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Incline Dusk, by New Blood Interactive: a frenetic FPS inspired by olDoom and Quake (2017)

Discussion in 'General Gaming' started by ---, Sep 16, 2016.

  1. RoSoDude Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    RoSoDude
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  2. Ivan Arcane

    Ivan
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    Both might see a slightly better discount come Summer Sale next week
     
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  3. Ivan Arcane

    Ivan
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    I quite enjoyed this but it didn't blow me away. I liked the sound design, it's very thick and murky. I loved the movement and the arsenal, while standard, rounded out the tight gunplay. Steam says it took me 7 hours to finish first playthrough on Hard. Definitely scratches that ol' FPS itch.

    Now onward to Amid Evil.
     
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  4. Morgoth Arcane Patron

    Morgoth
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    Uninstall.exe
     
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  5. Ivan Arcane

    Ivan
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    Hell nah brah, having a blast w/ Amid Evil
     
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  6. Jenkem Cipher Patron

    Jenkem
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    Make the Codex Great Again!
    Amid Evil is fucking great don't know why the hate around here.. though I suspect most of the hate are from people who haven't actually played it.
     
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  7. Ivan Arcane

    Ivan
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    Aside from the rocketlauncher toting midwives from SS2, anyone else find the game to be on the easy side? That being said, I don't see myself beating this on the 0-hit mode. I can't even begin to imagine the punishment one must go through to pass the penultimate level on such mode.
     
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  8. Morgoth Arcane Patron

    Morgoth
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    The game is piss easy because enemies are always running braindead towards you in a straight line. This is getting old fast.
     
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  9. CyberModuled Learned

    CyberModuled
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  10. agentorange Arcane Patron

    agentorange
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    Codex 2012
    retro throwback bullshit for fags
     
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  11. Lutte Dumbfuck! Dumbfuck

    Lutte
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    >from the guy who thinks doom 3 is great
    fuck off loser
     
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  12. Durandal Arcane

    Durandal
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    Bro, it's easy. Doing E3M9 saveless on DUSKMARE only took me 4 hours.
    Doing saveless Descent levels on Insane could take me up to an entire day per level, this is nothing compared to that.
     
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  13. Multidirectional Arcane

    Multidirectional
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    Both are fun but I prefer Dusk. Movement and shooting feels better in Dusk, I also prefer its atmosphere.
     
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  14. LESS T_T Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    LESS T_T
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    Codex 2014
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  15. Durandal Arcane

    Durandal
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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
    Show Spoiler
    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: EYES IN THE WALLS OF SILENT HILL
    Show Spoiler

    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...


    EPISODE 2: BLOODRUST
    Show Spoiler

    Episode 2 takes a detour from Silent Hill In The Woods With Eyes and drives straight into the occult techno-horror industrial zone. The backdrops are massive military processing facilities with a haunting purpose, the enemies you face will be more military and crazy in nature, and common sense starts taking more of a backseat.

    Things start off with E2M1, The Grainery, which is this flat rectangular field with a fortress on top of the wall right on the other side of the level. Normally I would have called this lazy, but what makes this setup not a pushover like most levels prior to this one is that there's a massive stream of fireballs coming at you from the fortress battlements, like you're being bombarded with artillery and have to be mindful of it at all times despite the huge freedom of movement the open space grants you. Since this is the first level of the episode, even non-IM players won't have any long-range weapons to safely deal with all the enemies on the battlements, as the only weapons you can find at this point are a single regular shotgun and some pistols. There's a secret Riveter right near the start to throw you a bone against those sniping fucks across the yard, but even then you want to get closer to danger before you can line up a good shot. On top of that you have Soldiers teleporting in on the field to make your life even less straightforward and to add more vectors of attack to the mix.

    This level is where the Soldier enemies start appearing for real. Technically they've been introduced back at the very end of E1M8 and then used loosely in E1M9, but this is where they become a common enemy. The Soldiers are to the Wizards what the Zombie Sergeants are to Imps. Soldiers only take only one regular shotgun shot to kill as opposed to the Wizard's two, so they often appear in larger groups to compensate. On the flipside their attacks are generally deadlier than that of a Wizard's fireball because of their higher projectile speed and them firing their guns in a burst of three, so you naturally find yourself prioritizing them more. They are kind of similar to the Deers, but work better as a omnipresent grunt-type enemy because their hitboxes aren't as deceptive. I also imagine having military facility levels be populated largely by evil deer instead of armed soldiers raises some questions. The Soldier's death animation is also cooler than that of the Wizards. The Wizards just fly backwards on death, Soldiers always do a mid-air spin when killed. If you're going to die, you should do it with style.

    The other new enemy type that gets introduced this episode is the Welder, bulky creeps wearing gray welding suits who can fire constant streams of fireballs at you, much like Doom 2's Arachnotrons. They also explode shortly after death when not immediately gibbed, making them work like mobile explosive barrels when surrounded by other weak enemies like Soldiers.

    On paper, Welders fit right in the role of long-range artillery and exist to create a stream of bullets you'd have to cross through. Their high fire rate makes them much more suitable at long-range sniping than groups of Wizards and quite frankly I wish they would have been introduced much earlier. If you're going to have your levels be all open and flat, you might as well fill the open fields with a curtain of bullets, which where the Welders can come in.

    At the same time, I think this is where Welders fall flat. The largest source of wasted potential is that they won't fire at you non-stop as long as you are in their sights (like an Arachnotron from Doom or the aforementioned M2 Enforcer) and instead will take regular breaks from firing. This contradicts the purpose of having an enemy shoot a constant stream of projectiles you'll have to dodge by either weaving through a gap or breaking line of sight, since you can just wait or keep strafing until they stop firing. The threat an enemy like this would pose is that by firing a continuous stream of bullets they'd force you to strafe into a wall until you'd run out of space, at which point you'd either have to risk crossing the stream by micrododging (or in DUSK's case, sliding) or by breaking line of sight. So if you don't want to risk either, the natural approach would have been to prioritize them. Of course this element of constricting your space flat out does not work if the Welder/Arachnotron/Enforcer is placed in a position where you can just keep moving around them in a circle (as has been mentioned before with The Experiments in E1M10). While the pause in their bulletstorm largely contradicts the Welder's role already, its projectile speed is also too slow for it to pose a serious threat on longer ranges, so even in that regard the Welder doesn't suit its role.

    To go back to the level, you can enter the fortress using an underground passage, or through a secret which teleports you smack dab in the middle of all these enemies in the fortress (as a kind of trade-off for skipping the underground passage and the enemies inside). The layout of the fortress can be best described as a playground; being populated with several buildings and towers with enemies on them, and several jump pads on the floor to allow you to get on these buildings easier. Sadly the encounter space is both too open and sparsely populated, so it's too easy to hide behind one of the structures and bottleneck the enemies into coming towards you.

    After crossing through this space for a second time after finding the yellow key, it's repopulated with enemies, but the placement this time around is more effective. Now you have actual vertical variation in enemy placement, and the enemy amount is more plentiful this time around to take better advantage of the large combat space. While the bottlenecking/popamole playstyle will still work for this encounter, it at least offers a more engaging challenge if you decide to pretend you can't and play aggressively instead now that you have multiple attack vectors to consider with multiple enemies being placed on the ground AND high up (or even bouncing up and down on a jump pad).

    The only enemy types used for this encounter are the Welder and Soldier. From mid-range both enemies are functionally identical, but the combination of the two gels really well. The reason being that both can be dispatched in one shot; the Soldier with a single normal shotgun blast, and the Welder with a single HR round. What you get is a situation where you're constantly switching between the shotguns and the HR, landing constant single-hit kills between the two weapons with maximum efficiency. It's satisfying to master the controls to a point where you can quickly switch between weapons and land a single pinpoint shot on each enemy, which is best exemplified with the Soldier/Welder combo.

    Following onwards you might notice that one of the towers has a more greenish tint (though it's not really obvious), and after entering find that it leads into a tunnel which drops you into a silo, which conveniently contains the yellow key you needed. Not so convenient is that there's no way up. If you look around, you might notice a patch of ground with stars emanating from it. Looking at it reveals an interaction prompt to dig up the ground, revealing the "Climbing Thing" power-up underneath (also kind of clever is the secret diggable patch beside it which doesn't have any stars coming out of it). The Climbing Thing actually lets you climb everything for a medium amount of time. You just hold the walk button and move forwards up a wall. It controls surprisingly natural, as all you do is hold the walk button and you can just move along the wall like how Gordon Freeman doesn't climb ladders but just ascends along them, which makes traversing walls brisk and in line with the pacing of the rest of the level. When wallclimbing you can walljump a ridiculous horizontal distance off walls, which is also one way of solving the problem of not being able to otherwise gauge the distance between walls because of the lack of depth perception in an FPS. Basically, you can almost always make the jump.

    The fun part of this power-up is that it can turn entire levels on their head because of the sheer freedom it gives you, like re-exploring the world after finding a new movement upgrade in a Metroidvania. Now you can go everywhere, but the power-up is limited by a timer (and some invisible walls) so you can't use it at every point in the level and break everything. It's only unfortunate that E2M1 doesn't offer more of an opportunity to make full use of the Climbing Thing. Most of E2M1's fortress is already climbable through conventional means. Only a single tower with a Hallowed Health on top remains out of reach without the Climbing Thing, so outside of the silo the Climbing Thing is only good for one secret, even though the Climbing Thing provides tons of untapped potential.

    After grabbing the red key the only way forwards is back towards the open field, where the game suddenly spawns three purple giant Wizards, who are basically just Duke Brothers with less health. Much like them they can also throw HOMING fireballs at you, which changes how you'll have to approach things from now on because circlestrafing around these projectiles isn't as effective in tighter spaces. Well, you can outrun a homing fireball, but when other enemies are attacking you at the same time you have to keep track of the remaining space where you can still move around safely, sooner prompting to you to break line of sight so the homing fireballs end up hitting something else. Or if you're really ballsy you can try reflecting them with your Sickles. On their own Great Wizards aren't a major threat, but in combination with others and in non-circular areas their homing fireballs makes Great Wizards top priority, since the fireballs are hard to shake off. However, it's hard to keep track of homing fireballs that are out of your field of view, so for fairness' sake a continuous audio cue could have played while you are being chased by a homing fireball, much like the homing missile alert in Descent, so you won't just get sucker punched by something you never saw coming.

    The level gave you the Riveter slightly beforehand, which makes this a good opportunity to learn that Great Wizards can be solved with a double-tap from the Riveter. Also interesting is that the Great Wizards here spawn in a group of three. If it was just one, you'd run the risk of accidentally killing the Great Wizard too fast with the Riveter before it could even fire, leaving you wondering what the deal is with purple wizards. By having at least three Great Wizards spread out, the player is inevitably forced to deal with a homing fireball as none of the weapons in your arsenal are capable of killing three Great Wizards that quickly.

    I do like this level, even if the first half is kind of a drag where you fight the bare minimum of soldiers while having to hide from artillery fire.

    E2M2, The Unseen, is where Szymanski's affinity for horror really starts to shine through. E1M6 was merely spooky in comparison, this one actually managed to unsettle me. When you start the level, you already get the feeling that things aren't quite right. There is no background music playing at all even though it always did before this point, and there is no enemy to kill within 10 seconds of starting the level either. As you press on, the only background sound is the ambient noise of machinery, and the floor is littered with the bloody corpses of dead Soldiers. One room beyond that only contains bones and bloody remains. The bloody message on the wall (which obviously looks like it's been drawn with an MSPaint brush) tells you to not go down, so you obviously have to go down.

    Behind the door there is a ladder leading underground, the passage to which is blocked by a barricade which you have to break, which makes it feel even more like you're intruding on the domain of an unspoken evil that had to be sealed away. At the end of the dark foggy underground tunnel there is an ominous red glow emanating from the red key, and behind it there's a message on the wall, saying "DON'T TRUST YOUR EYES". As you pick the key up, you suddenly hear sounds of intense breathing. You can see nothing, but the sounds are getting closer AND CLOSER. Just like the deforestation scene in Predator, the only thing a professional in the art of kicking ass can do in this situation is give into their fear and fire blindly around them, hoping you'll manage to at least cripple it. And if you're fortunate, your bullets will unveil the Wendigo.

    What makes this set-up such a brilliant exemplar of horror is that you're forced to deal with an unknown threat, and you're forced to take a guess. When you pick up that key, you absolutely don't know what the hell the source of that sound is. And when that sound is getting closer and closer, your survival instinct should be telling you to GTFO. But the room you're in has only one way in and out, and the source of the sound is coming down along the same way. You'll realize you're cornered, and that the only way out is to fight your way out. But you don't know what you're fighting because you can't see what's coming. If you're experienced with FPS's, you might be expecting some partially invisible enemy like a Spectre. Not this time. This one's completely invisible, and there sure is no prior precedent for a completely invisible enemy like this for you to be able to predict with greater accuracy what's coming through meta-knowledge. And so, the only option left is to take a guess and fire blindly down that hallway. Or let yourself get hit by something you can't see, and that's when the panic really starts acting up. But it's because you're left with no other option than to do something that you normally would never do (firing at nothing) while your life's at stake, that you're implicitly acknowledging you don't have full control of the situation and are merely hoping this will work. And that insecurity and powerlessness, amplified by being locked in a spooky situation with an unknown invisible threat closing in, is what escalates your state of mind from mere tension to actual terror. And that's how the Wendigo has one of the strongest enemy introductions I've seen in any game.

    The Wendigo is the Spectre to the Pinky, or in DUSK's case, to the Leatherneck. Wendigos behave and attack near-identically to Leathernecks, except their movement speed is a bit lower. What makes Wendigos special is that they're completely invisible. Not partially, but completely. The only signs that give them away are the loud breathing sounds and the trail of blood they leave behind on the floor. If you hit them once with anything, a loud string chord will play as their cloak has been permanently uncovered. While I said before that Leathernecks could be made more aggressive, I don't think the Wendigo needs it. It already has the advantage of starting off invisible. Giving an enemy that's invisible even greater offensive capabilities would be needlessly painful to deal with. Once discovered, Wendigos aren't much of a threat at all, what with basically being a slower Leatherneck, so the obvious course of action is to put the player in a situation where it's hard to discover them. Wendigos excel when used in dark areas or tight arenas combined with other enemies, where on top of the basic Wizards and such, you also have to deal with figuring out where the invisible Wendigos are since you can clearly hear them prowling around, making certain claustrophobic encounters even more tense.

    To compensate for the level having such a slow start, the rest of the level is nothing but full-on action. The first part is hell of an effective enemy introduction. The only downside to it is that as with most horror material, it loses its fear factor on replays, so when replaying you have one minute of walking simulatoring in a creepy underground jail before you get to shoot anything, which is really quite dull when you've already seen the deer behind the curtains and know what to expect. I do think this was definitely worth it to make the first playthrough that much more memorable, but the best solution to appease first-timers and replayers would have been to add in a secret which lets you skip the walking simulator part entirely so you can skip straight ahead to the combat. Maybe by including a hint for the secret in the underground crypt so first-time players have to experience the Wendigo introduction first so they can't skip the intro by accident using the secret.

    I do find it strange that the Wendigo is only used like once in the action part after the first two in the underground crypt (the part where the Wendigo gives itself away by knocking over some barrels), even though this is by all means the "Wendigo level" where the Wendigo gets first introduced. The level could have felt more coherent by following up on its introduction of new gameplay elements/enemies by playing around some more with them instead of treating Wendigos encounters completely separate from standard encounters. At the very least, it would be a more effective place to teach the player right after introducing the Wendigos about what it's like to deal with them amongst regular enemies, so the lessons are more likely to imprint themselves while the memory of their introduction is still fresh. It'd sure leave a stronger first impression.

    Picking up the blue key causes two enemies to spawn on the ground and some more on the catwalks overlooking the blue key. Unfortunately one of the enemies that spawns right in your face as you pick the blue key up is a Great Wizard, which is kind of a dickish thing to do as it's very difficult to break line of sight with the ensuing homing fireballs in a tight space like that as the space is very tight, especially with the enemies overlooking you and the other Soldier spawning to your flank. A Great Wizard is also spawned on the catwalk above you for good measure, but after dealing with the one on the ground the most straightforward strategy is to stand under the catwalk so they can't see you at all, and then take potshots with the shotgun or with the not-so-secret Mortar. It's nice to try and spawn enemies on different height levels, but being able to stand directly underneath them kind of nullifies their threat level completely. Not a big fan of this encounter.

