E1M6, The Cutty Mine, which may as well be called The Forkmaiden Level.

The Forkmaiden is basically a bulletspongier Wizard reskin. That might seem lazy in terms of combat design, but even bulletsponges have their purpose (like the Hell Knights and Baron of Hell in Doom), and their role shines best in this level. It's an incredibly claustrophobic level with very little space to move around in, and claustrophobic environments where you can't circlestrafe endlessly around enemies is exactly where a bulletsponge can shine. Because you can't kill them in one shot with any of your weapons before they fire at least one projectile at you (unless you brought your Riveter from an earlier level which allows you to quickscope them in two hits anyways) and your ability to strafe around their straight projectiles is hampered by your environment, they become a right challenge to deal with as you need to make effective use of what little free space you have to avoid their attacks (hint: learn to slide). It then goes without saying that if Forkmaidens are placed in large open environments where you can effortlessly run circles around them where their magic forks have no chance of hitting you at all, they are then utilized completely wrong, something the game unfortunately does more than a few times.

If the type of attack (projectile traveling in a straight line) is easily and consistently dodgeable in an environment which gives you enough space (like a flat open field) to dodge said attacks on top of the player having a very high movement speed to enable dodging said attacks, then said enemy having a lot of HP merely feels like padding things out. In the process of killing the Forkmaiden, you're only doing the same thing until it dies without anything forcing you to change up your tactics during the process. How you move in this situation doesn't change when you put in the first Hunting Rifle round in a Forkmaiden, nor the second one, nor the third one. But in a more constricted space, you constantly have to reassess where to move next in order to dodge the incoming attacks since running circles won't work here.

E1M6 is incredibly tight and gives you very little wriggle room to move around... and also gives you very little wriggle room with ammo. In fact this is probably one of the only two levels in the game where you actually have to be mindful of ammo on IM (outside IM there's not much of a problem) because ammo pickups in this level are really that sparse. I found myself often having to resort to my sickles when fighting weaker enemies so I would have enough ammo left for a bigger fight. I suppose the underlying message here is to kill enemies by throwing objects instead, even though every other level in the game always gives you plenty of ammo.

Thing is, the Sickles themselves aren't that versatile of a weapon to carry an entire level with, as combat with Sickles simply involves stunlocking single enemies to death, whereas the Sickles' ability to reflect projectiles is not very applicable in tight quarters as stunlocking enemies to death is more preferable. It also takes a good while for the Sickles to actually kill something, so combat with the Sickles ends up being very drawn out. Throwing (decently-sized) objects on the other hand will deal so much damage that it will instantly kill most enemies in one hit with most of the rocks at your disposal, leaving you with less of a reason to use your guns since thrown objects have a huge projectile size, no damage fall-off, block incoming enemy projectiles, and don't break unless damaged with an explosive, meaning you can infinitely reuse the same object over and over, the only caveat being that you need to have some minimal distance between the object you're holding and the enemy you want to throw it at before you can throw it, because your throw won't deal any damage if the enemy is already in contact with the object you're holding before throwing it.

This holds true for the objects in the rest of the game as well, and is also why I opted to do a No Throwable run as thrown objects are so powerful that otherwise I'd be more inclined to use them over my weapons with their limited ammo. Ironically, in more wide open levels with many enemies thrown objects are less effective since you're being shot at from multiple angles which leaves you more exposed as you're trying to pick up your object again after throwing it, but indoors the potential total of clear lines of fire enemies can have on you is limited, making most of them blockable with your object of choice. The sheer overpoweredness of thrown objects could have been fixed easily by greatly lowering their durability, causing them to break after impacting with an enemy or their projectiles only once or twice, making them more of a tool of limited opportunity so players and level designers can find a way to utilize the high-damage and projectile-blocking capabilities of objects creatively without it ending up breaking entire encounters. Each level already has a secret unbreakable soap bar which oneshots any enemy (including bosses) it's thrown against, so if you want to be a cheesy bastard you can just use the soap bar. There's no need then to grant common objects the same amount of lethality.

