Dust & Neon

Dust & Neon

Johan has traveled to the future to face cloned cowboys and aggressive robots in a roguelike that doesn't impress ...

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I am standing in a devastated post-apocalyptic Wild West. A scientist has just informed me that I am part of his experiment to clone top-notch gunslingers to help rid the world of heavily armed robots. My purpose is simple to understand, my synthetic lives seemingly endless. I'm ready to start shooting. Welcome to Dust & Neon.

The narrative I encounter isn't really any more complicated than that, nor does it need to be, because in a game like Dust & Neon, it mostly serves as an unimportant backdrop for a cowboy clone to face a civilization of evil robots in a science fiction western world. That the aesthetic style has been the basis for the entire adventure is something I am convinced of as it is unfortunately the only thing that distinguishes Dust & Neon from other roguelikes to any great extent. Already after the first hour it starts to feel repetitive and a couple more nights into the adventure it feels like I'm playing the same course over and over again without any real reason to continue.

Dust & Neon

Because every game cycle looks pretty much the same. I wake up in the scientist's laboratory, jog over to the elevator that takes me to the upper level where I soon arrive at the map that sends me on my missions. Once in the field, there are a few different objectives to accomplish depending on the type of path I have chosen. It can be about robbing a train, defeating a number of enemies of a certain type or sabotaging an important robot facility of some kind, but regardless of the type of course I choose to embark on, it is about mowing down all the robots I can find, picking up everything they leave behind and getting to the end of the level. Although the structure of the missions varies somewhat, it's never enough to give Dust & Neon any real depth and even though there is often a lot of action on the screen, it feels quite shortly into the game like I'm doing everything on autopilot without any real interest in what's to come.

What my travels in the high-tech west do bring, however, is an action game that, despite a lack of depth, does a decent job of keeping me entertained, at least for a few moments at a time. The basic game mechanics are easy to get into and follow in the footsteps of many other games in the roguelike genre. The left analog stick determines which direction I move while the right one lets me control where my cowboy is aiming. The rest is no more complicated than aiming, avoiding enemy fire, and firing back. When it comes to avoiding projectiles from enemy robots' guns, I get a briefing early in the game on how I should use the game's cover feature, which is simply to hide behind various meter-high structures in the environment to avoid taking damage. A system that has served many players well in various Gears of War-like action games, but in a roguelike with a helicopter perspective, which Dust & Neon actually is, it works less well and I'm rather annoyed by all the debris scattered around the courses instead of actually seeing any point in ducking behind it. Throwing yourself between winding bullets in the robot wastelands is not a difficult thing and even though my character is certainly somewhat slower than what I'm used to from other games in the same genre, it works much better in my world to be more on the offensive.

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Weapons in Dust & Neon are mostly scattered around the levels in different chests and come in three different categories. Shotguns for close combat, sniper rifles for longer distances and revolvers for everything in between. It is of course a reasonable mix of guns that on paper compliment each other very well, but in practice I very rarely find any reason not to use the revolver for everything. Sure, it's a little fun to pretend to be a real sniper and shoot robots from afar, but in practice the screen is not so large that the range and accuracy of the sniper rifle makes any real difference as the revolver's properties are not very far behind while it has more ammunition and can be fired faster. The same applies to the shotgun, which also has a lack of loading of shots while the revolver often kills enemies almost as quickly. The hand buffer is simply too practical to be ignored and the only real time I actually use another weapon is when the revolver's ammunition runs out, which happens quite rarely as more powder is often available nearby.

In roguelikes that I have tried in the past, finding new weapons and upgrades has always been associated with curiosity and excitement. However, unlocking a weapon chest in Dust & Neon is not a great experience as the different variations offered never differ significantly more than the values they have in a number of specific categories. Choosing a gun therefore never becomes more of a thought process than looking at which choice has the highest values in the columns that suit me best. If there is ever a question about which skill should be weighted the most, I can instead look at a more comprehensive number that describes the potential of the weapon as a whole. In a type of game where I usually choose weapons and skills based on which options I find the most fun and rewarding to play with, the equivalent in Dust & Neon becomes noticeably one-sided as all variants of weapons do basically the same thing, only better or worse.

Dust & Neon
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One thing I've come to appreciate about Dust & Neon's firefights is how the reloading system works. Where basically all action games that I have tried so far follow the template of my character reloading his gun automatically when the shots run out, or as soon as I decide to refill the magazine. In the robot west, it's not as simple as each reloaded bullet is represented by a press of the square button (if you're playing on Playstation) and although it's inconvenient to have to tap the controller a number of times to return to the battle, it adds something to the firefights that makes it all feel a bit more authentic. Of course, it also adds a small element of increased difficulty, but since Dust & Neon is not a very challenging game from the start, it doesn't make much of a difference in the long run. However, it is an interesting concept that I would like to see more developers try out and refine in the future.

Between runs I am greeted with the information that a new boss will be challenging me shortly and it is these battles that I have come to respect the most in Dust & Neon. Where the rest of the game is several steps too easy, the more extensive boss battles are what have brought me down several times. Before I even get the chance to come face to face with them, however, I'm informed by the game that I need to level up once or twice before the battle can begin, which means that I frustratingly have to trudge through another couple of semi-identical paths, seemingly just for the sake of it. Once inside the battle, however, things can get hot and I'm treated to the kind of extensive action that I've been looking for in the other levels, which in comparison feel like short runs along a given route whose existence is mostly to pad the game as much as possible between the bosses. However, it should be said that although each clash with a boss feels unique in its design, they also follow a template that makes even these become repetitive rather quickly. Each boss battle is divided into three phases. When a third of the life meter is cleared, the big villain hides behind an impenetrable ray shield while I'm attacked by a wave of ordinary robot enemies and the same thing is repeated twice in slightly higher intensity before the boss is defeated. It becomes predictable in the same spirit as the rest of the game and I feel that Dust & Neon because of that never really takes off, but harps on in the same tired pattern without even trying to renew itself, which is a shame.

Dust & Neon

The style, as I mentioned earlier, is what makes Dust & Neon somewhat memorable and I think the visual aesthetic, along with the rolling western soundtrack, creates an atmosphere that combines cowboys with sci-fi in a mysterious and enticing way. The world that my gunslinger finds himself in, besides the presence of the robots, is a desolate and hopeless one that I would have gladly spent more time in if the game itself had been better. The narrative is also nothing to write home about, but is mostly noticeable in short lines when my friend, the mad scientist, welcomes me back from my latest mission.

Among other roguelikes, I can't say that Dust & Neon stands out in any way, but it relies on its charming theme and aesthetics while unfortunately never being particularly entertaining to actually play. With a slow pace, boring weapons, uninteresting upgrades and a lackluster story, it doesn't even come close to touching the games like Enter the Gungeon and Hades that in my eyes make the genre what it is. If you are deciding what your next roguelike should be, my recommendation is that you choose something else.

05 Gamereactor UK
5 / 10
Nice aesthetics, innovative weapon reloading, challenging bosses, good action in places
Repetitive, boring weapons, predictable, uninteresting story, slow pace
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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REVIEW. Written by Johan Mackegård Hansson

Johan has traveled to the future to face cloned cowboys and aggressive robots in a roguelike that doesn't impress ...

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