    After that you get the Assault Rifle, which lets you go on a brief power trip as you ascend a staircase with a whole heap of Soldiers descending it, mowing down the Soldiers in your path as you aggressively push upwards. The level decides to end with bang in a large room where you have a row of Soldiers from one side and Welders from the other coming from the walls when you trigger the final switch, with there only being a single Fast-Fire totem to help you out. Unfortunately, this encounter is largely rendered void because you can backtrack to the entrance which is stationed at the very corner of the room, allowing you to bottleneck all the enemies and pick them off one by one instead of risking standing in the middle of the arena where all the enemies have a lock on you. I assume the latter was how this fight was intended to play out, and that honestly would have been a lot more interesting than being able to bottleneck everything. This could have been very easily fixed by locking you in once the encounter started so you couldn't retreat anymore. A shame it didn't.

    To its defense, the button that triggers the final encounter is placed at the opposite side of the entrance so you're more likely to fight within the heat of the battle instead of running away, but because buttons can be triggered by shooting them from a distance (as taught in E2M4) this aspect of the fight can be sidestepped. A simple fix here would have been to move the button from the wall and instead flip the direction its facing by placing it on a small signposted pillar, so you can't get a shot at the button from the position of the arena entrance.

    Overall, the Wendigo intro was very good and the atmosphere right spooky, unfortunately most fights beyond that were poorly executed. Even then the Wendigo intro will be a waste of time on future replays when you know what's coming.

    E2M3, Into the Thresher, is the biggest difficulty spike so far. Basically, when you step outside you'll find yourself at the bottom of a large pit with some jump pads, and all around the edge of the pit are enemies and more enemies, from every degree possible. Not just Wizards, but Welders and Great Wizards in the open too. This appears to be a recipe for disaster at first, but there are several measures in place to keep this level from being an overwhelming PITA.

    First one is that from the bottom you can still see enemies overlooking the pit and snipe them in return with the Hunting Rifle you just got. So before jumping out of the pit you still have some time to orient yourself, as you can only see like 40% of the enemies from the bottom of the pit. The second is that enemies have a very hard time hitting you if you are bouncing on jump pads. The only way out of the pit is using a jump pad, so by the time you get up on solid footing most enemies will be missing you while you have some time to look around you. The third is that there's several containers in corner of the arena that's very close to the jump pad you likely jumped from. As you're bound to be swarmed by gunfire the moment you jump out, you might find yourself likely drawn to any kind of cover more so you can avoid the incoming fire. Even if you decide to retreat to the bottom of the pit again you will have aggroed nearly all enemies in the arena by jumping out of the pit, and most of them will be moving towards the edges of the pit to fire down at you, so even if you decide to play it safe you still have to deal with all the extra company.

    There's several things to keep track of (homing fireballs, Welder spam, hard-to-see projectiles from the turrets) which come from a variety of distances that keeps this fight engaging. The only unfortunate part is that the cover provided by the containers is provides too strong of a solution to this encounter and allows you to safely break line of sight with 95% of all enemies present. A lot of them are stuck on their respective ceilings and towers, so they can't really come down to come get you. There are several Welders/Great Wizards near the yellow key which have a good line of fire on the corner of the arena where all the cover is, but there's also a row of containers placed from the aforementioned corner to the yellow key which allows you to block line of sight with the enemies near the yellow key as well. Because of this, the corner in the arena tends to be an overly superior position because enemies can only weakly contest you on that position, giving you carte blanche to safely snipe enemies one by one with your Rifle instead of constantly considering where to move next or how to dodge the incoming projectiles. If there were some melee enemies placed near the corner to make it less safe, or if the row of containers from the corner to the yellow key was removed or made smaller in size to make enemies more likely to target you, or if the cover was destructible by enemy fire to prevent you from camping there indefinitely, then there would have been more options to consider for this fight.

    The room around the blue key is a very tight space with an inner wall and pillars to clutter things further, but in a good way. I especially like the use of the Wendigo in a space like this, especially the outer walls that get raised to reveal more enemies once you pick up the blue key, putting you in a fight or flight situation where the way out isn't clear and enemies have you surrounded, with only the inner wall standing between you and them.

    What's really weird is the fact that the floor is all grating. Beneath that grating there's another room whose floor is grating, and beneath that grating there's a room chock-full of enemies who have no trouble detecting and hitting you through two layers of dense grating. You can see the enemies below if you look through the gaps of the floor, but the game never hinted to the possibility of enemies being able to shoot through the floor. In fact, I don't recall floor grating and enemies shooting through them ever being a thing in the previous levels (let alone the later ones), so this isn't something the player would be familiar with. And this sure isn't the best way to introduce this element is either. At first you might hear the sound of enemies getting aggroed whose position you can't quite place, because placing enemies directly below the player isn't a possibility you'd have any reason to consider at this point in the game. The grating texture looks too dense for bullets to pass through it for that matter, yet the grating textures don't block shots at all regardless of whether they would pass through the holes in the texture. What happens is that this encounters gains a hidden layer of randomness you can't reliably react to.

    The final room is kind of a cramped clusterfuck. When you grab the red key (situated on top of the first layer of grating), the floor below you disappears and leaves you falling into the final room. Inside, you've got the invisible Wendigos on the floor, Turrets and Welders overlooking you from a catwalk, and Soldiers overlooking you as well. The available space you have is basically halved by a giant generator in the middle which splits the room in two save for a small passage around the generator, with jump pads to the catwalk being present on only one side of the generator. There's so many different things to take in at once here after falling down by surprise, and because of the big generator the path (or the jump pads) that lead to the highest chance of survival here is largely obscured. It's not quite clear after falling down what you are really supposed to do to not die. You want to move past the Wendigos through the narrow passage to reach the other side of the room where the jump pads are, so you can jump on top of the catwalk away from the Wendigos and then deal with the several present Turrets and Welders already present on the catwalk on top of the Soldiers on the generator shooting you from below.

    It's asking a lot on short notice because it surrounds you with enemies in all 360 degrees in a game where you can only see about 90-120 degrees at once, which prompts some trial and error to figure out this situation. For this reason it might be considered safer to snipe all the enemies through the grating to make the final room much easier, except that kind of defeats the whole purpose of having all those enemies arranged in such a way if the intended solution is to just safely snipe them all. It might be preferable to getting outright killed trying to clear the final room without getting hit or just dying, but it only adds more cheesing and playing it overly safe to the mix. If you want to be cheeky, you can also inch forward slightly when grabbing the red key in order to grab it without triggering the disappearing floors, allowing you to approach the final room by backtracking to the start and opening the red door from there which opens up at the catwalks, giving you a much safer avenue to take out everything one by one.

    I believe if the generator in the middle was removed alongside the Soldiers on it so you'd immediately see the jump pads when falling down, this encounter wouldn't feel quite as overwhelming, and give you a better idea of what the path towards survival is. "Oh shit, I've fallen into a pit of invisible Wendigo's and I can't get u- oh there's a jump pad right here". Normally I would have applauded an encounter like this for having the balls to toss you into the lion's' den and push you outside your comfort zone, but this one does it with such a suddenness that it falls into trial 'n error territory.

    Overall, the level is a mess. I enjoyed the spike in difficulty and the game deciding to finally go balls to the walls which gives us a sneak peek of how combat in DUSK can look like if you mix several enemy type together with the right number, sadly it still provides too many avenues for cheesing and the final room went a bit too far in this regard. The visuals for this level have been largely unremarkable, still donning a generic factory aesthetic. Once again another shoutout to zero-effort plain textured secret areas with the secret area behind the hidden wall to the left of the yellow key looking like a tunnel in Minecraft. The final room is a bit different however, instead containing some satanic artifacts and ALL HAIL THE GREAT THRESHER being scrawled in blood on the walls. Then you jump inside the thresher, through the spiky machinery, and into a river of gore...
    E2M4, The Infernal Machine, is where the madness really begins and where DUSK stops chaining itself to reality. The introduction to this level stands out in particular. You start off by falling into a lake of blood and guts, which causes your flashlight to break (just don't think about it). The only way forward is to wade through a bloody claustrophobic crawlspace. The whole passage is ominously lit red and you don't have the slightest idea where the hell you are. But the real MVP for this level is the sound design. Just have a listen to it. You're practically deafened by overwhelming industrial noise and the constant clanking of pistons slamming into walls and all the fire exhausts. Throughout the level there's always the ominous creaking and whirring of machinery. All this really helps sell the message that you're stuck in an... Infernal Machine...

    While there's no combat or any serious challenge in the intro (aside from timing your movement so you don't get crushed by the massive pistons), getting through the intro and finding a weapon only takes about 20 seconds, so it doesn't impact the pacing or replay value too much. The first weapon you get is the single shotgun and one of the first enemies you see is the Welder, which I don't think is really the best enemy to throw at the player who only has a single shotgun at that point in the level. It takes four shots with a single shotgun to kill one Welder, and the Welders don't really have any flinch animation or visual feedback for when they get hit, which makes shooting them with a weaker weapon rather dissatisfying since it doesn't feel like your shotgun is having any impact, as opposed to when you can kill a Welder in a single shot.

    Since the time it takes to kill them with the single shotgun is fairly slow and because the path forwards doesn't really allow you to squeeze past or move around two fat Welders, your only option at this point is to play popamole in 'n out of the corner, shooting once at the Welder and then quickly retreating around a corner before he can hit you. It doesn't make for an engaging encounter because you have to do the same thing four times in a row without any other variable present in the mix to make you reconsider your course of action between each shot. Even if you were to throw in weaker enemies like Soldiers into the mix, you'd logically prioritize them first since they go down much faster, but you still have to deal with that Welder using your single shotgun eventually. Normally the game hands you a more powerful gun at the start of a level if it decides to pit you against tankier enemies, and outside IM these complaints don't really hold any weight to begin with, but this is still worth pointing out so the same mistake doesn't get made in the future (thankfully it doesn't). For this reason the initial Welders would have been better off replaced with more regular Soldiers for example. At the same time I can still consider this a compliment as the game almost always avoids a situation like this by giving you a power weapon before encountering tankier enemies, only this situation in particular just isn't one of those cases.

    Moving on, you enter some kind of tower whose walls are all grating, which you'll inevitably have to climb because there's a Climbing Thing here, except there's no way up. However, an obviously marked button is bound to catch your eye. Right next to it there's a blood message saying DON'T SHOOT THE BUTTON. So naturally you have to shoot the button. Modern developers tend to underrate reverse psychology. It certainly feels less handhold-y to have something telling you what you absodefinitivelutely shouldn't do, even if it's fundamentally no different than a magic message telling you what to do next. When you're telling the player to explicitly not to do something, deciding to do it anyways just to see what will happen still requires some exercise of your own agency in the game. Even though there's no other way to progress than doing the opposite of what you're told and even though the choice is little more than an illusion, it's still effective because most people will probably decide to break the rules out of their own volition before they can even discover there was no other option to begin with. And besides, it also adds to the cheeky nature of the game.

    Up until this point in the game you never were required to shoot buttons in order to progress, even if it is something you could always do. You were just never told about it. There are a few opportunities in E1 where you can shoot a switch from a distance to trigger something you weren't meant to until later on in the level. I do think it's neat when games tell you a long time after the intro about abilities you always had, as on replays it can put the previous levels in a different perspective.

    The blue key is at the end of a dead end tunnel of giant rotating saw blades with the center cut out for safe passage, which looks really trippy and nails the industrial horror theme of this episode really well. Flipping the switch at the end of the tunnel allows you to pick up the blue key, but it also grinds the giant sawblades to an ominous halt. These kind of games never had a solid track record of letting you pick up keycards without a surprise, and lo and behold, if you take a few steps back towards the end after picking up the key, you suddenly get a whole bunch of Grand Wizards and Welders on your plate. All homing fireballs, and no direct cover. Thankfully you can drop down to your left or right to break line of sight with the Great Wizards on the other side using the central taller path, but there's Great Wizards on both sides either way. On IM this fight is particularly interesting since the only power weapon you have at your disposal is the Mortar (short-to-medium range weapon). Normally you want to stay away from Great Wizards or get behind cover to avoid the wrath of their homing fireballs, but here you don't have the most optimal solution of sniping them from a safe distance while one-shotting the Welders along the way, so you have to get dangerously close (the Hunting Rifle is available prior to this point as a secret, however, but I can overlook weapons found only in secret areas making certain encounters easier. That's the reward, after all).

    You can unfortunately move between the lower left and right path thanks through a gap in the central path near the end of the tunnel where they key was, which is too powerful of a safe zone. I think it could have used a group of rushing melee enemies on top of the Great Wizards and Welder sniping you from the other side of the tunnel, maybe even have the majority of enemies travel through one of the lower paths so you're forced to push forwards through the other so you can't just sit back and enjoy the fireworks, else you'd have enemies from behind coming through that gap to deal with.

    Regrettably the remainder of the combat encounters in this level are lame. The level peaks in difficulty a bit too early with the giant saw blade tunnel fight. The blue room contains a bunch of Soldiers placed in a safe-for-you linear fashion, a single Wendigo, and a Great Wizard spawning in a bit after you pick up the SSG. Though there's a thin piece of cover inbetween both of you that blocks the homing fireballs anyways, nullifying most of the threat it could pose to you. Otherwise there'd be no cover at all in that part of the room, but it would have been a more interesting situation that if you wanted to move to safety you'd have to move past the Grand Wizard to where you entered in order to break line of sight to avoid the homing fireball, as they can usually fire one off in the time it takes for you to kill one with the SSG/HR.

    The final stretch is a straight oblong tunnel, at the end of which three Wendigos get obviously spawned (you can see the particle effects from an enemy spawning in). Since it's just three Wendigos there is no real threat to this encounter, and the tunnel is broad enough for you indefinitely run circles around the Wendigos without ever risking being hit. If I can run circles around all the enemies with zero risk, you're doing it wrong. Kind of a disappointing note to end the level on. Or at least if you miss the final secret. This one is actually quite well hidden behind a breakable wall whose texture is obscured by the unusual red polka dot lighting on the surfaces near the level exit. This secret actually holds an entire encounter with a massive arena and tons of enemies to go with it. Something much more suitable as a final fight of a level, and I have to ask why this was made a secret in the first place. Unfortunately, this encounters also suffers from being easily circlestrafable to death. The space is too spacious, flat, and unrestrictive, and there are next to no enemies placed near the edges of the arena to stop you in your tracks. The enemy pathfinding is such that they will all concentrate in the center of the arena if you keep running circles, and you can even make them kill each other because of all the in-fighting you cause by simply running circles. There could have been a cool final encounter here, but the unrestrictive combat space turns this encounter into something completely braindead to do. Why move towards the center and deal with getting shot from every angle when you can run along the edges with most of your flanks covered by the walls? It also doesn't help how comparatively bland this arena looks compared to the rest of the level with its standard warehouse aesthetic.

    This level certainly starts interesting and overall the level is strong visually, but the later encounters in the level are pretty damn weak. The level progression flows well, anyways. This level also holds a secret exit, which leads us to...

    E2MS, The Foundry. This level is fun. This level is fast. This level is fun because it is fast. The unspoken theme of this level is that it is essentially a parkour level using all the movement techniques available in DUSK. The background theme for this level is a non-dynamic piece which plays at a constant high intensity just to hit the point home. It's even called "Run", for crying out loud.

    There's a dozen several obstacles in this level which you need to jump or either slide over, present right from the start of the level. It's not something that's particularly difficult, but it keeps you engaged and on the move, which again feeds back into the idea that this level is about speed. After that you're jumping around pipeworks to get up. 5 seconds after that a jump pad takes you up to several Soldiers in your face. 10 seconds after that you're playing hopscotch over lava with jump pads while being shot at. Ten seconds later you're climbing up a wall, walljumping back and forth between two walls and one-shotting the Turrets inbetween with your HR. The pacing of this level is ludicrous, it constantly keeps throwing you into wildly different situations which is precisely what makes this level feel like it's hopped up on speed.

    The first real enemy encounter, where you jump up a shaft using a jump pad right into the line of sight of four Soldiers, does a neat thing where it gives you an Assault Rifle, which is especially useful for these four Soldiers, but only right after you aggroed them. On IM the only gun you have at that point is the Hunting Rifle, which is overkill for a single Soldier and too slow to take out four Soldiers in quick succession as opposed to an AR. So you have to make a slight aggressive push forward to grab that AR which gives the Soldiers enough time to fire off one salvo at you, not giving you enough time to either backtrack to cover or to kill them all before they can shoot you, which makes for a neat small risky encounter.

    The part after that where you have to jump over a river of lava using conveniently placed jump pads also puts you under constant fire by a Welder, which you ideally should oneshot with your HR while flying through the air. However, it's complete wasted potential that there weren't any more Welders or other enemies to keep shooting at you to keep you occupied while you're trying to land on another jump pad instead of lava. As it stands, there's only one Welder on the other side of the river you can one-tap with your Rifle while hopping uncontested over the remainder of the river. It is only unfortunate that this level doesn't toy with the idea of having more than one enemy shoot at you while you're hopping over lava where the challenge arises from trying to do two different things simultaneously.