This level also raises the question of when a level has enough ammo pickups. Ammo ought to be sparse enough to make you reconsider whether it's worth using your power weapons (Riveter, Crossbow, HR) on smaller encounters where using your power weapons would just be overkill, but have plentiful enough ammo for your workhorse weapons that you're not forced to fall back on your Sickles all the time, but also limited enough so you feel compelled to switch between different workhorse weapons in the interests of ammo conservation. Another approach is what some custom Doom maps do by starving you of ammo, but then placing ammo items next to enemy groups to get you to push forwards into danger so you can swipe that ammo since you can't fight the enemies reliably without ammo, achieving "push-forward combat" through clever item placement. DUSK only does this on occasion (more specifically during some intros to a level when you're playing on IM), as DUSK is generally very plentiful with ammo, especially outside IM.

To get back to the level itself, it's a dark maze-like level, but the layout and level geometry is distinct enough to get your bearings. The Forkmaidens fit this type of level greatly, however the extent to which this level (and the entire game) experiments with Forkmaiden placement is very limited (by mixing Forkmaidens with other enemies in different positions and throwing more than one Forkmaiden at you at once, for example), so there's very little in this level that ends up standing out.

One exception is the way opening the yellow gate is handled. Instead of opening the path forwards, it only shows a wall with the sign of the cult on it, as you hear the sound of two Forkmaidens spawning behind you, cutting off all means of escape and forcing you to take them head-on, which makes for an interesting encounter in how it restricts you. Or at least it would've, had the path to your right when you turn around not existed, which allows you to easily kite the Forkmaidens whereas otherwise you'd be forced to make good use of your slides and movement to dodge the incoming projectiles using what little space you have. Shortly afterwards, hitting the switch that opens the level exit will also suddenly cause several Forkmaidens to spawn around you, however you can also shoot the switch while standing near the level exit so you can immediately get out without having to deal with the Forkmaidens, which seems like a massive oversight.

And then the level ends as quickly as it started, ditching the concepts of using bulletsponges like Forkmaidens in close quarters almost entirely for the remainder of the game, which is a shame, because they sure as hell don't work in all these flat open levels. The level itself ends up being rather forgettable because of its short length and not really expanding on its level concepts. The shortage of ammo and Forkmaiden trouble would have been more of a big deal if throwing objects wasn't so powerful, since it only takes two throws to kill a Forkmaiden.

E1M7, Dead of the Night, is quite a lively level. You're already getting into a fight a second after the level started, and the background track for a level remaining at a constant high-level of intensity sets a proper tone for the constant combat intensity... of the first 40 seconds anyways. The remainder of the level plays much more tame in comparison and doesn't really warrant background music with this level of intensity.

Much like E1M2 it starts off again with a large open flat field, though there's enough enemies present to make an IM start challenging enough by having you look for better weapons first before you can deal with the enemies in the first place. If you weren't playing on IM then you wouldn't have to make a grab for the weapons placed right near where the enemies are, and you could just cheese everything from long distances from the start. Technically you can on IM too after picking up the Pistols right when you begin the level, but at least the level expedites this behavior somewhat by encouraging you to make an aggressive push into enemy territory and grab some better weapons to retaliate with, as I mentioned not too long before.

The Crossbow also gets officially introduced in this level. It's found inside the watchtower behind all the enemies, but you can make a grab for it and use it to fire one bolt to penetrate all those Wizards you just ran past. The level even spawns two line formations of Wizards soon after grabbing the Crossbow to teach the player about the penetrative capacity of the Crossbow. It's also called back a bit later with the two blue gates, where at either side you'll get a line of enemies running straight at you, but there's a Crossbow ammo pick-up right before that section, as if to remind you that you still have that Crossbow you just picked up which you could use.

