Developer: Misfits Attic
Publisher: Misfits Attic
Released: May 19, 2016
What ingredients make for a good horror story? Some would say atmosphere, carrying a pervading sense of dread and unease. Others would say jump scares, or an engaging mystery you can really sink your teeth into, starring a protagonist you can relate to and root for. Duskers, a sci-fi/horror roguelike from Misfits Attic, offers all of the above to those who are willing to take the plunge.
In Duskers you play a lone astronaut whose ship is running low on fuel. To keep yourself from drifting hopelessly through space, you need to utilize your team of robotic drones to explore derelict spaceships for necessary scrap and fuel. You’ll need to gather “P-fuel” to travel between derelicts in-system and “J-fuel” to travel between systems, as well as scrap to repair drones and their onboard systems. At the same time, you need to keep your drones and landing craft safe from enemies, or “Infestations” as the game terms them.
There are two views available: schematic and drone, both of which are viewed from a top-down perspective. The former lets you see an overlay of the various rooms and doors whilst the latter lets you see what your drones are seeing, albeit through a grainy filter. Once you’ve found and powered up a ship’s generator, either remotely or via your drones, you can open and close the ship’s various powered doors at will, as well as interact with any consoles and turrets you find.
Before you can do any of that though, you’ll need to make sure your drones are equipped with the correct modules, of which there are dozens. You’ll need to add modules to do necessary tasks such as collect scrap, power up generators, tow disabled drones and scan for enemies. There are also modules you can fit to your ship, such as one that reveals the room layout in its entirety from the moment you dock.
At the beginning of a new game, you a presented with a solar system map that contains a list of derelict ships that are available to explore. You can use the arrow keys to reveal information about each derelict, such as the ship class, it’s structural integrity, and the number of Infestations onboard. This should help players decide which derelicts to explore and which ones to come back to when they’re better equipped, since you can only visit each ship and space station once.
Much like your starting lineup of 3 drones and the solar system you start off in, all of the locations you visit in-game are procedurally generated and as such you may be dealt a good hand or a bad hand dependent on the game’s RNG. You may spend half an hour exploring a large and complex ship with lots of dead ends and rooms made inaccessible by enemies or hull breaches. You may come away with a lot of scrap and P- and J-fuel or none at all, it’s all a matter of luck.
To control your drones, you use a simplified command line interface. Your drones are numbered sequentially, as are all the rooms, doors and airlocks you find aboard each ship. As such, a command like “navigate 1 r1” will move drone 1 to room 1, assuming there are no obstacles in its path such as closed doors. You can also toggle drone view and manually take control of individual drones using the directional arrows, an issue the same commands you could in schematic view. It’s not too difficult to pick up and an in-game tutorial explains the basics to new players.
I really loved how the combination of the old school CRT interface and grainy drone view served to heighten the game’s tension, making it play less like an action game and more along the lines of real-time strategy with a horror twist. I feel like Duskers is trying for a sort of Alien vibe, which is wears very well. I could easily see this game being integrated into the Aliens canon with minimal tweaks. Luring monsters into unoccupied rooms and sealing them in so your drones can explore is both exhilarating and deeply satisfying, as is using a ship’s onboard defences to take out an enemy in a sealed room. Your motion sensors may tell you that a room is safe (green), unsafe (red) or indeterminate (yellow), further ratcheting up the tension as you decide whether or not to take a risk in exploring that room. More than once I found myself opening a door only to have my drone swarmed by formless enemies, with the rest of my team succumbing in rapid succession.
Duskers is a game that rewards patience and tactics, although its novelty may wear off for some players after the first few hours. And if there is an overarching story hidden somewhere in the game, I haven’t found it yet. You’ll sometimes receive a single log entry when docking with a ship, which may or may not reveal some clues about that specific ship’s fate. While these logs may give you an insight into the types of enemies you will encounter onboard, they rarely ever made the universe feel any less game-like to me. After the first solar system of encounters the games starts to get a bit repetitive, and I’m not sure there are any surprises in store for those who stick with it after the first dozen or so away missions.
At US$19.99 on Steam, I feel Duskers is overpriced. While the game is well designed and entertaining, there’s not a whole lot of depth here. I honestly think the only reason I felt satisfied with it was because I bought the game while it was 25% off. It was a fun way to kill a few hours, but I’m not sure whether it will have any long-lasting appeal for anyone but its most determined players. It would be great if you could choose your starting lineup of drones and modules, and if the ship interiors were a little bit more detailed, but currently they feel like nothing more than utilitarian corridors filled with random debris and machine parts. Duskers is a very well thought out game with some interesting mechanics and a surprising amount of atmosphere and tension, however I feel it falls short in terms of its story and lasting appeal.
Final Score: 2.5/5
Final Recommendation: Wait for a sale. The easy to learn command line interface and grainy camera make Duskers a fun little sci-fi / horror romp, but lack of story, repetitive gameplay and sometimes brutal RNG may limit its lasting power.