    The next part where you have to wall climb up a tower by jumping between two walls where each floor has a Turret on it manages to be fair because the Turrets have a limited turning speed unlike the rest of the enemies, so you can do a ridiculous walljump and land behind the turrets while keeping them stunlocked with your AR. Or you can slowly crawl up and try to take potshots. After getting the key you have to go back over the river again, which again feels kind of lopsided considering there's again only one Welder, instead of there at least being more than one to increase the difficulty curve especially on obstacles you already crossed before.

    The rest of the level makes some real good use of the Soldier/Welder + Assault Rifle/Hunting Rifle dynamic established in E2M1. Double-tap the small ones, switch and one-tap the big ones. Each room is different enough in its layout to stand out, like the big vertical staircase room where you find the yellow key, and the unfortunately somewhat plain green room where you can just bottleneck everyone into coming towards you. One room beyond that will also spawn three Soldiers behind you. That one really borders on being bullshit, but there's enough thought behind the sudden placement of the Soldiers there for me to overlook it. That room is a dead end, with the only way forward being a ladder to your left going up. So by the time you turn left, you will hear some loud enemy teleporting sounds which should prompt to have you look behind you (which you should have already been doing). Because you were already turning left you shouldn't be at such a major disadvantage in terms of being able to react on time, but some factors like not having your AR equipped already or the AI deciding to be whimsical and spreading out instead of lining up can make this a death knell on DUSKMARE. Not as much of a problem on other difficulties, and this wasn't intended to cheaply shit on the player, but RNG can decide to be a bitch at times with enemy reactions.

    The next room is an incredibly tall obstacle course with several paths you can take to rush forwards, like rocketjumping over the massive blocks after finding the Riveter or using the jump pads to strike the enemies from above, or using the Climbing Thing to climb everything. It's a very interesting space to navigate as you're not locked into taking a single path, but sadly it lacks the amount of enemies (or enemy types) necessary to really challenge you on your mad frontal assault after grabbing the Riveter. You only get to deal with three Soldiers at once and the occasional sole Welder. At this point everything in the level is just a pushover. Even more so if you climb on the walls to get on top of the tubes where the secret stash is hidden, so you can cross over a large part of the obstacle course anyways without having to really deal with the peasants on the floor.

    The end of this level consists of a bunch of Welders and Great Wizards in a straight narrow corridor which you can easily dispatch within four seconds with your Riveter with minimal risk to yourself. The staircase room beforehand having a less threatening presence of enemies could have worked as a build-up to a bigger final encounter, but it didn't, so the whole thing falls flat.

    Call me a traditionalist, but I do believe that having a solid difficulty curve is integral to the flow of a level. When or before you reach the level exit it should have an appropriate enough conclusion or test of skill beforehand so the end doesn't feel like it came out of nowhere or that the level feels like it's petering out of ideas. If the only incline in difficulty is at the very start and everything later on becomes progressively easier, then it won't feel like you're getting the opportunity to use these weapons you found scattered around the level, and you end up with little to look forward to. If you overcome a certain hurdle you know you can handle everything on that level of difficulty, so subsequent hurdles have to be placed higher and higher to make you feel like you're improving and to not leave you disappointed by giving you nothing to use your newfound skills against. The same goes with any good puzzle game, each one tries to reapply existing skills in a way you wouldn't have thought of before. Especially on IM you'll get stronger the more weapons you find, so the enemy threat level needs to suit your offensive capabilities accordingly. There's a time and place for victory laps where you can inflict some carnage with minimal effort, but if it isn't accompanied with some build-up in difficulty or doesn't happen after a noticeable difficulty spike, the victory lap doesn't feel as deserved.

    All in all, while I loved the break-neck pacing of this level and the rate at which new encounters were thrown at the player, the difficulty curve couldn't quite keep up, causing the level to suffer quite a bit especially during the rooms you have to revisit, as you have to deal with existing layouts without differing enemy placements to turn them upside down and keep them interesting on repeat visits. Some of the rooms here also present quite a bit of wasted potential for aforementioned reasons.

    E2M5, The Escher Labs, is probably this episode's most favourite level for a lot of people. As this is a laboratory level, this is where things get a bit experimental...

    Things start off fairly innocuously. The whole place has a sterile bluish tint to it with sterile wall and ceiling textures which could pass this off as a Half-Life 1 level, almost giving you an idea of what (not) to expect. There's one room with some neat attention to detail where you can shoot a bunch of Soldiers with your AR, and the room is filled with tables with glassware on them, so what ensues is a John Woo-esque gunfight where you'll be shooting through the glasswork to hit the Soldiers, resulting in glass shards flying everywhere which kinda nails the chaotic nature of a gun fight. DUSK is too graphically simple to do anything fancy with environmental destruction after a gunfight the same way a game like F.E.A.R. does, but seeing an attempt made is nice nonetheless.

    Then you find yourself a conspicuous red syringe, and the voice in your head is telling you to take it. Now, the FBI may have said that winners don't do drugs, but most winners usually don't find themselves suddenly encircled twenty to one by others holding guns and syringes of dubious content. Thankfully the red syringe contained the Serum of Blistering Heat... which is literally a Superhot power-up where time moves when you do. But it's something you'll really need, as with time slowed down to a halt you can figure out a plan for how you're going to get yourself out of this sticky situation. There's conveniently placed explosive barrels everywhere, so you don't need to be Einstein to figure this one out.

    It's a neat gimmick power-up for when the odds are suddenly stacked against you. Instead of a "time moves when you do" power-up an invincibility power-up could have been placed there for roughly the same effect, but all the old games did invincibility power-ups already. Why not decide to go for something more original instead (by lifting a concept from another game)? It doesn't always need to be the trifecta of DPS Boost/invincibility/invisibility for power-ups.

    This circle of enemies also contains Scientists. Since this is the lab level, it's appropriate to talk about them now even if they first appeared since E1M9. Scientists are... a joke? At least I believe so, because I don't see the point of a melee enemy with the near-exact same behavior as the Leathernecks, but with an even lower movement speed, and slightly lower HP too. I figure these guys are just here because of the laboratory aesthetic of this level rather than pose an actual threat to the player. I still don't see the point of putting in effort into making an inferior clone of an existing enemy type especially when the differences in HP are negligible. Like, the Hell Knight/Barons in Doom 2 gave mappers better tools for when you wanted a tanky Imp or a REALLY tanky Imp, but here the difference between Scientist/Leatherneck HP is too small to really justify their existence. It'd be funny at least if the syringes they stab you with actually made you trip out, but they don't, so even as a joke enemy they would feel half-assed.

    While you can escape the death circle towards the entrance and bottleneck every enemy to death again, the Superhot power-up gives you enough of an edge in this fight that there's enough of an incentive for you to not want to play it safe (on top of enemies partially blocking your path anyways), so in this instance I can overlook it.

    After this power trip, returning to the lobby shows you that 'something isn't quite right', as the room has changed shape and now holds a new path onwards that was never there before. After following that path and flipping a switch in a cul-de-sac, turning around reveals that the entire level has been turned on its head, quite literally. The floor is the ceiling and staircases have been flipped a ninety degrees. An unique method of reusing assets, for sure. This disregard for common sense and common architectural practices makes it a difficult space to comprehend, but thankfully you'll find all you need to do is climb upwards with a Climbing Thing on the bottom helping you out so you are unlikely to get too disoriented. The level doesn't try to be really difficult at this point, and I think that's a reasonable approach to take here. Part of the difficulty already comes from figuring out this abstract space, so adding tons of oddly placed enemies in an odd space could potentially overwhelm the player. It also helps that the level didn't immediately try to be abstract and turn everything upside-down, otherwise the twist wouldn't be as impactful. It let you get a bit used to the level before subverting expectations.

    The inspiration for this level couldn't be more obvious the moment you pass through the spiraling corridor with the checkerboard-patterned 'floor', or the secret right beside its exit where you find The Sword. The secret message even says "Thanks Constantine". The teleporter on the wall will lead you inside some kind of gory ribcage where you can find the red key. It spawns two Wendigos when you do this, but again, there's too much free space to these guys aren't much of a real challenge. I did say before it was reasonable for the level to take it easy, but this ribcage is a fairly open flat space which shouldn't be that difficult to comprehend. If you're going to put in some enemies in for filler anyways, it's better to use less tankier ones so you have the more plentiful satisfaction of just killing something quickly.

    Just when you thought things couldn't get weirder enough, here's a pitch black void with small floating islands. The central largest island holds a silo, and from it comes some unsettling moaning. Open it up, and out comes MAMA. It's a cyborg midwife (with a hat on!). As your boss fight for this level, MAMA has a Riveter mounted to her belly button which can fire a burst of rockets/rivets at you at incredibly high speeds. Could the floating islands be used to create a compelling boss encounter where you must combine platforming and constant shooting at MAMA while being mindful of which platform you can safely jump towards? Ha ha, no. Just run circles around the silo and keep airbursting your Mortars around the silo to keep damaging MAMA while she's out of your sight. Do this 20 times and a winner is you.

    It's not the last we've seen of MAMA, as her kind will reappear as Cowgirls in subsequent levels, acting as the Baron of Hell stand-in capable of taking and dishing it out, and taking around three Rivets to kill. Every enemy in the game will just melt the moment you get your hands on the Riveter and some ammo for it, but Cowgirls are the only ones really capable of posing a more persistent threat against the player without getting immediately deleted. But that's what makes it so unfortunate that Cowgirls are only used very rarely to fill the niche of bulletsponge (that can actually fight back as opposed to the Forkmaiden). They barely appear in Episode 3, for that matter.

    On the whole the level is undeniably creative, even if I wish it took the time to further reiterate on the idea of the Superhot power-up with more escalative enemy setups. However, as expected the boss fight was a waste of time. Overall one of my favourites in this episode for its theme alone.

    E2M6, The Erebus Reactor, is a bit of an oddball. The main idea behind it is CHAOS, which while unique for this game, leaves something to be desired. The fact that this level is called The Erebus Reactor might be a reference to the level Mt. Erebus from Doom, by Sandy Petersen. In fact this whole level oozes Petersen, because it's basically a city level without a city theme.

    The level starts with you entering a massive open arena peppered with buildings, structures, a massive fissure with lava at the bottom, but also ENEMIES EVERYWHERE. As you climb the initial staircase you will be shot at from multiple directions (thankfully not from behind), forcing you to either back up and bait everyone towards your safespot, charge headfirst into the unknown where you are very likely to die, or run towards the nearest piece of cover. On Intruder Mode you have no weapons to reliably kill the enemies you could bait towards the safe level start anyways, so you're practically forced to charge onwards in order to find some weapons. There is a Pistol to the left of the initial staircase, a Mortar behind a safe piece of cover, and a Hunting Rifle which is very risky to get because you'll risk standing in the crossfire between multiple enemies from multiple directions. However, the Mortar is very inefficient at taking out all the Soldiers and Welders in the level, while the Hunting Rifle ammo is scarce in this level and best saved up for the Welders. Because you don't get the right weapons or enough ammo to deal with the swathes of Soldiers and Welders the game throws at you, what will likely ensue is you aimlessly bunnyhopping around the level, trying to find a better weapon but only finding more enemies, but more importantly, trying to figure out where the hell you're supposed to go next. If you don't get killed in the process, that is.

    On the first handful of attempts this sheer level of chaos may be exciting and something that plays out somewhat differently each time, but only if you let it carry you along. Despite being forced to run around naked for the first twenty seconds on IM, there's still plenty of ways to cheese the level because of its huge open nature. You can take the jump pads up the catwalks which overlook the entire level and rain death from above (after taking care of the enemies on the catwalks), or you can bottleneck half of all the starting enemies in a narrow strip behind some buildings because the enemy pathfinding is derp, especially with the huge fissure in the ground being a massive obstruction to the AI's pathfinding. That's kind of the drawback by having 95% of the level be immediately available to the player without colored keygates forcing the player into an encounter which the designer has more control over. As with most games chaotic, once you figure out a good route through the level it's all just going through the motions. You could also decide to just take a random direction from the start to see what happens, but ideally I shouldn't have to LARP and pretend I can't just take the more consistent option for my survival in this level.

    The first key you have to find is in an enclosed shack with no windows or whatsoever to suggest from a distance that the yellow key is here. On one hand, this implicitly encourages you to prioritize killing all the present enemies first before you go keyhunting for real, as finding keys (except for the first one) spawns in more enemies, which may overwhelm you if you didn't finish off the existing wave. On the other hand, this makes finding the key needlessly obscure once you are finished killing everything. Especially given how such a small building in this wide open level doesn't particularly stand out. It is also at this point where the level starts to really decline.

    Once you get the yellow key, there are actually two buildings on opposite sides of the level that are locked by a yellow gate. One holds an Assault Rifle and the blue key you need, and the other only holds... a diamond and some enemies, including a Cowgirl? What? On subsequent playthroughs I just never opened this building at all because unless you're doing a 100% kills run, because why would you? It doesn't even count as a secret. This building is nothing more than a questionable gotcha moment which becomes a passing joke once you realize you don't have to open it at all to finish the level.

    Picking up the blue key causes a bunch more Soldiers to spawn in, but now that you have the Assault Rifle it's just a matter of hanging back and easily mowing them all down with two-round bursts, making this come down to mostly routine work and jumping around one half of the level again to ensure you didn't miss any straggler Soldiers. The new Soldiers are teleported in from a distance where their bullets will take a while to actually hit you, so this whole ordeal makes it hard to actually die in, especially given all the cover you have. I don't have much against filler fights, but I'd rather they be short in order to fill in the dead space between major encounters. This level is so spacious that the amount of dead space to fill for a filler encounter would be somewhat stretch the meaning of filler. At least the Soldiers spawn in a breadcrumb trail of where you need to be next.

    Inside the blue building there's a close quarter encounter to spice things up a little. Because of the room's O-shape (with catwalks inside on the edges of the room and enemies on them) it would involve a lot of cornerhumping to deal with the enemies, as the room is too tight in terms of space to avoid all the projectiles while killing everything at the same time. But there's a secret Superhot power-up inside the blue building which allows you to deal with everything inside without having to hide as much. Given how this alternative approach would allow the player to be a lot more proactive than doing the usual routine of popping in and out from a corner popping an enemy one by one, I don't think it would be such a bad idea if the Superhot power-up was moved from the secret to around the center of the O-room, where the player would have to make a risky grab for it and put themselves in the middle of the crossfire, as situations where you're surrounded only plays to the strengths of the power-up.

    Picking up the red key inside only spawns a bunch more enemies outside. Again, something that's trivialized by taking a jump pad to get on top of the catwalks and rain death from above. At this point you're no longer constrained by having barely any weapons and ammo, which is about the only thing that made the first part of the level work as intended (on IM). Sadly the size of the new enemy forces does not pose a threat against you once you're fully equipped, let alone in a wide open space (and catwalks from high up where these enemies can't contest you on), again making this whole part feel like a crapshoot. The size and structure of the level seems to be more designed around the initial horde of enemies when you're outnumbered AND outgunned.

    I almost forgot to mention where most of the secrets in this level are concentrated, and that's on the incredibly long steel beams crisscrossing the arena from tower to tower in a massive spiderweb. On top of each tower there's a secret, though save for the Riveter secret most of the weapons here are overkill for the rest of the level itself, assuming you won't do anything as suicidal as trying to walk the steel tightropes when you haven't cleared out all enemies below yet. I'm not a fan of these type of secrets at all because of how completely divorced they are from the rest of the level and the amount of legwork required to get to them. If it was some kind of super secret with super useful rewards I might have overlooked it, but the steel beams here are visible in plain sight and not that hard to reach using the jump pads. These types of secrets break up the pacing of the level a bit too much. These old-school shooters manage to balance combat and exploration neatly, so secrets mostly pertain to hidden walls or tricky-to-get positions you can get to in a second or 10 without significantly impacting the pacing of a level. It'd be one thing if you voluntarily spent a lot of time trying to make a tricky jump to a secret and failing repeatedly, but here there's simply a lot of mandatory legwork involved to get to the secrets on top of each tower by having to bunnyhop across several beams (and making sure you hop onto the right one).

    Then after getting the red key, go outside, and you'll trigger a setpiece which opens a massive ceiling in the sky to reveal you're in some kind of city? It sure looks cool. Last not but least, there's yet another bossfight against... Big John. "HUAHHUABIGJOHNDASMEDAUWKEELMEHUAHUAKAMAWNNKEELMEHUAHUAHUAHUADAUW". He's basically a supercharged Soldier, but his Assault Rifle got a ridiculous amount of random spread so if you don't want to get hit you should get as far away as possible. Thankfully the Riveter secret allows you to shave off a good 80% of his health before he can start attacking, after which he can be finished off with the Hunting Rifle in a span of 6 or so seconds. Big Who?