The Crossbow acts as a general purpose power weapon, being effective at all ranges, able to oneshot Wizards, and penetrate enemy and terrain without any limits or damage falloff, but without having the single shot damage of the Hunting Rifle or the DPS of the Riveter. So can the Crossbow be used to kill enemies behind walls which you know are already there. Doing so is punctuated by a hit confirmation sound which plays independently of the distance your shot landed at á la Call of Duty, which is both pleasing to hear (especially when hearing several of said sounds in a row when firing at a line of enemies) and informative. Without it I wouldn't have as much of a clear idea whether I'm actually hitting enemies through these walls since I can't see the impact. You could probably tell the shot landed by the pain sounds of enemies being hit, though you can only hear those from short range, so playing a hit confirmation sound when hitting a target from any distance just gives you a more consistent idea when you hit something with the Crossbow.

Admittedly it's kind of cheesy to be able to kill enemies behind walls or in their closets before they're triggered open as it allows you to damage multiple enemies at once from a completely safe position, so naturally it would make sense to limit the ammunition for a weapon like this to limit how much the player is able to soften up encounters before they've actually begun. And this is where DUSK flounders. It's not so much a problem in this level or this episode, but rather E2M9 and several levels in E3 where the Crossbow is often utilized as the main weapon.

You can carry a maximum of 30 Crossbow bolts with each Crossbow ammo pick-up containing 10 bolts. Problem is, the levels that feature the Crossbow tend to be so lenient with Crossbow ammo placement that it becomes too dominant of a weapon to wipe out lower-tier enemies. A Super Shotgun can kill a single Wizard with two shells in one shot at close/medium range and has a long refire time. A single Crossbow bolt can kill a potentially infinite amount of Wizards from any range, with a higher rate of fire than the Super Shotgun to boot. In situations where Crossbow ammo is so plentiful, you will feel less inclined to ever want to use the shotguns against even single Wizards, which can work if you're aiming to go for a power trip, but downplays the factors of having to consider weapon selection and ammo conservation when the Crossbow is allowed to be used so freely.

The sheer surplus of ammo is also redundant when you consider damage output per Crossbow bolt can be optimized by trying to line up as many enemies as you can in order to hit as many as possible with a single bolt. By sprinkling around so much ammo, there's less of a need to make the most out of each bolt and to make the most out of the Crossbow's unique properties. If Crossbow ammo were rarer, then the trade-off between being able to kill a single Wizard more quickly than the shotguns at the expense of losing out on increased damage potential per shot would be worth considering more, as shotgun shells are generally more plentiful than crossbow bolts.

On paper this level may seem confusing in terms of where you should go next since you have multiple buildings behind the level start which you can also visit, but it's surprisingly very natural to navigate. The first batch of enemies are spread out in a broad line leading towards the watchtower, so if you keep moving forwards through all the enemies you will naturally end up near the house that holds the blue key, making most people more inclined to explore this building first as it's the closest. On top of that the entrance to the house is signposted with a streetlight, which stands out more because of this level's night theme. The buildings with the blue and red doors are behind the point where you start the level, and they're color-locked to indicate you're not supposed to go there yet, but because the enemies in front of you will draw your attention away from the houses behind you when starting the level, following the trail of blood will naturally lead you where you need to go.

Once you grab the blue key and leave the house, additional Scarecrows and Wizards will spawn on top of the silos to snipe you, and in the process of moving forwards to kill them you will naturally end up going towards the blue gate. When you grab the red key two more Forkmaidens will spawn near the red house (a crap encounter because Forkmaidens don't work well in open spaces for reasons previously explained), and from there it's child's play. In any case, this starting encounter shows how effective breadcrumb trails of enemies can be to lead the player to where they need to be next in a more non-linear level.

The remainder of the level after entering the house can be summed up as more encounters where you fight up to three enemies with ease as you backpedal out of there. Nothing unique, nothing challenging either. Just backpedal diagonally and shoot back with any weapon, and you'll never come under any serious threat. The only exception being the attic of the house where an entire group of Wizards is holing up around a blue key you need, and instead of taking them out one by one from around a corner it's faster to grab the Fast-Fire Totem right in front of them and hose them all down in five seconds, again making good use of the "push-forward combat through item placement" technique.

