Few games manage to incorporate a console (Command Prompt console, not an Xbox console) into their game while maintaining very fun and engaging gameplay. Sure, games like Hacknet and Uplink can simulate tense situations with increasingly faster beeps from your TRACE_TRACKER.exe, but Duskers does a wonderful job of making it part of the game without making it the whole game. Instead, the console is very synthesized with logistical and live-feed views and direct controls to give a varied approach to problems that arise in the game. Beyond that, it’s a fun rogue-like game about salvaging what little bits of scrap you can manage to find while (hopefully) escaping all kinds of creepy crawlies.
Duskers has a very unique playstyle, which is part of what makes it so endearing. It sort of looks like FTL: Faster Than Light, especially when you’re not on expeditions, but other than that no games come to mind that I can draw parallels from. You start each run in a star system with a ship and three drones with semi-random upgrades. You have no real goal, though all there is to do is go around and board derelict ships to get scrap and upgrades. The way you control your drones is either through the console (navigate 1 r6 to send drone 1 to room 6) or by directly controlling them and moving them with arrow keys. On almost every ship, if not every, there will be hazards for you to work around. When using the Motion upgrade, every room adjacent to the one your scanning drone is in will be scanned for as long as your drone stands still. Some rooms will be clear, some will have enemies in them, and some will be inconclusive. Duskers is ultimately a game of using what little, varied resources you get to make sure you get in and get out without being obliterated by aliens. It nails the tense feeling of having limited time to try and figure out what all you can get, how to get it, and when it’s better off to just up and run. Enemies will sometimes attack doors, crawl through vents, or simply grow through walls (the latter enemy is more of a fungus than anything intelligent, hence why it can go through walls).
Things degrade over time, or after each use, or both: your upgrades, your ship modifications, your patience. Some upgrades will be more useful than others, meaning you’ll want to keep spares or extra scrap to repair them. What’s strange is that Motion, while effectively necessary if you don’t want to run face first into a facehugger for drones, rarely shows up in your starting inventory. Restarting is as simple as hitting escape and then R, so I see little reason to try and play a game out when not given Motion.
As is tradition with rogue-likes, what little lore you get is little scraps you pick up along the way. While exploring the cosmos and ships, you sometimes get logs that have objectives on them, which are just special challenges. The reward for doing these challenges is more lore, which is a pretty weak reward for how specific some of them are. Thankfully, your progress on each story is saved between runs. Duskers is hardly the game that needs to have a strong story, though. “Unknown alien infestation in space” is tried and true, and while other games have done wonderful things with that basic premise (looking at you, Prey 2017), it’s a fun enough setup that as long as the game is good, the story can be lacking or not present.
Duskers’ sound design is easily a golden example of “less is more”. The game entirely foregoes music, instead opting to focus on subtle, ambient sounds and useful noises to listen to among a whole host of beeps. While a very simple sound, the different tones of beeping you’ll hear while going through a mission do a wonderful job of immersing the player in the sort of “distant operator” feel. The faint roll of wheels or the scream of an alien (filtered through your drone’s microphone) really makes you feel removed and distant as well. While not part of the game, typing on a mechanical keyboard also adds to this effect. The art, while also simple, serves its job commendably. Swapping between drones is instantaneous, but your vision sometimes blurs and shakes like an old television trying to find a signal. Sometimes your vision will just cut altogether as you lose that drone’s video feed. Everything you see is from a top-down, third-person perspective, likely from some scanner, which makes everything black and white. The only color is added through outlines that are overlayed on points of interest. Your drones, for example, can be seen underneath the outline, which is a wonderfully subtle nod to verisimilitude. Your drones aren’t drawn like some old vector game, but their outline is, and you can see both.
Duskers is a charming little game that unfortunately suffers from a lack of attention from the developer. It’s got an amazing take gameplay-wise to the premise, which it executes very professionally. Where it suffers is how little there actually is to it. The number of enemy types is less than half a dozen, encounters don’t necessarily get any harder the more you progress, and there doesn’t seem to be any real point to the game other than to just play the game. It’d also be a fantastic co-op game, though that would be a stretch even if Duskers was being actively developed. If you don’t mind spending the money on what feels like a really great game-jam game, I’d recommend Duskers, but don’t go in expecting dozens of hours of gameplay from this rogue-like.