    Erebus Reactor, much like your usual Petersen level, has a memorable core concept or idea, but rather questionable implementation of said concept. I don't mind RNG in my shooties when it comes to enemy behavior at least, see how enemies can patrol around at random in Descent, but the AI here can't really take advantage of such a concept, so it's ultimately the player's actions and our imperfect nature that acts as an organic driving force to make the first part of the level that excitingly chaotic. Unfortunately the openness of the level is at the same time its downfall, as it gives the player plenty of room to execute several cheese strats (the high-up catwalks being the worst offender), and the amount of buildings that provide you with cover would make any further teleporting of huge amount of enemies in rather redundant. At the very least the level is very striking visually, with the interweaving steel beams and cracks in the floor giving the level a greater sense of space than it can actually make any good use of. The final setpiece is also something to behold your first time around. Big John is an inoffensive pushover, but at this point I feel that complaining any further about the boss fights in DUSK or first-person shooters in general is getting more repetitive than the bosses themselves, so I'll leave it be.

    After the massive gravity shaft ride we end up in E2M7, Neobabel. Compared to the harsh goriness of the last handful of levels, this level gives off a more serene feeling. It's a floating temple and everything has this surreal mustard color, and the soundtrack is aptly ambient for this level as well. From the outside the level is completely symmetrical, which I normally abhor because symmetrical levels often will have you do one thing in one half of the level and almost always the exact same thing in the other half of the level, making for a rather predictable level. Thankfully during battles both halves of this level are joined rather than separated, so you don't have to repeat an encounter in the other half. Though the symmetricality does rear its head a bit if you want to get both starting shotguns, which are each placed on a small tower placed on the left and right of the central temple, where you have to boost yourself up the central temple with a jump pad and take the jump pad on top of the temple to boost yourself towards one of the two towers, which you'll have to repeat to get to the other one as well. I feel the redundancy could be lessened a bit if there was only one tower you could boost yourself towards form the temple top which would contain all the weapons.

    The exterior part of the level starts by handing you a Hunting Rifle first, which is rather apt given how large the exterior part is and how far away all the enemies are. On top of the temple roof there are two Grand Wizards, but their placement is largely ineffective because they're spawned with their backs towards you so they won't aggro if you're close, and the temple roof provides ample pillars and a difference in height between the parts of the temple roof you and they are on that makes it trivial to break line of sight with their homing fireballs. Considering how open the exterior is and that you're given a Hunting Rifle right from the start, it wouldn't have been such a bad idea to have the Grand Wizards be aggroed from the start. Though their homing fireballs are of the perpetually-turning-towards-the-player-type and have a very long decay time, which in a level with no encompassing walls may result in some shenanigans where a homing fireball misses you, and then keeps slowly turning and turning until it's heading towards you again from behind, which slows down the pacing of the game as you're trying to shake them off by trying to get them to bump into a wall. It's why I'm more in favor of homing projectiles which work like actual seeking missiles in a dogfighting game or Descent where they only keep tracking you as long as you're in their cone of acquisition. Alternatively the turning speed of homing projectiles could be lessened when you kill the Grand Wizard that launched it, so there's some more value in prioritizing them.

    The interior of the temple starts empty, save for some rats and Superhot power-up on top of a central pillar you can't quite reach. The only thing left is to grab the Assault Rifle and flick the switch, which... opens up the walls to reveal a whole bunch of Soldiers and Scientists for your surprise birthday party... while you're stuck in a tight position and the entrance is behind all these Soldiers. But if you have a nose for traps and remembered that shooting switches is still a thing, you could instead shoot the switch from a distance nearby the temple entrance, so you won't be as constricted. Doing so reveals a jump pad to your left which you can use to boost yourself to the second floor from where you can jump on top of the central pillar to get the Superhot power-up and let loose on all these Soldiers.

    Or you can just hang back from where you trigger the switch and take care of all the Soldiers one by one. The weird part about this encounter is that it won't immediately aggro all present Soldiers. The AI only aggroes on line of sight or being hit, not upon hearing a player sound like your gun being fired, making it easier to single out targets behind a corner depending on the enemy's facing direction. The walls will make Soldiers appear to the left and right of the hallway, but from the position where you trigger the switch only the Soldiers to the right can actually see you and get aggroed the moment you trigger the switch, effectively halving the amount of enemies you have to deal with, and even then the level geometry prevents you from being in the line of sight of enemies on that right half of the room, so it's even less than 50% of the enemies you'll have to deal with at once. Then once that's done you can do the same for the other half. This approach is probably more preferable than being swarmed in a position where you can't circlestrafe or backpedal while not having much of a reason to push forwards towards the temple entrance, but at the same time it leaves the Superhot power-up unused.

    Other than this encounter, there aren't any other encounters in the immediate vicinity whose intensity would warrant the power-up without its usage feeling like overkill. Power-ups like these are best used in situations that would have been highly difficult otherwise. But having to run past all the Soldiers and all their bullets just to get to the jump pad so you can get the power-up feels needlessly convoluted if hanging back and picking off all Soldiers one by one works just as fine, which I figure is what most people will do. To that end it may have been a better idea to have the pillars lower the moment the encounter starts so you can actually get to the power-up from the ground while all enemies are properly aggroed beforehand. By placing the power-up in arms' reach of the player and having enemies swarm in, it should be very clear that you should go pick up the power-up if you don't wanna die.

    What remains in the level is another lone building on the other side of the sky island. If you found the switch inside the temple which mysteriously opens some kind of smokestack, you'll find a secret Climbing Thing in the opened smokestack which lets you climb said building for a secret. And a somewhat redundant secret if you fully climb its roof. What this allows you to do is take a peek inside where all the enemies are waiting for you, and pick them off one by one in order to reduce the level of resistance once you enter the building for real, which also had another Superhot power-up placed right in the entrance. Inside you can also use the Climbing Thing to climb the many higher-up alcoves, of which only two hold any secrets. I wonder why those two aren't consolidated into one secret, because you essentially find and discover both secrets the same way; by realizing you can use the Climbing Thing to climb the building from the inside. If more than one secret can be found with the same solution, it just doesn't hold the same sense of reward.

    Unlike the previous Superhot power-up, abstaining from using this second Superhot power-up immediately isn't a waste, because once you take the teleporter you'll suddenly find yourself teleported in a circular room filled to the brim with Welders, Soldiers, Grand Wizards, and no way out. Which once you grab the Superhot (and the Rapid-Fire Totem immediately in front of you once you teleport in) doesn't seem so daunting all of a sudden. That's the fun part about power-ups, you can use them in more situations than one. The natural response to a situation like this is to circlestrafe the hell away, and thankfully the room accommodates that by being donut-shaped and placing most enemies on a catwalk overlooking the place rather than physically obstructing your path. This may seem contradictory given that I have criticized circlestrafing as being too dominant of a strategy for a good part of this article, but for this case I'm willing to make an exception. Here you're suddenly thrust into an unknown room, and by accommodating fallback strategies like circlestrafing you can avoid this room being a case of trial 'n error when you get killed before you can properly assess the situation. Even so, the room itself is tight and dense enough with enemies that even if you are circlestrafing it still remains enough of a challenge to dodge incoming projectiles in such a small space while also having to deal with the Grand Wizard.

    The level ends by teleporting you into another room, but this time its much darker and has some rotating blades, as if to signify we are going from the serene temple business back to grindhouse-core horror again, which in a way ties neatly with the next level. The encounters are interesting, though at this point in the campaign it feels like the 'grab a Superhot power-up while being surrounded' type of encounter is starting to become stale because of how identical the enemy setups in those encounters are. The "point of no return" rooms such as where you suddenly get teleported into an unknown room finally show some glimpses of brilliance by not allowing you to just cheese everything to death. Overall, a decent level.

    E2M8, Blood and Bone, is alongside E2M4 and E2M5 probably one of the most aesthetically pleasing levels this episode. Sadly most of the encounters here are downright plain and the secrets are weak.

    The way forwards is gated off and you can go either left or right. Going left will net you a secret single Shotgun which is too damn obvious to be a secret since it just involves exploring the space immediately available to you. To the right is a staircase winding downwards with enemies on every twist, but the limited space at your disposal and the fact you're given a Hunting Rifle as soon as you get there means you can methodically and repetitively take out every single enemy one by one. Don't forget the super-obvious grate you can break for some secret ammo. Once you get the yellow key at a bottom it's a dead end and you have to go back up again, so some extra Soldiers are spawned which you can also methodically dispatch one by one with your dual pistols. The Wendigo at the top of the staircase is an interesting twist at least, as this invisible bulletsponge is blocking your path in this narrow staircase, but because of the lack of any supporting enemies or elements you can just backpedal and use your HR against it.

    One of the next big rooms has a Welder and Great Wizard to the left and right of the entrance of the room, which is most consistently dealt with by backing up, and then popping in and out of the entrance taking potshots with your Hunting Rifle, methodically and repetitively. You could rush forward and try to be a badass, but what you are likely to find out the hard way doing so is that if you cross the halfway point of the room, that suddenly a bunch of Soldiers will spawn in. So now you have to deal with both Soldiers and Great Wizards/Welders at the same time, all spread out across the edges of the room to make circlestrafing not exactly the most ideal thing to do (or any kind of dodging, not to speak of the homing fireballs in the mix). That is, unless you don't rush forward but slowly pick apart all present enemies instead before having the Soldiers spawn in.

    After hopping down a pit it's again more of the same shit. Pop in and out of the room entrance to plink at the Welders, Great Wizards (and a Turret) with your HR. Methodically and repetitively. Take the jump pads all the way up where the three Welders and Scientists are, and take a shot with the HR each time you bounce in and out of their field of vision using the jump pad, methodically and repetitively. Normally I like to go out of my way doing things dangerously to look cool, but it should be realistically possible (on DUSKMARE) to do, and the 'safe' strat for a fight shouldn't be so downright obvious and easy to perform. There should exist some incentives to step out of your comfort zone, which the levels themselves can do (and have done in DUSK) by taking away some methods of cheese you could always rely on. To that end Hunting Rifle ammo could have been made more scarce as you'll be primarily relying on it in this level with all these Welders and Great Wizards. Anyways, having to play whack-a-mole with the Hunting Rifle around three times in a row starts to get old.

    Things aren't made much better when you have to go back to the first room with the huge windows after getting the key, which now features four Great Wizards spread out across the room and a bunch of Scientists. I like Great Wizards, but putting four of 'em spread around in each corner of a relatively small room with minimal cover to break line of sight with the homing fireballs, on top of some grunt enemies skittering around (at least Scientists aren't a complete joke in this instance), attacking aggressively just isn't feasible unless you want to eat a homing projectile from one of the four stooges. Bottlenecking every enemy here will work just fine instead, as you get ample time and space to do so. Funnily enough you can also jump from the ramp that leads into the room, which lets you see the tip of each Great Wizard without aggroing anyone, allowing you to take out all enemies one by one with the HR again.

    After the blue gate and a walk through pure darkness you find yourself walking up to some kind of tower, and then getting ambushed by Soldiers everywhere spread out all around you. You could either carve your way forwards behind some of the pieces of cover on the tower plateau, but the more likely reaction to such an "oh, shit" moment of suddenly seeing several Soldiers in front of you is to retreat to a known safe position instead of charging into the unknown. And just like with almost every other encounter in this level, all you need to do is back up and have the enemies come towards you in a bottleneck where you can clean them up with your Assault Rifle with minimal risk to yourself, AGAIN.

    That's pretty much it as far as combat goes, the only thing left is to fall down this shaft into a pitch-black basement as the fall broke your flashlight again. The layout isn't exactly straightforward enough that you can get around just by feeling the walls, fortunately the smoke and slight light sources can give you a vague idea of the layout you're in, but if you're crafty you can illuminate the way forwards by using the muzzle flash of your pistols. After you trigger the switch a Wendigo will spawn in, which makes for an interesting encounter because you can't pinpoint where it exactly is because of all the DARKNESS. After that you walk down a rather long staircase, where after almost each turn there's a different message scrawled with blood on the walls telling a bit more about the backstory, which is pretty inventive way of imparting a sequence of text passages on the player. Then around the last twist of the staircase you'd expect another message, but it was actually a Wendigo! Which, again, works as a surprise given the narrow nature of the staircase, even if it's easily killable by backing up slowly.

    Not that we're quite there yet, because you have to power up this machine by feeding the altar with raw meat in order to power up some ominous green power line that's been running through a good part of this level. Then when you turn back you can clearly see some items under the staircase, and grabbing that somehow counts as a secret. Come on, something in plain sight and easily within reach has no business being called a secret.

    Not like that's the dumbest secret in this level. In the prior dark basement you can find a secret red key, which you can only use by going to the end of the level, taking the teleporter to the start of the level, and going down the gray staircase to open the red door for some Hallowed Health. Which is damn well useless because all enemies should be dead by now. Unless you're playing outside IM so you can carry the bonuses over to the next level, but on IM there's absolutely zero reason to go for this secret for non-completionist reasons, especially not if you consider you have to go through over half of the entire level again if you want to grab this secret. This means going back to the gray staircase area, falling back down the long dark shaft again (doing this twice in a row in a short timespan can highlight how the setpiece-itis in DUSK can hurt the game somewhat on replays) except without the ominous voice in your head (and funnily enough the fall won't break your flashlight this time), and going back down the bloody staircase again. You have this entire detour for some shit you won't really get to use. A secret like this shouldn't even sound good on paper.

    The most effort seems to have went into making this level look visually a bit more standout. The large rooms with all the Great Wizards look especially striking because of the red dusky skybox you get to see because of the massive glasshouse windows, which casts an overarching shadow over the whole place, lending the room a certain level of visual depth most levels in DUSK simply lack because of this low-poly art style, and I certainly wouldn't object to seeing lighting like this be used as the defining visual feature (rather than your usual flatly textured inner areas, such as the first gray staircase). The two shafts you have to fall through aim to look pretty because of a pulsating effect used by seeing lights whiz by, like driving down a tunnel. The tower together with the Soldier ambush and open sky lends it a rather oppressive effect, and the atmosphere in the basement certainly is creepy. Unfortunately most of the combat encounters feel samey because they can be solved using the same strategy, without anything forcing you to change things up. Overall a pretty bad level, and plain offensive if you factor in the secrets.

    E2M9, The Dig, is just wholly unremarkable. Like the title suggests, it's a kind of underground ruins level slash digging site, though there isn't much in the vein of fantastic underground architecture to look at. Here you're given the Crossbow from the start and ample ammo to go with it, which lets you go ham on all the Wizards. And most enemies really if you remember you can shoot bolts through walls.

    At least the start of the level is bold. Walk a few steps forward and you'll suddenly hear multiple Wendigos on your tail. On IM you won't have any weapons at this point, but thankfully there's a Riveter behind the forklifts which should let you frag both Wendigoes with at least four out of five given Rivets. You'll probably die on IM if you don't notice the Riveter, as it's not 100% obvious what with it being obscured by the forklifts, which for clarity's sake could have been removed or moved a bit out of the way to make it impossible to miss the Riveter. If you somehow miss and fail to kill both at once with the ammo you got, then you can at least run past down the level to find the Crossbow or a Pistol in order to finish off the Wendigos, so at least you won't have to fall back on the Sickles.

    I've said before that Cowgirls are largely underutilized throughout the game, and I still stand by that, but in this level their spongy nature becomes more of an annoyance once you realize you can avoid dealing with their supersonic rockets entirely by standing behind a piece of cover and then shooting the Cowgirl through said cover with your Crossbow. They don't move very fast, so in practice this isn't so hard to do. It's just that they take about 10-12 bolts before going down, as behind cover you don't have to worry about any attacks and are just waiting for the Cowgirl to die while holding down LMB. Since you don't get your usual power weapons in this level (the shotty and HR being completely absent, Riveter ammo being very rare for once, and the Mortar being a secret available much later in the level), the Crossbow will be your go-to. But because the time to kill a single Cowgirl with just the Crossbow is so high, it reaches the point where the sponginess just serves to drag the fight out, rather than the sponginess being used in concert with the environment/other enemies to create a unique challenge by having the player face a highly lethal enemy they can't easily delete in a second like they can with the rest. It might have worked out better if the Cowgirls were moved towards the end of the level once you get some better gear, or to give you some extra Riveter ammo to reasonably deal with the Cowgirl without falling to sleep. Or placing a rapid-fire totem to speed things up.