Despite the level being wide open, only two Scarecrows are used in this level, and one's placed on top of the silo far away from you when you exit the house after picking up the blue key, where he can't move towards you and from that distance you can easily sidestep his otherwise very fast projectiles. A bunch of Deer are spawned on the ground too when you leave the house, but you can just double back inside or around the house to take out the Deer one by one. Inside the hangars or the red building the dominant strategy still hasn't changed. Behind the underground blue gates (which are completely redundant since you can't get to this point without having the red key, which you can only get in the first place by having the blue key) enemies are lined up in such a way that it calls for the Crossbow, but otherwise it plays out identically to the middle part of the level.

This level ends with another boss fight. This time it's two giant spongy Wizards called the Duke Brothers who fire HOMING fireballs at you. Except they're of no threat at all because you can run circles along the edges of the arena and never get hit by them because the homing projectiles are too slow. As threatening as homing projectiles are in general, they are not much of a threat by themselves or in an circular environment when you can consistently keep outrunning them. Trying to evade the homing projectiles would be a different story if the arena or Duke Brothers would present a physical obstacle in your path and prevent you from moving around as freely.

Another dubious decision is to have two enemies firing homing projectiles at once, because having to deal with either one or two homing projectiles at once does not make a significant difference in this situation since you'll keep running circles all the same. What homing projectiles do is force you to macro-dodge, to dodge by making large movements, or in other words to force you to keep moving away from the homing projectile (or to reposition yourself and put an object between you and the projectile), instead of being able to micro-dodge by sliding or stepping a bit to the side as you would avoid a regular linear Wizard fireball. Small movements do not work against a projectile that tracks your position and moves at a constant velocity.

With that in mind, a more ideal approach for a boss fight like this is to have one of the Brothers spam homing projectiles to force you to macro-dodge, and to have the other brother force you to micro-dodge, be it through indiscriminately vomiting a constant spread of projectiles towards you that makes circlestrafing less desirable because of the random spread on all the incoming projectiles, or something as fast or wide as the Scarecrow's shotgun bursts which force you to slide, as you can't slide under homing projectiles because they'll just move further downwards when you lower your hitbox. This way you'd have two different types of threats to take into account which requires more attention and effort on the player's part to provide the proper response to either type of threat, instead of being able to just perform the dominant circlestrafing strategy against two identical enemies. This is also why the Revenant in Doom II has a 50/50 chance of firing a straight or a homing projectile, in order to throw your movement off. Needless to say, this fight is a total joke, especially if you found the secret Riveter in this level or carried one over from a previous one.

Structurally E1M7 is rather indistinct from E1M2, what with taking place on another flat farm sparsely populated by buildings. Visually the only identity this level has is that it has a night skybox, which itself looks damn bad if you actually look at it for a longer for a second or two. The stars look like uneven pixelated heaps of garbage as if they've been stretched out, ruining the illusion a skybox is supposed to provide completely. The use of only a single wall texture for the secret area past the crack in the wall does not look good at all and is 100% lazy, on top of all the magic invisible colored light sources. The intro to this level is strong, but the rest of it is a massive bore.

E1M8, Through the Gate, is probably my favourite level of the episode, largely because it does something that sadly almost none of the other levels in the game do: it's very sequence-breakable. Most of the secrets don't just contain goodies, but teleporters which will take you to other parts of the level even if you don't have the keys yet to open the color-gated doors to get to those points the 'official' way. The end result is that if you know where all the secrets are, you suddenly get a lot more potential routes you can take through the level. And it doesn't fall in the same trap as E1M3 did by having secrets skip encounters entirely. Scratch that, some routes do let you skip parts of the level entirely, it's just that those parts also contain weapons and other secrets which might be useful later on, so (on IM) there's some incentive to at a later point in the level revisit those parts you skipped, or sequence breaking past early parts of the level which are initially difficult, so you can get weapons later in the level and go back to deal with those earlier parts. Such a strange back and forth route through the level would imply a lot of backtracking, but there's a lot of additional encounters you can trigger when going back to the earlier parts of the level to keep you engaged, and the teleporters keep the routes brief.

The area containing the red key is shaped like a circular canyon with Wizards on the edges, Deers on the bottom, and in the middle of canyon there's a building on top of which there's a bunch of Scarecrows with a clear view on you. It's an interesting situation where you will be under fire no matter where you go, unless you find the secret tunnel leading to this place with a better vantage point which lets you clear it out more safely.