    Near the red key there is a clever crack-in-the-wall secret, where the crack is placed right under an explosive barrel. It reveals a teleporter, which for some reason teleports you into a straight narrow corridor with absolutely no room to strafe or backpedal in on top of three Welders being lined up with the first one being right in your face. Damage is near guaranteed here because of their self-detonation on death, which seems like a hugely bullshit thing to do or just a huge oversight. When you do grab the red key a grated wall will open up in the room you were just in, behind which are those three aforementioned Welders and the passage the secret teleporter leads to. I suppose the assumption here was that the player would naturally grab the red key first and deal with the Welders first, after which you could take the secret teleporter without being obstructed by any enemies. But if you decide to take the secret teleporter first before doing any of these things, you're gonna get shit, even though there's no way for you to know where the teleporter will take you.

    The space you're teleported in could have been made wider and the Welders could have not been placed right in your face to fix this. Or by ensuring you're only bound to be able to enter the secret teleporter after dealing with said Welders first, either by placing it in another hidden wall which opens up after you grab the red key, which also contains the aforementioned crack in the floor. Another strange thing is that the secret (aside from a secret blue key) also contains a teleporter which teleports you near the junction which leads between the path you just went through to reach the red key and the path towards the rest of the level where you need to go next. If you miss the secret, it'll involve some unnecessary backtracking along the path to get to that junction again. It's not much, but a teleporter like that seems like something you'd want to have outside a secret. Why heap on unnecessary backtracking on people who missed it? It even gets sillier if you imagine what happens when you take the first teleporter, kill all three Welders without dying yourself, and then taking the teleporter to the starting junction, but without having grabbed the red key first, since the level progression doesn't require you to take it first. It's a bit silly.

    There's a neat encounter at the bottom of a pit where you have to deal with several Wizards, a Great Wizard, and a Wendigo in a tight 3x3 tic-tac-toe grid where you have to dodge carefully and uncover the Wendigo before it uncovers you. Unfortunately it is also completely skippable using the blue door one floor above it, by using the secret blue key from the aforementioned teleporter secret. It opens up a room which contains a hole which lets you get the drop on a Cowgirl you would have to face the hard way otherwise. Said room also contains a rapid-fire totem which means dealing with the Cowgirl in this situation isn't as much of a problem as it was with the last one. After killing it you can just drop down the hole and skip the aforementioned encounter, and I think I've said before how I feel about secrets whose reward is letting you play less of the level.

    Though this is the second-last level of the episode, things are rather tame. From now on most enemy encounters are just one-on-one, and facing more than three enemies at once becomes a rarity. I'm counting groups of Wizards as a single entity, because in the face of your Crossbow their individual lives are so devoid of value that one Wizard or a handful of Wizards makes no difference to your decision making other than you trying to line up as many of them as possible. At least lining up Crossbow shots never gets old. But up until the end it's all filler encounters which aren't worth elaborating upon. You'd think that the final real level of an episode (not counting the upcoming final one as it's just a boss level) would screw things up a notch, but unfortunately not. Even if it's not a major challenge, it could have at least been a power trip, but there aren't even enough enemies you eviscerate at once for it to be considered a power trip. A finale only really works if there's proper build-up to it, else it just comes out of nowhere or feels like it's petering out. At least narratively the voice in your head drops enough DEEPEST LORE to make it feel like you're uncovering something horrific (like the level name implies). Unfortunately the gameplay is not given the same treatment.

    At least the level ends with a boss fight, and... it's 'Son of Intoxigator'. It's literally just Intoxigator from E1M3 again. Your player character even visualizes "AWW COME ON" on screen. Note: self-deprecating jokes don't make the prospect of recycled boss fights more palatable, just like being self-aware about sewer levels being shit does not excuse having shitty sewer levels in the first place. Maybe the stats of Son are a bit different from his dead dad, but the approach you used for his dad still applies because the arena design for this fight is barely any different than when you fought the first Intoxigator. Just stand behind a pillar when he's about to fire, and keep shnooting his shnout. If you found the secret Mortar, then this fight plays out exactly the same way as the MAMA boss fight did in E2M5. It'll take about more than 20 Mortar grenades for it to finally go down while you're repeating the same circlestrafe/move around pillars routine, which is excessive. At least recycling a prior boss would have worked better as a joke if it didn't take so long to kill it.

    After that's done you can go hit the level exit switch, except it only makes two Cowgirls appear. At least this fight is trickier by virtue of having to manage two high-profile targets whose attacks have super high projectile speeds, though if you've been saving up Riveter ammo you can quickly delete one before she attacks and then reliably deal with the other. At least this fight could have used some special HP-boosted versions of Cowgirls to account for all that Riveter ammo in the level. Or some extra adds on top of that, like all the Spectres in Doom's final Bruiser Brothers fight at the end of Episode 1 to make it tricker to use your rocket launcher. But generally when in doubt about designing boss fights in games about fighting crowds of enemies at once, just make it a 1v2, as you usually can't just stunlock one guy to death when the other is still on your tail.

    That brings us to the final level of this episode, E2M10, The Gauntlet. You get your Riveter right off the gate so you know shit's about to go down. There's two teleporters leading to two separate areas, in which there are two switches each you need to flick to open the portal to the level exit. Once stepping through either one of them, you'll come to face... The Guardian. I don't even know how to describe its appearance. But it's basically got a Mortar machine gun for an arm and can fill a corridor with grenades. The combat spaces for this fight are very narrow, so once he's about to carpet bomb your ass you want to immediately go to a different lane, as micrododging twenty grenades at once by sliding won't be really effective. And the most interesting part about this fight is: he can teleport! There are points in the level (around the switches) where he can surprise you by teleporting right in your face. Even if you take the teleporter out of one of the two mazes towards the starting area, he'll soon after teleport along with you. You constantly have to madly dash around for Riveter ammo and rapid-fire totems because he can tank a lot of damage, so knowing how to navigate the level is also essential to be able to deal damage to the boss.

    The best way to describe this boss fight would be like a first-person Bomberman, except the other guy can teleport, and the only way to win is to pick up all small ammo pickups and power pill items along each path (wait, doesn't that make it more like Pacman?). It's only once I put it that way once I realized how much wasted potential this fight has, because I really like the Bomberman/Pacman arena concept of it a lot, especially when combined with the boss teleporting around. It avoids the usual 'circlestrafe until it dies' problem for other bosses because of the grenade spam and tight arena design, whose small size ensures you have to pick your moments when you can safely shoot at the boss and when it's time to run the hell away. There's no reason to use anything other than the Riveter in this fight until you run out of ammo, but on IM this fight cleverly plays around this by not frontloading you with all the Riveter ammo in the world and forcing you to run around looking for more weapons and ammo in the first place, so there's additional objectives beyond 'shoot at it until it dies'.

    It's only disappointing that the teleport ability of the boss is largely scripted. Only if you move over certain parts of the level will he teleport right in front of you, and he'll only teleport once per trigger, which means once you've figured those out can make this fight rather predictable. The slow movement speed of the boss itself also limits how much pressure he can put on you. Once you've exhausted all teleport triggers you can get him to walk down a long corridor as you pop in and out repeatedly to take potshots with the Riveter. It sure would have been more interesting if the boss could teleport more dynamically and more frequently to keep you guessing, kind of like boss fights in Descent (but hopefully with some telegraphing on where he's about to teleport so he doesn't teleport right in front of you without warning). Then expand the size of the mini-mazes, add in three more clones of the same boss with different colors, give them unique behavior, and call them Binky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde.

    Joking aside, the concept of a boss fight like this stands out very much in a game where most boss fights are just matters of running circles around the boss or running the boss around a piece of cover and plinking it to death, though the execution leaves something to be desired. Once the teleport triggers have been exhausted it goes back to your regularly scheduled programming, which is a shame.

    To top things off, Episode 2 makes big strides compared to Episode 1 in the fields of pretty much everything. It's the superior episode, no doubt about it. The new enemies open a lot more possibilities in enemy encounter design, and moving on from endless flat spaces is a definite plus. Audiovisually the levels became a lot more creative, and the occasional gimmick helps create some stand-out moments, even if it comes at the cost of replay value at times. However, the dominant strategy that is "run behind a corner and then take potshots as enemies bottleneck themselves" is still too strong and kneecaps many encounters, on top of the game not daring to be more evil with its level design, instead playing it safe and easy. I wish Episode 2 could have been the first episode somehow, because a lot of responses I've read online give off the impression that they didn't play further than E1 because how boring it was (because it admittedly is).
    And that leaves only the third and final episode, where we enter the realms of chaos and fgasdshdhhhhhhhhasd


    FINAL EPISODE: LOVECRAFT WEPT
    Show Spoiler

    E3M1, The Iron Cathedral makes a stark departure from other levels by having you start only with The Sword, which serves as a more viable melee option to the Sickles as it can cut down Wizards and Soldiers in a single stroke. What's particularly interesting about it is that it's also a type of 'rich get richer' weapon. When you have 100 health or more, you can hold the attack button to charge a Charge Attack, which can oneshot some of the toughest enemies in the game like Scarecrows, Grand Wizards, and Priestesses, having the highest damage per hit out of your entire arsenal. The fact that you can only use it when at 100+ health also means you need to get better at dodging incoming fire if you want to make use of its full potential. The better you get at the game, the more opportunities you get to use The Sword in order to kill tanky enemies even faster. However, using this weapon still has risks attached to it, what with it being a close-range melee weapon and having to charge up your attacks, but the risks here are definitely worth the reward.

    When your Morale (Armor) is over 50, it can also be used to reflect all incoming projectiles and melee attacks, consuming 1 Morale per projectile deflected, which is useful to reflect homing projectiles, to instakill enemies who fire spreadshots, or to close in on an enemy and then follow up with a Charge Attack. It's usually faster to just stab enemies, but the projectile deflection has its uses in more open levels with homing projectiles.

    The Sword will be the only weapon you have for some time in this level, so this level serves as a good opportunity to get used to this new weapon. Unless you find the secret Crossbow and/or Mortar, but at least they are well hidden this time around. One is in a crack in the wall behind where you start the level which has that noisy mountain texture and dark lighting to further obscure the crack texture, which is subtly telegraphed with a single out-of-place Morale bonus, and you have to find an explosive first to blow it open since you started with no weapons. A secret Mortar has to be found by shining your flashlight in a wide and dark rectangular arena until you find an out-of-place depression in the wall, and the other is hidden behind an out-of-place textured wall in a dimly lit corridor where it all blends together. Except for the secret Crossbow ammo in the vent shaft which takes way too long to get to the secrets in this level are on point.

    This level introduces the Priestess, which is your Leatherneck stand-in for this episode. The behavior is about the same, except Priestesses have a bit more health and deal more damage. But I like their visual design more because of their weird-ass Shub-Niggurath-esque visual design combined with a cool flaming greatsword, and their exaggerated attack animation for their sword swing does a much better job at conveying wind-up and the range/hitbox of their attack than it does with the chainsaw swing animation of the Leathernecks. In practice you just Charge Attack them in one hit with the Sword since they can't be oneshotted with the Super Shotgun like with the Leathernecks, but I think that extra amount of health is an improvement the Leathernecks could have used.

    Using the Super Shotgun against Leathernecks was a no-brainer because it was a guaranteed oneshot kill and Shotgun shells are always plentiful, but with the amount of health the Priestesses have the only ranged weapons with oneshot potential are the Hunting Rifle and Riveter, ammo for both of which is rather rare. Aside from that the only other weapon that can oneshot Priestesses is a Charged Attack from the Sword, and even then you need over 100 health to be able to use it. With Priestesses it's a decision between getting dangerously close with the Sword for a free kill or expending some of your rare HR/Riveter ammo for a quick kill, and if you're under 100 health you don't even get the option of the Charge Attack. Not oneshotting a Priestess or Leatherneck means you have to deal with them running up into your personal space while you're whittling them down, though in reality this depends on the spaciousness of the level itself as this whole paragraph falls flat on its face when you already have the space to stay out of their range with ease forever. In any case this slight bump in health combined with an additional risky melee option you have to earn to keep for compensating for the SSG not being able to do its job anymore makes fighting Priestesses a bit more interesting than Leathernecks.

    The first big fight takes place in an arena which takes the exact concept from the Wizards + Wendigo arena in E2M9, except this time there's two Wendigo's and more Wizards, and you only have The Sword (and maybe the secret Crossbow). In any case this encounter is a lot more interesting now that you don't have a rapid-fire weapon at your disposal at this moment like the Pistol or AR to quickly spray around you and uncover the Wendigos. In fact having only The Sword makes things more riskier now that you have to find a way to get up close the Wizards without getting hit. What's also interesting is how instead of entering the arena at the edge, you instead follow a walled passage towards the center of the arena, and only then do the walls collapse around you to show the entire arena and all the enemies inside. By being dropped off near the center of the fight and because the arena is so large, you're less inclined to back up to the entrance and cheese everything again, on top of the entrance being hard to see and a good distance behind you as showing your back to projectile-throwing enemies isn't exactly enticing, so trying to fight your way out will come the most natural to the player.

    The blue key is on top of a platform in the middle of a pit filled with Crystals of Madness which looks like it has some deeper meaning if the scrawlings on the nearby walls are any indication, but falling in the pit involves a lot of slow crawling through a crawlspace to get back out of the pit again, which could have been abridged. As is the time it takes to do nothing but crawl towards the secret crossbow ammo is way too high.

    The room with the three Great Wizards + several Wizard adds placed in a line serve as a great mini-tutorial on getting you to use the parry on your Sword. A prior diamond and bag of coins should give you enough Morale to try this function out, and the three Great Wizards being placed in a straight line while blocking each others' line of fire prevents you from getting overwhelmed by several (Great) Wizards at once since you (officially) only have The Sword at this point and can't retaliate as easily if you are being shot by several dudes at once, or alternatively would run out of Morale from blocking all these projectiles at once. In any case this situation should teach you that the Sword deflect is good against homing fireballs when put in a situation where bottlenecking the enemy into melee range isn't really applicable, and if you have the health you even have more incentive to oneshot the Great Wizards with a Charge Attack.

    At the end of the conga line you'll officially get the Crossbow again, after which some walls will open up and two groups of Wizards in line formation will appear, alongside a HUD reminder that the Crossbow pierces through enemies. And after that the level lets you go ham on Wizards with the Crossbow, even going as far by placing large groups of them in narrow rectangular hallways that's just ideal for a single Crossbow bolt to take out several in one shot. It's a blatant powertrip, but after spending half of the level in an underpowered state wielding only a melee weapon I think it's a deserved power trip. That said, I still feel obliged to hammer on the fact that you're still being given too much Crossbow ammo, as after getting the Crossbow and the two nearby bolt ammo pick-ups you'll total out on 30 whereas if you line the Wizards up properly you only really need under 10 bolts. And even then you're given THE SWORD which just lets you kill a Wizard in a single stroke. Skewering multiple Wizards with a single bolt doesn't feel as rewarding when you know you have such a huge pool of ammo to fall back on and know there isn't much a risk attached to missing your shot or being nonoptimal with your shot placement through multiple enemies.

    At the end of the second conga line the game will surprise you by suddenly teleporting in the Cart Dog; a limbless dog suspended in the air with rope attached to a rectangular wooden cart with wheels, and it brings some good news: now we have a melee enemy that does move while attacking! Much like a Lost Soul it'll mill about for a second or two before charging towards you at great speed with instant acceleration. On top of that it's got enough HP to not be easily deleted before it can reach you, taking at least two HR shots to kill and several more of the Crossbow. Using the Charge Attack of the Sword is a massive risk as doing so barely gives you the room to dodge out of his range when he decides to charge on top of requiring two Charged Strikes to be killed instead of one, so without a Riveter he's bound to get at least one rush attack off before you're able to kill it, which makes killing it with The Sword all the more rewarding.

    One interesting thing to point out is that the Cart Dog has no wind-up animation for his attack. Normally for a melee enemy that would be a bad thing, but here I believe having this information hidden away from you actually makes Cart Dogs a lot more interesting to fight. Considering they attack by physically moving towards you, you can easily tell they're attacking by their sudden burst in speed and the attack sound they play the moment they boost forwards. But because you know they can suddenly dash at full speed, what you get is like trying to deal with a bomb that can go off at any moment. You have to be constantly wary that they will go off any second now and that being close to them will not make you eligible to life insurance claims. If they did have a wind-up animation, a large part of this tension would evaporate when given a quick heads-up to mentally prepare yourself to do a quick slide to the side before it actually starts charging, whereas otherwise you have to dodge-react on the spot. It may come off as sudden bullshit when you didn't distance yourself, but then again you shouldn't be close to Cart Dogs in the first place unless you're prepared to pay the price. Thankfully DUSK doesn't stick Cart Dogs in spaces where you have no space to dodge them. There is a cooldown between when a Cart Dog is able to attack again, and this gives you a rough idea of when it's about to attack again. Unfortunately Cart Dogs aren't as used as often in E3 as I would have liked to, especially to compensate for their very late introduction.