However, the problem is (on IM) that you only have the Dual Pistols and Super Shotty at this point in the level, making it very tedious to deal with all the Wizards and Scarecrows as the Scarecrows are out of range for your shotty and too tanky to be killed at a reasonable rate with your pistols. The Scarecrows are surrounded by explosive barrels, but they only do so much damage. Ideally, you'd then want to leave this encounter for later, however you're unlikely to know about the non-linearity if you didn't find any of the secrets, so those who didn't find any think this is the main path they should follow as they can't progress otherwise without the red key, which places them in an encounter that's simply tedious to deal with. This could have been ameliorated by giving the player more suitable weapons before this encounter like a Hunting Rifle to deal with the Scarecrows at a reasonable pace, or to make the non-linearity of this level not completely exclusive to secrets so every player can be aware of the multiple routes they can take through the level.

Past the red gate there is a room partitioned with roadblocks into three lanes as if it were intended to house a waiting line. Basically there's two rows of road blocks you can jump over or crouch behind. Therein you also fight several enemies, but the lanes, although they impede your movement, also impede those of the enemies, and unlike you they can't jump over or crouch behind them. The present Wizards and Forkmaidens are easily dealt with by crouching up and down like some kind of cover shooter, and opening the garage doors to bait all the Leathernecks back in means they're forced to take an elongated path through the room, during which you have enough time to shoot them and enough space by just jumping over some of the roadblocks. The problem is that the way this room is handled is that it only makes it an obstacle for the enemies instead of the player, since you can easily popamole most enemies here. However, if this room had flying enemies against which cover wouldn't help you because of their firing angle, if you had enemies which fired arcing bouncing projectiles which could arc over the roadblocks, or if multiple enemies were placed in every lane so you effectively had no safe lane, there would at least be an element of spatial awareness required to navigate around this room and the incoming projectiles without getting hit.

This room will take you outside, where you can open a gate into the forest which branches off into two paths. The left path leads to a large gate and where you need to go to exit the level, and the right path leads to a building which contains the switch to open said gate. However, this building is locked by a blue door, and the blue key is in front of the main gates, so in practice there is no point to taking the rightmost routes first, you need to go left first, and if you didn't realize this and went right anyways you'll just have to waste time backtracking: an identical problem to E1MS's level structure.

Now, I can somewhat see the intent here. The idea is (I'm guessing) to have you encounter the main gate first, since when you trigger the switch in the building you will hear a large opening sound, and it may not be clear what opened when you went to the building first instead of passing by the gate, as without the blue lock on said building there isn't much reason to. However, it is not clearly signposted that you should go left. Keys will glow in the distance with the right effects enabled, but from the point of view when you leave the initial complex the gate and the key will be obscured by level geometry and trees, so it's not entirely clear that they're there. The most obvious solution would have been to do away with this silly progression structure and remove the geometry between the building and main gate, keeping both of them in each other's sight so you could see the gate opening when you hit the switch while having the gatehouse be closer to the player when they exit the complex.

Beyond the gate you'll step into a giant ongoing infighting party between the military and the Wizards. Environmental storytelling, ay. In front of that there's a town sign saying: "Welcome to DUSK: Population ██6,█66". I find it amusing that the font for DUSK on the town sign is the same as the ominous font used for DUSK's logo. As if the game's telling you the game's only just begun. This level actually gives you the Mortar for the first time officially in the aforementioned blue gatehouse building, except it's not really usable in the remainder of the level because most remaining enemies will be placed too far outside the Mortar's range, making it a rather poor fit to be introduced in this part of the level, so players who try it out for the first time aren't really taught its niches and may be more inclined to forget about its existence. In fact the Assault Rifle will carry you just fine through this final murder party.