    What's really most promising about this level is the increase in consistency of visual detail in the levels. Before in the game there were a lot of parts in levels which were uninspiredly rectangular and had no detail to make them stand out, which made the flat repeated texturing and architecture all the more lazy. But in this level, almost every hallway and room is architecturally unique. Passages aren't just square, sometimes they're round or trapezoidal or are spaced out by arches on the ceiling. Additional geometrical details like windows or outsets in the walls help break up the monotony of repeated textures, and colored lighting is used more extensively like in the cathedral entrance or the passages through the lava near the end to give each part of the level an unique color to help contrast it from others. Not that DUSK didn't do it before, but it's more noticeable here because of the vibrancy of the colors picked and the combining of them. Episode 1 looked decidedly amateurish, but at this point Szymanski has built up enough experience to make levels which actually look visually appealing.

    In any case, it's a promising start for a new episode. Starting off with only The Sword was a great idea for a level, and the power trip at the end was well deserved, even if it sets the precedent for this entire episode where you'll be swamped with crossbow ammo.

    E3M2, Fire and Ice, like the name suggests, starts you off by having you put on an environmental suit and having to walk across some lava to safe ground before your suit runs out. Though it's only a small distance you have to walk which you're bound to reach with like 70% of your suit remaining at least. Here the lava and environmental suit start serves more of an aesthetic purpose, which I frankly appreciate more than if it tried to go the stress-inducing "find your way forward in an unfamiliar maze-like level filled with dead ends and enemies before your suit runs out" direction which would only imply more trial 'n error.

    There is a strange secret in the first combat area where behind a breakable wall there's another breakable wall above which you can jump up to to get to a part of the level which you will visit later after getting the blue key. From there you can kill most enemies present and reach a secret early which gives you some extra crossbow ammo, but there's already plenty of non-secret crossbow ammo in the level to start with which makes it a kind of superfluous secret, but the way reaching this part of the level handles in terms of pacing is a bit strange.

    When you get there through the secret, the way you're actually supposed to come in this part of the level is locked by a blue door, but so is the other part of the level where you're supposed to go afterwards to get the yellow key. You can't progress backwards or forwards after clearing out the enemies, so you're clumsily forced to just do an 180 and return via the cracks in the wall you entered from. There's nothing to be really gained from sequence breaking this part either, as the present encounters aren't made any significantly easier (the Crossbow is already quite powerful against all these Wizards) nor can you get any weapons earlier before you're supposed to. It would have been appreciated if you could at least exit through the official entrance from the inside to spare you some backtracking, as that's where you'll need to go next otherwise. Another option would be to just remove the second crack in the wall to prevent the player from getting into a situation where they're bound to unnecessarily backtrack more.

    The central feature of this level is a giant lava waterfall, complete with silly small rock islands with Wizards on them who are stuck on there for life. I have been complaining about 'too much Crossbow ammo' for a while now, but perhaps another way of addressing would be to say there aren't enough enemies to use all your Crossbow ammo on, because this part of the level is a total breeze. You get plenty of space, it's all Wizards (save for a single Great Wizard way down who you can easily snipe from a distance), and there is some cover to safely shoot your bolts through if you wish. For the third and final episode having your Crossbow be one of your workhorse weapons marks a sharp increase in your damage output, but the amount of enemies present isn't increased to account for it. That's not to say that the amount of Wizards on screen hasn't increased at all; there are several parts in this level where you have to deal with large groups of them at once, however placing them all on a flat surface prevents the Wizards in the back line from actively participating in anything other than the contest for how many Wizards you can rail with a single bolt. If anything Wizards should be more vertically spread around so each Wizard can actually get a clear line of fire at you. If only there was an enemy type in DUSK with the ability to fly...

    And what do you know, this level finally introduces one! Once you climb up to get to the ruined church in the middle of a blizzard and hit all four switches, it'll spawn a massive swarm of Bone Monks: flying legless skeletons who much like the Wizard just shoot straight fireballs at you, except with a faster projectile speed. The Bone Monk is a bit tankier than a Wizard, but since they will usually be out of range for your shotguns, the Hunting Rifle will be your preferred weapon of choice against them as it will cleanly oneshot them. The arena where you encounter them also makes this heavily clear by giving you the Hunting Rifle for the first time in this episode and some extra ammo to go with it.

    What I don't know is why you'd introduce a flying enemy only this late into the game when they would have made a great addition for fights in all the open outdoors maps of E1 by forcing you to distribute your attention between the sky and floor more. Flying enemies are always welcome to round the enemy cast of any FPS purely because of that and because they can chase you in ways groundbound enemies can't. If anything they could have been a great companion enemy with Wizards in the same way Soldiers and Welders are like I explained before, where you constantly find yourself switching between two weapons to take care of one with one and the other with the other.

    This kind of ties in with a running complaint I have with E3 where I don't feel that the last third of any game is where you should continue introducing new enemy types by the boatload and new gameplay gimmicks, but that your efforts are instead better spent on exploring existing mechanics or layering multiple enemies together in ways not seen before. Because you have to take it a bit more slowly to introduce new enemies or mechanics properly, doing so in the final act of the game when the player has already become more acclimated with the game can make things come off too easy, and possibly too gimmicky when said newly introduced mechanics barely get any time to shine. At least this could be excused if there was some kind of NG+ mode.

    The rest of the fights in this level aren't particularly worth talking about. It's mostly more fun with the Crossbow against Wizards. There is a potentially cool encounter where a closet opens containing a Cart Dog and two Priestesses, but the space where that happens is too open for those melee enemies to be a serious threat, so it falls rather flat on its face. On the other hand, the aesthetic contrast between the underground lava parts and the topside blizzard makes this level stand out a lot more visually, so that's a positive. But aside from the Bone Monk introduction this level is rather forgettable in terms of enemy encounters.

    Then we have E3M3, City of Shadows. The best way I can describe it is that it's the result from compressing one of those big-ass gothic city levels from Quake: Arcane Dimensions into a byte-sized level. This level is very small, but it's incredibly dense. The architecture is the most striking thing about it: a whole heap of asymmetrical gothic buildings chaotically overflowing into one another like a favela and the bridges connecting the left and right parts of the city give this level a strong illusion of immense scale and height. Which isn't even that much of an illusion, several jump pads are placed on the bottom floor to enable smooth vertical traveling from the bottom to the uppermost floors. The major dark blue of this level contrasts nicely with the bright red glass windows of the buildings, which adds more to this level's unique visual identity and helps it stand out more from other levels in the game.

    The setup for this level is pretty unique too. The red key you need to grab to get right there in the open which you can get at any time... but if you've played DUSK this far or any old FPS for that matter, you should know better than to trust a key lying right in the open like that. In fact, there is a Rapid-Fire totem right above the key, which itself should signal that there are bigger things afoot. Since the entire "city" (city is a bit of an exaggeration) is open to you from the get-go, you might as well explore for some secrets and weapons first. Especially on Intruder Mode you don't want to pick up any keys while you only have the Pistols and an Assault Rifle. In fact, not having Intruder Mode enabled is doing this level a massive disservice, since with a full arsenal you can make a straight grab for the key anyways without being too overwhelmed by what comes next, and the pacing that arises from slowly rebuilding your arsenal as you explore the houses is simply gone if you start out with a full kit.

    Constantly reacquiring your old weapons back keeps the pacing of this level fresh, but I am somewhat disappointed by how light the combat is before you get the key, as you'll be fighting two Wizards at once at most with the occasional Priestess. On replays it can make the exploratory part of the level feel a bit too unfittingly easy compared to what comes next. Since you're going through indoor environments a lot, it could have had the excuse to make you fight tougher enemies like Cart Dogs and multiple Priestesses at once in a very cramped space, but alas. There is one tunnel with a diamond down the line which will spawn a Cart Dog at the tunnel entrance when you pick up the diamond, forcing you to either quickly kill it before it reaches you as the tunnel is too narrow to reliably dodge it, or crawl into the conveniently placed hole at the end of the tunnel where the Cart Dog can't reach you. That's the type of tricky encounter with regard to tight spaces I would have liked to see more in DUSK.

    Really, not playing this level on Intruder Mode is doing it a disservice. I have said this a lot about previous levels but nowhere does it apply as strongly with this one. The whole structure of the level is all about finding all weapons to prepare yourself for the big encounter, and if you already start the level completely kitted out, than this exploration segment becomes largely meaningless since you can just make a grab for the key with all weapons in hand. The only reason you might want to snoop around then is to refill on ammo. A best case compromise would have been to have this level be the first in the episode, so everyone is forced to start it naked regardless of whether you're playing it on IM or not.

    Once you do grab the key, enemies will spawn in from everywhere, including a Priestess to right next where you stand. Wizards will spawn on top of the buildings, Priestesses roam the floor, and you've got Bone Monks hovering about too, forcing you to use the jump pads to quickly reposition yourself as the city layout and enemies being spawned all around you makes circlestrafing rather ineffective. The most unfortunate part about this fight is that it's too easy to run into one of the buildings and wait for all the enemies to bottleneck themselves in the building entrance. At the very least, if you grab the Rapid-Fire totem and the secret Superhow power-up beneath the key (one which isn't too hard to miss provided you explored enough to find the switch which opens the house holding the power-up), you'll have some reason to not cheese this encounter at the very least. Ideally all the buildings (sans the one with the secret) could have had their doors locked to force you to take the fight outside where all the action is, but alas.

    After that you can go open the red building which holds a switch to open the well. Dive inside to find an underwater temple, and an underwater boss fight? Chomper is a giant fish which just fires regular spreads of projectiles, though the underwater setting at least makes it more interesting by briefly turning the game into a 6DoF game (even though you can't roll, so that's not entirely accurate). But it is again unfortunate that it's another boss that consists of only one easily avoidable attack, instead of utilizing a setting where the player can freely move up and down with trickier to avoid attacks which cut off where you can move. Evenso if you found the secret Riveter and additional secret Riveter ammo you can delete this fish in seconds, adding even more fuel for the joke factor.

    So after picking up the yellow key and hitting a switch, the level pulls a Water Temple by flooding the entirety of the level, forcing you to swim your way up to the yellow building, which is always a neat way of turning previously explored levels on their head. Some additional Bone Monks have been spawned in to keep you occupied, probably because they're the only enemy types at this point in the game capable of moving up and down underwater. Wizards and Priestesses can't swim worth shit, though admittedly a Wizard capable of swimming underwater would be barely any different from a Bone Monk anyways. The level ends with a fight in a large underwater cavern against a new enemy type called Chomper's Son(s), who are the exact same as him except they are bite-sized, fire a single straight projectile instead of a spread, and die in a single HR shot. Being shot at from tiny Chompers all around you while underwater would ironically be a dozen times more challenging than the actual big Chomper boss fight, however the final cavern itself poses a massive door problem given all the angles of attack you can't possibly cover because of all the mini-Chompers around you, let alone in a 6DoF environment, so camping near the cavern entrance and taking potshots it is.

    But the silliest thing here is the following: you have underwater sections, you have special underwater enemies. Why would you use it for only one level in the entire game? Think back on how Quake and the Build Engine games utilized underwater movement for the purposes of exploration and combat. Meanwhile E1M3 is the only other level in the game where you have to go underwater to progress (but no combat), whereas for E1MS and E1M6 underwater movement is solely reserved for finding secrets. Episode 2 seems to have entirely forgotten that underwater movement is a thing. To me, this feels like an enormous waste of resources and potential. Because underwater exploration/combat is only ever really used in one level, it feels more like a throwaway gimmick than an actual game mechanic that could've been expounded upon more.

    E3M3 might very well be the best looking level in the entire game, and it's got several unique ideas, but they're hampered by the fact that the level doesn't really try to explore them. It still manages to be one of my favourites, however.

    E3M4, Crypt of the Flesh is probably the scariest level in the game. A fall at the start of the level will break your flashlight, because of course it will, but this level makes full use of it. What immediately stands out is how decrepitly gangrenous this level looks. The walls have this rotten pale green tint to them, and the only source of light are from these green bioluminescent mushrooms, while in later parts of the level you will be crawling through entire areas made of gore and flesh. Not to mention the layout is incredibly claustrophobic. The sound design and music for this level is right unnerving too, there's this constant breathing sound which sounds like it's an actual part of the level, and the background music plays these creepy drawn out xylophone tones on top of that one laughing sample used by Silent Hill, Postal 1, and Half-Life 2 (you know the one). For the first minute you're forced to taste around the darkness, or as the voice in your head puts it: "EMBRACE THE DARKNESS". The only weapons you'll find at this point are two single Shotguns and some pistols. After flicking a switch to open the basement door, you'll realize that the breathing actually isn't just the leveoh goD what the FUCK

    I can't exactly describe this enemy with words, but outright showing it would be too much of a spoiler. Aptly named Horrors, these guys are skinny naked humanoid yet amphibian creatures with elongated limbs, jet black eyes, and a horribly outstretched jaw. When inactive they make this unhealthy sound that's a mix of asthmatic breathing and gastric sounds, but when they're active you'll hear a constant whine to tell you it's on to your ass, as they run towards you in a most inhumane fashion. Here the low-poly art style actually manages to be really fear-inducing for once because, at first I didn't know what the fuck I was looking at. On a still screenshot they look incredibly silly, but the atmosphere of this level makes them incredibly terrifying. Functionally these guys are just reskins of Scarecrows with minor statistical differences which is kinda disappointing, but it makes their introduction no less horrifying.

    What's smart here is that you only have the two single Shotguns to work with against your first Horror. Past this encounter you'll always have the Super Shotgun to deal with them because otherwise encounters would become too drawn out, but here it works because you have the shock of its initial appearance to deal with, the claustrophobic space of the room means you're forced to get up close and personal with it on top of making its attacks hard to avoid, and it'll take at least five blasts from your Shotgun before it goes down, which gives it plenty of time to etch itself in your memory whereas if it would die real easily it wouldn't seem that scary after all.

    After that the level changes things up a bit by having you go through some fleshy red innards before grabbing your old friend the Super Shotgun, which prompts a scripted Horror to run up behind you. You'll be facing a dead end when you grab the super shotty anyways, so when you hear the sudden whine of the Horror, doing a 180 to look behind you is the only logical option, as opposed to the game being a dick and just spawning one right behind you and giving you barely any time to react. The Super Shotgun can kill Horrors in two point-blank blasts (faster and one shell more efficient than with the single Shotguns), which this level utilizes to get you acclimated to fighting Horrors more by having them run up to you in a narrow spiral staircase.

    After that you get a new flashlight, a Sword which you can use to oneshot the Horrors with, and the level quickly transitions from slow horror to the standard action. It cascades with intensifying music into a neat encounter where flicking a switch causes two Bone Monks and a Horror to spawn in front of you, with the Horrors frantically running up the stairs towards the narrow platform you'll be standing on, leaving you with very little breathing space and having to react quickly against the two incoming threats. However, if you stand behind the switch, you can avoid line of sight with the Horror, allowing you to easily pick off the two Bone Monks and then safely deal with the Horror instead of having to deal with both at once as was probably intended, which seems like an oversight to me and potentially robs a cool encounter. The beating continues as you enter a large open room with two Cart Dogs to your right, however they are dealt with too easily by simply backing up to the previous room where they can't charge right at you because of the height difference in the floors. They have to first move down the ramp before they can get to you instead of being able to jump down from it. The AI pathfinding isn't very well equipped for dealing with differences in height, so enemies won't jump down ledges to get to where you are (or in the Cart Dog's case, launch themselves towards you like a car accident). At the very least the level design could have tried to cover up this fact by preventing such a situation from ever happening, and by not always letting me backpedal behind a corner.

    This level is rather short, probably because it's much like E2M2 so as a level the horror parts won't be vastly outnumbered by all the combat encounters and dilute its identity. So you go to the level exit and pick up this completely innocuous Hallowed Health in the middle of a pool of blood and...

    Two new enemies spawn in. Bone Balls. Giant bony spheres which indiscriminately spam a zillion bullets per second in your general direction. In a game where one hit can kill you, is the idea of an enemy type that indiscriminately spams the room with bullets and slowly suffocates your free space a good one? Hell yes. Is it a good idea to introduce them by spawning two of them right in your face in an incredibly constricted room with no space to circle around them and hundreds of bullets being shot at random directions? No it isn't, what the hell are you doing?