The Mortar is more of a powered-down version of the Riveter, but its uses are very niche. It's a grenade launcher which fires a grenade at comparatively slow velocity and at a very high trajectory arc with limited horizontal distance. That made it difficult to hit enemies with compared to all other weapons at your disposal, so in the Early Access version the Mortar was given the ability to remotely detonate grenades so it could more reliably damage enemies in the air or around corners, which made it at least somewhat useful considering one Mortar grenade already deals less damage than a single Rivet. It's decent for hitting enemies behind corners and for general AoE damage against squishies.

Overall, I very much like the options and additional routes the secret teleporters bring to the table. It is only a massive shame that this concept is never expounded upon again. The canyon fight is the most interesting encounter up until this point in the game (utilizing enemy placement and types effectively for once), however most are easily solvable because of an abundant amount of free space in the levels. For the final fight you can just sit back and watch all enemies kill each other, but it does make for a memorable setpiece. Visually this level is largely drab. Big mountainous areas, more industrial complexes and darker forest areas, at this point in E1 you've already been through all of that, so it doesn't stand out as strongly. The lack of detail in the mountainous part of the level and the way the same noisy mountain texture is stretched on every non-floor surface also makes it less appealing as it all starts blending together. A mediocre level overall.

E1M9, Ghost Town, takes place in the titular town of DUSK. And it's got this ominous putrid fog hanging about, whose light-brown color gives this level a distinct look. It's a city level, which means that there's buildings everywhere, and also means that you need only look behind a corner and you have already found another secret. This level couldn't be more obvious with its secrets, as most of them just involve finding your way into the buildings. Here's one if you break the glass of this gas stop. Here's one if you blow open this obvious crack in the wall, and another if you blow up the other obvious crack inside it. Here's one if you get into the storage building with a sole high-up entrance. Here's one if you simply look behind the cars in the garage (if you blow up the cars the "secret" items behind the exploded cars will just hang around there in plain sight, all un-secretlike). And so on. One secret is locked by a red gate, the red key for which is found in a secret further along the official path. The thing is that by the time you can actually get to the red gate with the key is when 99% of all enemies in the level are dead, as it holds a bunch of Riveter ammo which you won't even get to use on IM.

The level is effectively split up into two parts, one where you explore the city above ground, and the underground portion where you kill enemies in a linear fashion. It's very disjointed in the sense that neither part stands to lose or gain from the existence of the other. They don't feel cohesive in structure or visual tone, where tonally the aboveground has a Silent Hill-vibe but the underground looks like yet another lazily textured and sculpted sequence of rectangular hallways. It's also not like E1M3 where you make repeated trips up and down and up and down. Because most of the combat in this level takes place underground, the potential of an open city level in regards to combat feels unrealized, and at the same time the element of challenging your sense of navigation through exploration goes unrealized in the underground part.

To progress you have to find the one building with the underground passage, but there's nothing to suggest which one in the city it is. However, once you do find it, you can go down its basement until you stumble upon a yellow gate. If you don't have the yellow key at this point (which isn't something that's completely unlikely given the non-linear nature of this level), you'll be forced to backtrack upstairs to find it, making the initial trip to the basement a waste of your time. Nor is there any point to going here without the yellow key because this building doesn't contain any secrets or new weapon pickups which may make it worth exploring in order to help you out in other encounters (nor are the top-side encounters that difficult to possibly ever warrant having to look for extra firepower first). With that in mind, it would make more sense to mark the entrance to the building with the yellow key instead of the basement door. That way you know at the start of the level that you can't enter this building yet until you explore the city and find the yellow key first, and once you find the yellow key you immediately know where the main path lies, as the game makes a habit of restricting the main path with colored gates, whereas as the level is now you won't even know where the main path is even if you found the yellow key first.

The enemy encounters in the city portion aren't worth talking about, but underground in the arena with the blue key things do get interesting. The first wave finds you suddenly surrounded with several Forkmaidens on the ground and Wizards sniping you from the catwalks to make you dance, unfortunately you can just move under the catwalks so the Wizards can't get a shot at you at all, which is way too optimal of a solution because there's no environmental hazards beneath the catwalks to contest you on, and the Forkmaidens themselves are very slow to move in on the limited space you have under the catwalks.