    The surprise of having a new enemy spawned right in your face, let alone two of them in a space where you can't reliably avoid their attacks you aren't used to, is some right BS. You do get a Hallowed Health to smooth the damage over (and you can just skip this encounter by not picking up the Hallowed Health at all), but there could've been smoother ways of introducing this new enemy instead of a Gotcha! moment. The Wendigoes and Horrors had some build-up to their introduction, and you only encountered one of them the first time around. But in this case Bone Balls are rather tanky, so you can't kill them quickly with The Sword or anything else (setting aside that trying to close in on an enemy immune to stunlocking and firing a non-stop stream of bullets at you is a risk not really worth it to begin with). Not getting hit basically comes down to RNG, especially on DUSKMARE, unless you had the premonition to pull out The Sword beforehand and use its parry function to protect yourself from the shitstorm. Provided you have enough armor to parry all the bullets, that is. Also this room sneakily locks the door behind you when you enter it. Out of all encounters where infinite backpedaling and cornerhumping allowed you to cheese them, the one to actually lock you down had to be this one.

    Bone Balls also suffer from a core flaw which greatly inhibits their placement potential in levels alongside other enemies, namely how near-guaranteed it is that they cause all enemies around them to infight. When you spray that many bullets around that wildly, some friendly fire is bound to occur. The sheer likelihood of causing infighting can make trying to make other enemy types work alongside Bone Balls a total headache when the Bone Balls are so chaotic in their behavior that it ruins whatever enemy placement you had in mind. This problem isn't as noticeable in E3 since Bone Balls aren't used that often (which is kind of a problem in itself), and when they are it's usually on their own with other Bone Balls or with one or two accompanying Bone Monks, which may have been the reason why they aren't used more frequently. In any case, the joy of infighting comes from the player being able to position himself or the level designer designing levels around the fact to initiate infighting on their own terms. It's a skill you can use to turn massive odds in your favor. But with Bone Balls you don't even need to go out of your way to cause infighting, they'll cause it with or without your input. For this reason Bone Balls would have been better off if their projectiles had an exception for dealing damage and causing infighting to other enemies, so they could fulfill their role of being a passive background threat which gets more threatening over time without breaking the encounters they are in.

    Overall this level is sweet but short, its fuck-up of a finale aside. Atmospherically and aesthetically it's damn strong. Horrors being just a reskin of Scarecrows is rather lame, but at least their visual and sound design is more interesting. One neat change I noticed for this level is how it uses small interactable switches more for secrets (and general progression), which this level in particular gets more creative with by placing them around pillars or objects where you're unlikely to see them. They have a lot more flexibility in terms of placements as secrets than something like giant crack-in-the-wall textures for example, so I have to wonder why DUSK didn't just rely on these more often. So if you find one of these secret switches, you'll open up a secret room with a red door inside it, which if you open it leads you to... just a bathroom. It's just a plain white bathroom in the middle of an abstract larger fleshy cavern. All that remains is to take a brief pause, flush your worries down the toilet, and you yourself along with it.

    Taking the shitting route out fittingly leads us to E3MS, The Ratacombs. As the name suggests, it's filled with Rats, and only Rats. Which... isn't going to make for a real engaging level. Rats are slow enemies and can do little but skittle towards you and try nibbling your toes. They're nuisance enemies first and foremost, best used in situations alongside other enemies or in places where they can be an actual nuisance. At the start of this level you're given a Mortar with ammo to spare, which allows you to clear out groups of Rats without too much effort, though it's more preferable to having to hit a small enemy like Rats with the awkward attack hitboxes from your Sword or Sickles. You'd think that this level would become a thousandfold more threatening on DUSKMARE, but it doesn't. The only thing that changes is that the possibility of dying actually exists now, though the only way you're going to get hit if you lose your patience and charge ahead without clearing out all the rats methodically. Which sums up the entire level, really. Take a careful look around corners, wait until you hear the Rat aggro sound, and then spam grenades down the hallway until you hear their skittering no more. That's all there is to it.

    As limiting as it is to create a level using one enemy type only, they could have at least played to the strengths of the Rat by having them come at you in even larger numbers, or by surrounding you, by putting you in very dark and constricted areas together with Rats, or by having to deal with environmental hazards with Rats. Anything but the excess of playing-it-safe we got, because at no point does the level even try to vary up its Rat encounters. The set-ups are the same, and the execution is always the same. At least the final encounter is different where you fill fight a giant Rat as a boss fight... except it's really just a Cart Dog with a scaled-up character model of a Rat and some boosted health. Run circles around it and spam the Mortar. That's all there is to it. Aesthetically this level feels weak because it's very similar to the previous level so it doesn't feel as fresh, and it's nowhere near as claustrophobic or as outlandish in terms of backgrounds (no walls of flesh for example) to sell the atmosphere or horror, especially considering there's nothing to provide a semblance of a threat. As shitty as this level was and its premise is, it could have been better.

    Once you take the toilet route out of the secret level you'll arrive back to E3M5, Blasphemy, only to find that you never quite left the toilet. You take the first staircase up, and all you see is flat. Flatter than the Netherlands. A giant black flat expanse in a flat red atmosphere with one church in the middle. Okay, the open space is all dressing you think, but no, you have to bunnyhop around the entire map and flick each of the four switches of which each causes a wave of enemies to spawn, before you're able to do whatever it is you need to do in the Church. Your bunnyhop movement speed is high enough that having to do a tour around a huge flat expanse isn't too bad, but it's still a notable amount of downtime where you're doing nothing of consequence. The size of this part could have at least been made more compact to minimize the time spent traveling. Each switch has a bunch of weapons placed near it to signal which weapons you'd want to use for that encounter in particular, but if you have a galaxy brain you'd figure you'd be better prepared if you pick up all the weapons before starting any encounter. Except they're all spread out with the switches, so you have to run a lap around the map to get all weapons before you can start the fight. Why not just concentrate all ammo and weapon pickups near the start of the level instead of having me run a marathon if I want to start a fight with all available weapons on my person?

    So you run a lap, get all the weapons, and flick one of the four switches. Now here's where DUSK tries to be Serious Sam, and fails miserably:

    Case #1: Two Bone Balls and a bunch of Bone Monks spawn in the air a good distance away from you. Since the Bone Monks can't hit you at all as long as you strafe or bhop sideways, targeting the Bone Balls first is the best choice to reduce the bullet spam that could potentially impede your movement. There's no enemies on the ground which could draw your attention away from the Bone Balls and add more complexity to a question with a straightforward solution, and the lack of movement restrictions means that Bone Monks are completely ineffective as fodder or straight shooters, even if their projectile speed is higher than that of a Wizard. The only actual threat is the randomness on the bullet spam of the Bone Balls. Bone Balls are more effective on the back line, like how you put your damage-dealing wizards in the back and your warrior tanks in the front in an RPG. It's just that the Bone Monks don't have a higher priority over the Bone Balls, nor does the level layout try to compensate for this, resulting in an incredibly straightforward encounter were you pick off the Balls with your Hunting Rifle first and then mop up the Monks later without too much trouble. Ideally Cart Dogs or Great Wizards or Scarecrows/Horrors would have been a better complementary enemy here than Bone Monks.

    Case #2: Five Wendigo's spawn a good distance away from you. There's absolutely nothing to this encounter. As long as you keep moving, they can never catch up to you, and because there's no walls you can run away forever. All you need to do is aimlessly spray behind you with the Pistols to uncover them, after which you can reliably finish them off with any of your weapons. Wendigos plain do not work in a space like this. They work best in dark claustrophobic environments or as complements to other ranged enemy types because they're simply not a threat on their own, but more importantly the possibility to outrun them forever in an unrestricted space means they'd even lose their threat level even in a situation with a zillion enemies, because unlike the Wendigo encounters in E2M9/E3M1 you know that as long as you move somewhere, they'll never hit you. This might be slightly different if they were spawned around you, but even then that's a temporary solution once you break their encircling formation by being too fast.

    Case #3: A combination of two Horrors, several Priestesses and Wizards spawn a good distance away from you. For a long-distance engagement on a flat map like this, more regular usage of Horrors would have been ideal. Superfast projectiles fired in a spread would actually be non-trivial to dodge in a situation like this. Except in this case there's only two of them spawned, and you can prioritize them with the Hunting Rifle before they can get off more than one volley, leaving you with only a bunch of Priestesses and Wizards to deal with in a place with no walls, which I really shouldn't have to explain at this point why that falls flat on its face. The only way Wizards could pose any threat in this situation is if they were spawned around you rather than just in front of you.

    Case #4: Two Cart Dogs, two Great Wizards and three Priestesses spawn a decent distance away from you. Cart Dogs also don't really work here because the distance they will charge towards is fixed, making them trivial to avoid without walls, as with most of the melee enemies. Enemies which ran as fast as Serious Sam's Kleers or Werebulls would have been a better fit here, which may not have been a good fit for most levels in DUSK, but then again, most levels in DUSK aren't trying to be Serious Sam. Now the Great Wizards should have also been a goto enemy for a level this open, had their homing projectiles an aforementioned acquisition cone so they can't hit you in the back, though they'd still be worth using here in spite of that.

    Basically there's too much space and too little enemies in general, and whatever enemies there are are poorly utilized.

    You know what other enemies would have worked for a level this flat? The final bosses from E1 and E2. Just spam the whole area with bullets like it's Touhou, forcing you to constantly weave through bullets and preventing you from being able to circlestrafe everything infinitely. Pair them up with Horrors, Great Wizards, and Cowgirls to get you to prioritize enemies amongst the chaos, and throw in some Bone Balls and Bone Monks for good measure. It would have been orders of magnitude more engaging than what we got. At least this would have worked if the aforementioned bullet spam enemies had an exception to causing infighting.

    Flicking open all four switches opens up the central church, wherein you can bring up an unholy altar and shoot it to destroy it á la Quake. Each hit causes different windows of the church to break just to add to that sense of desecration, because desecrating the altar brings about "a rising wind that brings the stench of rotten meat". In order words, a tornado. And it's coming to hit the church! So you have to spend 40 seconds waiting outside the church before the tornado passes and breaks open the coffin inside the now-destroyed church. A scripted moment like this may be cool the first time around, but on repeated playthroughs having to wait this long doing nothing in particular is just boring. However, you can skip the wait by using the soap bar in the level to break open the altar, because it is in fact a damageable entity with an infinite amount of health, whereas the soap bar deals an infinite amount of damage. In fact, the soap bar can be used to break open the church itself because the building is scripted to transform into a ruined state when the tornado passes to deal the required damage. Instead you could break it open beforehand to jump inside without having to trigger all four switches in case you're planning to speedrun it. If the level actually hinted at this possibility (through a text scrawl on the church, for example) and if the topside tornado wouldn't keep damaging you a hundred feet under the ground after you jump inside the coffin, then this could have been a cool official way of skipping having to sit and watch the tornado going past.

    So you jump down the opened coffin, only to face a long corridor filled with a zillion Wizards positioned in what is DUSK's record amount of Wizards standing behind each other. Naturally, you pull out your Crossbow, keep your finger on the trigger, and watch as every bolt takes out at least 8 Wizards at once. While it's essentially the same concept behind how the poor Wizards have been treated throughout this episode, at least it's unique by escalating the scale of the Wizardmurder even further, so I can overlook it. With that the level says we're done faffing about and the pacing resembles more of a run 'n gun pace. Meaning uninterrupted close-quarters engagement.

    There's a spiral staircase leading downwards where every step of is of one of four different pretty colors, and it's too tempting not to jump right down through its center. Nothing of particular note ensues, aside from the fact that Cart Dogs are being used more regularly here. And even then they're not often placed in position where they make a significant difference, as you can usually manage to fight all of the remaining Cart Dogs in this level on their own because of a lack of supporting enemies (or at least a lack of enemy placement which augments the presence of a Cart Dog into an unique challenge), which is rather disappointing. The level layout here is aptly tight, but it's too easy to outspace the Cart Dogs by simply backpedaling and going behind a corner when they charge.

    The final room is interesting, being a tall and long blue cathedral hallway similar to where we railed all the Wizards, and this time the enemy placement is actually good! We got two Cart Dogs on the bottom and Bone Monks flying above them, and the room layout makes circle strafing impossible. You have to use the Riveter you just grabbed to quickly deal with the incoming Cart Dogs before they get to you on top of all the Bone Monks. And even more threatening are the Grand Wizards all the way in the back spamming a stream of homing fireballs from a long long distance away. But again, all of this is completely nullified because I can just backpedal behind the entrance the moment all enemies are spawned in and just bottleneck all enemies while taking them out one by one. Again, a simple fix would have been to lock the door behind you when you enter, forcing you to engage the enemies as is and probably as the level designer intended. As it stands you can pick off enemies one by one easily from the entrance, which renders most of the enemy placement here void.

    This level is largely filled with bad ideas. The first half trying to be Serious Sam is just poorly executed and the overlong scripted tornado sequence is too long. The Wizard Massacre is entertaining, but the remainder of the level is nondescript run 'n gunning of fighting two or three Wizards at a time in a non-threatening environment, and some underrealized Cart Dog encounters, and the final room is completely ruined because it doesn't lock you in (unless you pretend you can't go back). The four secrets in this level feel rather hackneyed because they're all concentrated in one small part of the level (with one secret being behind another secret) which makes it rather easy to stumble upon them in quick succession. And even then they're of the rather simple "look under the stairs or behind the walls or behind the barrels" type of ordeal which at this point in the game doesn't feel as rewarding to find. At the very least the level looks good aesthetically. The N64 red fog over a large black desolate wasteland floating in the void creates a suitable ominous landscape, and especially the way the inner cathedral is decorated with the multi-colored glass panes makes it stand out a lot. But overall, the level is sloppy.

    The next portal takes us to E3M6, Brimstone Ghetto. Right off the bat this level introduces us to the fact that fast-fire totems can actually stack. Yes, only this late into the game. I mean, stackable power-ups seem like a concept worth exploring more thoroughly. Quake got tons of mileage out of messing around with Quad Damage pickups, surely DUSK could too. In any case you get to have a taste of what an automatic shotgun in DUSK is like. It swats Horrors like flies. Problem is that the space this encounter happens is too complex to compartmentalize at a glance, which doesn't give you a good sense of the layout and enemy whereabouts. Because of the dense geometry and strong vertical deviation in heights of the floors present you don't have a clear overview of where all the enemies are or where you can go next (in this case, seemingly everywhere). Which is a problem, because when you're fueled by a double dose of crack your bulging fists instinctively want to seek out the nearest skull to crack to avoid wasting the opportunity before your power-up runs out, which turns into frustration quickly when the level is too convoluted to navigate. It's not too unlikely that you'll get stuck on some rather random piece of geometry which wastes precious power-up time. Like, the alley with the garbage container doesn't hold much of value at all. Having such a complex space and encouraging the player to quickly navigate it using a limited time power-up can become a problem because of this.

    After that you can find a Climbing Thing power-up, but it's presence here is very misleading. The start of this level is a very tall completely in-doors space, so naturally your explorers' instinct is telling you to climb everywhere and see what it gets you. However, the Climbing Thing is only good for one secret which holds a Superhot power-up on only one of the several scalable walls. Which leads on there could be more secrets in this room if you climb along all its walls, except the only thing you'll find is a waste of time because there's nothing else to be found. It would have been better if the Climbing Thing was removed altogether and the Superhot secret made accessible through more regular means.

    If you try real hard, you can take the Fast-Fire Totem from the streets and then rush forwards into the level real fast to stack four totems for some actual Quad Damage. The results are quite hilarious. It melts everything you see, but so does it melt your ammo stock as well. As you have to go out of your way to make this happen, it would have been interesting to see a level in DUSK go full ham with Fast-Fire Totems on purpose, as it also gives the game an excuse to shift gears more often with enemy placement/amounts. Unfortunately, as with most levels, boring and careful play is still possible because of the lack of point of no returns and the ability to safely bottleneck enemies around corners and room entrances.

    Later on the level suddenly calls back to Episode 1 as you meet with a Leatherneck again after not seeing one for years. There's a strange underground barn room you'll pass through, however there's Forkmaidens and Deers to the hard left and right of the entrance, instinctively making you retreat into the corridor you just came from to take them all apart one by one again, which I shouldn't have to repeat at this point why that makes for a boring encounter. At least in this case you get the Riveter, so you can quickly kill everything anyways.

    The level ends with a whimper, it's a small forest area with a bunch of Deer and a Scarecrow which you can again just plink everyone safely from the entrance. Since you have the Crossbow at this point you can just shoot through the walls to get them too. Overall this level was rather unremarkable combat-wise. This level did show off the potential for what happens when you overdose on Fast-Fire Totems, but the first part of the level was too hackneyed a playground for going ham on enemies, and everything past the totem fun didn't really try to create an unique encounter; instead being hamstrung by the lack of points of no return or a lack of meaningful enemy placement which required you to prioritize enemies.