If you hit the switch on the catwalk after that, you'll get two groups of one Scarecrow and several Wizards on both sides of the arena to deal with. Surrounding the player is very effective at creating a challenge, and something I wish DUSK did more. It also avoids this situation of becoming completely overwhelming for the player by spawning one of the two groups behind some see-through cover the enemies have to move around before they can fire at you, effectively delaying their entrance into the fight and giving you some time to deal with the other group first before both can overwhelm you at once.

What's smart here is that the switch that triggers this encounter ensures the player will be facing the right direction to prioritize the targets properly. It's the group that spawns in behind the player that's the one behind the cover, and the one in front that doesn't have any cover obstructing them. If it were the other way around, the player would find themselves facing an enemy they couldn't get a clear shot at because of the cover, taking up valuable time for the player in figuring out how to approach this situation when the straightforward approach won't work, while the group behind the player could fire as soon as they make contact and most likely before the player can react or even spot enemies coming in from behind. Usually spawning enemies behind the player where you can't see is a dick move, but it can work if done tastefully as shown here.

Behind the blue gate is a teleporter which puts you in a situation where you're immediately jumped by three Leathernecks and you're surrounded by three walls, on top of some projectile-shooting enemies further into the room. You can't backpedal with your back to the wall, for once you can't circlestrafe your worries away because of how tight the room is; the only way forward is right through enemy lines. I like it, this is how Leathernecks should be used. Not in spaces where they can be easily circled around, but as an encroaching threat who impedes your movement in tight environments. Though I would add that this part is somewhat trial 'n error in the sense that you have very little time to adapt and react your first time around because of how little space there is and how little time you're given to adapt, but I do dig the concept 100%.

After that you find yourself back in the city with a trail of recently spawned Wizards leading you towards the blue door blocking the level exit. It does feel like the level peters out with its ending by haphazardly having you move through the by-this-point lifeless city again and only giving you like four Wizards and a Forkmaiden to deal with at the end, which begs the question whether the level shouldn't have just ended in the underground portion instead of having you move through the city again.

Overall only the blue key encounters are any good, probably the best out of this entire episode. The city part had some decent exploration, but the lack of verticality makes exploration somewhat predictable, nor are there any challenging combat encounter interspersed with the exploration to keep up the engagement. Visually the city stands out for this episode, but the underground section just looks uninspired and lazy with its repeated and stretched-out textures. Overall, a mediocre level.

E1M10, Creations, being the final level of the episode is more of a boss level than a 'real' level, where the boss is a large deer called the Experiment that shoots a torrent of fireballs out of its mouth. The fireballs have a random spread to their trajectory, but the total deviation and the amount of projectiles fired are small enough that you can for the most part keep circlestrafing around the stream of fireballs, but not exactly.

The upside is that the arena size is small, so the boss can start firing while standing near the edges which makes it impossible for you to move in a circle around the boss, and instead force you to cross the stream of fireballs. By forcing you to micrododge the projectile stream, it's at least more interesting and demanding on the player's part than being able to mindlessly run an infinite amount of circles. However, sometimes the boss will start firing from the center of the arena, which ruins this dynamic altogether in favor of more circlestrafing. What also doesn't help is that you can snipe the boss from the arena entrance or the inlet in the arena where you hit the first switch which can act as cover against all the fireballs, which potentially reduces this fight to a game of whack-a-mole.

So you flick the switch in the tunnel, and another deer called the Second Experiment appears by surprise. It's exactly the same as the first Experiment, except this one has a third less health and a Fast-Fire Totem spawns in the arena to help you kill it even faster. Since you kill it so fast it's not that difficult, in fact it feels more like a desperation attack. Even though it's a minor speedbump, by doing something out of the ordinary it at least adds some character to a boss that's otherwise mostly forgettable. So after defeating the second one you can also find a secret which contains... the FAILED EXPERIMENT, which is just a downscaled Experiment with even less health. At least it ends with a cute joke.

There isn't much to write here about given how simple this boss is and how you'll still be strafing circles where possible. It doesn't do much different and is rather forgettable in terms of presentation because it doesn't break or twist the mold, except for that time when it surprised you with the Second and Failed Experiment. If anything this boss fight got me thinking that the Experiments could have been used as a regular enemy from this point onwards. The enemy roster up until this point is could make good use of a stationary turret enemy of sorts, and the bullet spam from the Experiments could serve as a sort of long term threat that will pile up and make it harder to run circles because of its spread if not immediately taken care of. At least if the projectile amount and spread were tweaked to be wilder. That said, the game does fill this potential niche in the enemy roster... but only by Episode 3.

Episode 1 is plain mediocre. To put it simply, it has no hook because at this point in the game it's still relying on its "hey remember retro shooters" pull which will lose its appeal in the future when the indie FPS market starts becoming saturated with new shooters riding on this retro revival waves which may end up being even better and leave everyone wondering what's so slick about DUSK. While its backwoods horror theme and crude artstyle may be unique, that doesn't excuse the lazy texturing and uninspired architecture with its boundless and unutilized flat spaces and simple rectangular hallways.

Even worse is that there's no gameplay hook at this point to really make DUSK stand out, because on top of most weapons being fairly stock in terms of functionality, the enemy roster in E1 is way too limited for the game to be able to do anything really interesting in its levels. You just can't do much with enemies throwing linear projectiles in a wide flat open space. The Scarecrow is an exception but he's not used nearly as often as he should. On top of that there's no other mechanics which make DUSK stand out, or at least don't have their potential realized. Other games have shown you can do a lot with sliding and object manipulation, but none of that is shown here.

And to top it all off, if you're playing it on Cero Miedo like most people, this episode will be a total pushover if you're at least somewhat competent at first-person shooters. None of the levels in E1 are outright bad (except for E1MS), but it plays it so safe while not doing anything interesting that it all just becomes bland and leaves an unmemorable first impression. I've talked to several people who haven't played past E1 because of how boring it was and had to coax them with the familiar old "it gets better later on" excuse to get them to try out the much superior E2 and E3. If there's anything disappointing with the Steam Early Access model which DUSK participated in, it's that necessary large-scale structural changes for older levels almost never happens because the focus lies primarily on pushing out new content. At least things start getting a little brighter with...


(Because shmups.system11.org can only barely handle the shareware version of my post, to see the scriptures of the final two episodes of the game you must venture into another forum where I have posted the full version for everyone to see).
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2019 3:48 pm 


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brachypelma44 wrote:
I'm playing this really underrated ARPG for the PS3 called Trinity: Souls of Zill O'll. I never even heard of it until this year, but I'm really enjoying it. Thanks, youtube!

Sounds like my sort of stuff all of a sudden, but I'm not videogaming enough anymore to justify paying the asking prices right now...
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2019 4:43 pm 


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Durandal wrote:
shmups.system11.org can only barely handle the shareware version of my post


Can confirm, tried to quote this for a quick LOL SMILEY and my mousewheel exploded Image
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 Post subject: Re: What [not shmup] game are you playing now?
PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2019 6:39 pm 


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Great writeup, Durandal. Though I'll probably be reading the full version for longer than it would take to beat the game :D

I'd also advise Dusk to anyone interested in the old classic FPS titles. But I gotta mention that the beginning almost made me drop the game instantly. As much as I can get behind giving the finger to modern lengthy tutorials, the first fight feels really janky if you're not used to the way the game controls. For me it left quite a bad aftertaste that was lifted only when the metal kicked in during the next level. The game gets only better as it goes though so it's worth marching through the first few unassuming maps.

The difficulty scaling is kinda disappointing, though. It doesn't add extra enemies or increase their health, like what you'd expect from a classic FPS. Just makes their attacks stronger and faster, which ironically feels more like what a modern shooter would do. A huge missed opportunity, it does feel like the game could use more targets to sink all that ammo into on higher modes. It probably was indeed made that way just to make DUSKMARE doable... but then again, that could've been an extra toggle like Intruder Mode. Or cut out completely since getting the Untouchable medal more or less means the same thing.

(Speaking of which, I'm playing through Blood now. And it's my first time playing it seriously without cheats. Feels great, though I tend to save frequently like a total casual.)


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