    Then we get to E3M7, Homecoming. A weird gimmicky introspective level before the great finale? I like it! Instead of combat, the focus of this level lies more on finding your way forward through this level's weird gravity shifting gimmick. When you touch one of the yellow swirling orbs, the entire level rotates; turning everything on its head. So in order to get where you need to be next you have to fall sideways (downwards?) out of a window to land on the wall of the barn situated on another distant floating island, where you shift gravity again and have to fall upwards (sideways?) into the void to get to where you need to be. You can't fall (rise?) to your death in this level, instead you'll politely get teleported to the other side of the level when you do hit the level bounds. And thankfully so, else this level would have been very frustrating, not to mention if fall damage was present. The combat in this level is very light, but that's alright since it's not really the focus of this level to begin with. Though as with most things this episode, I do think it is disappointing that the shifting gravity mechanic wasn't explored more to be used for an actual combat encounter later on.

    Also interesting, as the name suggests this level is actually a lucid version of your player character's old house. There's some very concise environmental storytelling which implies a lot when you enter your house. Pictures of your family hangs on the wall, and your character cryptically remarks something short when you interact with them. When you enter the kitchen, you hear the sound of a woman screaming and an ignited fire. That's really all you need to know. Instead of bogging you down with unskippable walk and talk segments or first-person cutscenes or tucking all the useful information and lore away in tl;dr codex entries, the game respects your time and intelligence by letting you piece together the story bits on your own without ramming your face into it or expecting you to read an encyclopedia to make sense of the events happening around you. As it really should be.

    This level is very short and easy, so there's not much to talk about. It's more or less a puzzle level where you need to figure out where to fall next. Almost every time you shift gravity it's paired by finding a nearby key, so this also gives you an idea of what colored gate to look for so you don't get as lost. On top of that the floating islands are structured in such a way that each time you shift gravity that you're bound to be able to land on a new island when falling. But it's this level's place in the campaign I like the most. Like a brief lull of the action where you have time to rethink everything you've been up to and why you're still pressing on; steeling your resolve as you head towards your final encounter with destiny, which serves to enhance the finality of the final levels even more. A perpetual rising intensity becomes exhausting, it's because of the ups in the rollercoaster ride that the downs have their value. Anyways, aesthetically this level is quite strong, even E2M5 gets called back at the end for having similar gravity-warping shenanigans and for plot reasons.

    Then we arrive at E3M8, As Above, So Below. After thirty levels, the dev had no ideas left what to save up for the pre-pre-final level. So instead, he just reused all kinds of bits and pieces from E1 and E2 and shaped them into a level. Even the music track for this level contains several callbacks from themes used in E1 and E2. And surprisingly, it doesn't feel cheap at all.

    This kind of level can only work because it's placed right near the end, where the level is a de facto grand tour through everything you've been through up to this point. By having you reminisce on your past adventures it strengthens the memorability of past levels by presenting them as a reference you're likely to get. This obviously wouldn't work if such a level happened around or before the halfway point of the game (because there would be barely anything to look back on, and level design references to one or two levels ago would just feel lazy), nor would it work if there wasn't anything that visually distinct in DUSK to begin with.

    The level starts off with you standing in front of the E3M1 cathedral, and later on you pass through the underground tunnel of the Wendigos from E2M2, the razor-blade tunnel from E2M4, the giant guts world briefly featured in E2M5, some lava waterfalls reminiscent of E3M2, and eventually the beginning of E1M1 too. That's a noticeable lack of E1 levels, though I guess that goes to show how crap E1 was in hindsight. That's not to say there's nothing original in this level either. There is a big forest arena reminiscent of Thief Gold's Little Big World where all objects are scaled to a ridiculous degree in size, as is the impact force on the objects when you shoot them, causing a single pistol shot to launch a giant barrel in the air. There's even a secret in this arena which outright references the perspective trick hallway from The Sword with an apt mini-boss inside.

    If anything I feel this level could have gone a bit further with referencing other levels, or at least in the gameplay gimmick department. Sort of like a final dungeon where you're tested on all skills you've acquired throughout the game (if you're at it you might as well go the full mile). Because that's somewhere I feel this level falls incredibly short, as most of the enemy encounters in this level amount to nothing. Enemy amounts are tame, and enemy types aren't combined or placed in any meaningful way to provide a unique challenge. What does stand out is that the Cowgirls finally return! Huzzah! It is only unfortunate that they only ever appear one at a time and without any supporting enemies, so dealing with them is fairly straightforward given that you're given the Riveter to make quick work of them.

    The lava waterfall has a key at the bottom and three Bone Monks inbetween, though the Bone Monks can be picked off with the Hunting Rifle one at a time without too much fuss. Down one dark hallway eerily reminiscent of E2M2 it will just sic a bunch of Wendigos on you, but much like before you can deal with the three Wendigos without too much fuss by backpedaling and using the Mortar you were just given to revoke their cloak and their privilege to exist in this dimension. Again, pure filler.

    After that follows the aforementioned Small Big World arena; populated with Cart Dogs, Horrors, Bone Balls, Bone Monks Welders, all the boys! But again, it falls flat on its face, because there's no incentive to get right in the thick of it since you aren't getting locked in. You can kill most of the more threatening enemies from the entrance hallway, and because of the large size of the arena it'll take most enemies a decent enough time to get to you, during which you're already sniping everything to death from a safe distance with the Hunting Rifle or the Riveter. Even if you were to pretend that sniping everything from the entrance is not possible, the arena itself is so large and open that it basically becomes Circlestrafe City as you run past everything and get everyone to infight, as the outer rings of the arena are largely unoccupied by enemies. Only the Horrors can give you any real shit at this point, but overall this one arena is more bark than bite (at least it looks cool).

    The last encounter of real note before the ending is one where you get teleported into the E2M2 spinning razorblade tunnel with a Cowgirl suddenly facing you, forcing you to THINK FAST and adapt quickly to a new environment considering there's also that lone Welder next to you. Having to maneuver in a suddenly new environment unknown to you can be somewhat excused that you've been here before, even if it was one episode ago. However, the odds in this case aren't overwhelmingly against you, so it doesn't feel like a cheap Gotcha! moment. I would have loved to see more of these THINK FAST encounters anyways.

    In line with the cyclical theme of this level, after finding the yellow key you get teleported to the start of the level, where you can finally open the yellow door and enter a distorted version of the initial basement area of E1M1. Except this time around you're going through it in reverse. Another neat detail is how the long-aforementioned fake wall secret of E1M1 is plain visible without the hidden wall (for E3M8, a message on a nearby wall even says "THEIR SECRETS ARE LAID BARE"). So when you happen to have missed this secret in E1M1 (fairly likely considering it's a rather obscure secret) and do decide to replay the game after having finished this level, you might remember because of E3M8 there's actually a passage behind the wall where the hidden wall is. Much like how shooting switches was a thing that was always possible but only really required of you in E2, it's neat how it put existing levels in a new perspective when said levels get referenced in later levels, even if in this situation it only concerns giving away one secret.

    Eventually you make your way back to the meathook rack on which you were hanged, where the whole game began. Inside you fight those three familiar Leathernecks as the voice in your head says "KILL THE INTRUDER", like memories past. "COMPLETE THE CIRCLE", the words say on the wall, as you hang yourself on the meathooks again. Personally I have no idea what the narrative purpose of this is, though it's not like this episode followed any semblance of logic to begin with. At least the cyclical theme of this level gives my plebeian brain the instinctive impression that there's some deeper meaning to hanging yourself on meathooks again, even if there really isn't any deeper meaning. It looks cool, basically.

    Unfortunately the same thing can't be said for the encounter design in this level, as most encounters still don't really try to push you out of your comfort zone. The reappearance of Cowgirls does help ameliorate that a little, but even then the Cowgirls themselves are only used safely where you can always reduce an encounter to a 1v1, which becomes repetitive the four-five times it is repeated in this level. In the end, E3M8 is more carried by its visuals and concept than its encounters, which for a penultimate level feels like the game isn't ever going to really escalate.

    But that's where E3M9, The Dweller in Darkness steps in. One final test to prove whether "you are worthy". The stage: a flat arena amidst a pitch black void. The actors: you and (almost) every enemy type in the game. The props: several power-ups, all your weapons, and barely enough ammo. The play: the biggest all-you-can-kill grand tour buffet this game has hitherto seen. Wave after wave of all enemies in the game (including some of the bosses) fighting you on a flat arena in one final epic battle. Even ammo is an actual concern for once. Is it thematically fitting? Yes. Is it a challenge that stands above everything you've experienced up until now? YES. Is it well executed? To paraphrase my difficulty rating on my YouTube video for this level: AAAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUGH

    I get what they're going for here, but they just went the wrong way about it. Basically, enemies will spawn about pseudo-randomly on the arena, often more than 12 enemies on screen at once, and the only way to avoid all the bullet curtains is to run circles around the arena. There are jump pads along the edge which help you avoid all the incoming bullets by launching yourself into the air. The thing is, you will be running circles for this entire level. For a good 10 minutes straight. Because that's the only reliable way of avoiding all the bullets. Despite the Great Wizards and Horror/Scarecrows being present, running in circles and using the jump pads still remains your best shot at survival, but having to do so for such a long time becomes way too repetitive to execute. The only exceptions are the waves with the Bone Balls and the final wave because running aimlessly in circles when bullets are being fired aimlessly in roughly your direction is a good way of accidentally running into a bullet, so it's a shame that Bone Balls weren't used more extensively or as a tool to discourage circlestrafing while they were present on the field.

    Even if you were to run perfect circles and land on the jump pads all the time, there's still a lot of things that can go wrong, and a lot of them are due to bad RNG. Namely, enemies spawning in front of your face or just in the outer rims of the arena where they're more likely to hit you, or enemies like Deers and Horrors/Scarecrow who may still be able to hit you from an unfortunate distance and angle which you can't reliably react to or prevent because of the sheer chaos going on. Neither is trying to micrododge everything head-on feasible when you have enemies spawning outside your field of vision with this degree of intensity.

    If you're going to spawn enemies outside your FoV just like that, don't spawn fast-projectile shooting enemies, because dodging attacks from behind you can't even see is not something you can do without foreknowledge or some kind of cue to telegraph you're about to be shot from behind. Devil Daggers (which is basically this level as the entire game but a thousand times better) worked precisely because none of the enemies there fire projectiles (at you), so everything outside your FoV won't immediately kill you, unless you let the situation spiral so out of control that you get overwhelmed by all the enemies around you. But if you were to imagine each projectile in DUSK to be an enemy in Devil Daggers, then that game would quickly fall apart as well. Trying to have projectile enemies work with enemies spawning around you in an arena ends you up with nuDoom, which tried to balance enemies being able to spawn outside your FoV out by reducing the total amount of enemies that can be present and increasing the cue length of the teleporting in before the spawned enemy actually becomes active, giving you more time to assess and react. Unlike DUSK where enemies instantly teleport in, and in huge numbers no less. Basically, DUSK never should have attempted a flat open arena with pseudo-random enemy spawns like this when projectile enemies will easily hit you and melee enemies even from behind can never get to you as long as you keep moving. The enemies in DUSK are not designed to work fairly in a situation where they can spawn all around you.

    This leaves us with 10 waves of enemies, and a lot of them fall into two particular traps which I have partially remarked on already in E3M5. The first one is most obvious in the first wave, where Soldiers will spawn en masse on the floor and Bone Monks will spawn in the air. The Soldiers take the most priority while there's barely any point in engaging with the Bone Monks first (on top of the fact that they're very likely to infight amongst themselves, so ignoring them saves you ammo in the long-term), because Soldiers are more likely to hit you since they spread out more while Bone Monks tend to cluster in the center of the arena more and will infight the more circles you run. This leaves us with a common situation in the level where two enemy types in greater quantities are present at once, but only one enemy type is worth dealing with first while for all intents and purposes the presence of the second enemy type makes no difference, so you take care of one first and dealing with the second becomes completely trivial cleanup where all semblance of challenge has completely disappeared.

    The same thing happens in the next wave where Cart Dogs and Scarecrows get spawned, and Scarecrows naturally take top priority while Cart Dogs can be completely ignored due to the jump pads letting you jump over them. The same thing happens in the following third wave where Great Wizards and Scientists will spawn, and Scientists being the joke enemy that they are can be again completely ignored in favor of dealing with the enemies who are firing homing projectiles at you in a level with no cover. Same thing happens in wave 6 when Deers naturally take precedence over Welders and their comparatively slow projectiles, same thing happens in wave 8 when Horrors naturally take precedence over Wizards and Leathernecks, same thing happens in wave 9 when Cowgirls naturally take precedence over Forkmaidens and Priestesses.

    The second trap is using DUSK's melee enemies in a giant flat open space. Now if we were talking about Serious Sam's Kleers or Werebulls or Quake's Fiends, that might've worked given their speed relative to the players' and their ability to leap great distance, but an enemy incapable of constantly moving towards you and attacking while moving ends up falling flat on its arse in a level like this. Cart Dogs don't quite fit the bill because they only move about slowly for the most part when they aren't bursting at you every 5 seconds, and the distance they can cross while rushing you is fairly limited before they have to stop for a breather. With massive enemy numbers you could design a situation around the player being overwhelmed from all sides, but the jump pads allowing you to just jump over all melee enemies puts a massive dent into this idea. And even without jump pads you could do the same thing with Rivetjumps. Basically melee enemies in this level can be completely relegated to the cleanup phase of each wave, which makes their presence wasteful. At least basic projectile-shooting enemies like Wizards pose some kind of threat.

    There are two waves with melee enemies only, one where only a whole heap of Rats spawn, which as far as I am concerned is a joke wave since you just run in circles to herd them together then blow them up with the Mortar. The other is the Wendigo-only wave which is more tedious to proceed with since you have to uncover the Wendigos first by spraying your pistols or AR aimlessly before you can really start damaging them, and this arena gives you way too much space to cover for reliably uncovering the Wendigos, which with the random enemy spawn positions involves a lot of randomly spraying about and area to cover before you can hit one, as opposed to Wendigo's appearing in small indoor areas.

    The only real interesting waves are wave 5 with the Bone Balls and the final wave with both Experiments from E1 and The Guardian from E2 to deal with, because they break up the usual circlestrafing monotony by spamming the arena with slower projectiles and force you to micrododge. The fifth wave, uncharacteristically for this level, works, because while it still spawns Bone Balls around you, Bone Ball projectiles aren't too fast so you still have plenty of time to react, and the Bone Balls spawn at a slow enough rate to give you the possibility to control the situation by killing enough Bone Balls before the others spawn in and turn the situation into a giant mess, which is what prompts you to endlessly circlestrafe in the other waves. In this instance, the random spawning actually works in the favor of this encounter, all because the enemy design was simply more suitable for this arena.

    The same can also be said for the final boss rush wave, where you've got two Experiments (who are basically walking tougher Bone Balls) and the Guardian carpet bombing the arena with grenades in a massive line, effectively forcing you to take the high ground with the Jump Pads while having to pay attention to any stray fireballs. The Guardian takes top priority here, so hopefully you still have some spare ammo and power-ups remaining. Because you want to kill the Guardian for his massive area of denial attack first which will eventually leave you with the Experiments, I'd wish that the arena became smaller over time (like in Devil Daggers) to reduce the distance between you and the Experiments. The Experiments don't move fast, the direction they move in is largely random, and they spawn on one end of the arena, so their bullet vomit isn't too much of a threat when you're standing all the way over the other side of the arena where the bullet storm is at its least dense. For example, it's the small arena in E1M10 when you first fight the Experiments that makes their bullet spam somewhat more threatening. Even if you're going to revolve encounters around bullet spam enemies on a featureless flat arena, the arena itself needs to be compact enough in size so you can't put tons of distance between you and the bullets from where dodging them all is trivial.

    Ammo is an actual concern here for once here. The only way you'll find ammo is through backpack items which refill all your ammo, but are only spawned every few or so rounds. If you burn through the ammo for your power weapons too early, it may pose trouble for some of the tougher enemies who actually warranted it, like having some Riveter ammo ready means you can take out the Great Wizards or Horrors or Scarecrows much faster. You've got several Superhot and Fast-Fire power-ups available right from the start, however those won't respawn, so you have to figure out when's the right time to use them. The game never really expected you to be frugal with ammo, however the fact that you're given full ammo, several power-ups at once, and the kill count in the level stats says ???/??? (disappointingly it doesn't say this when you die, where it reveals there are a total of 270 enemies in this level) should tip you off that there's a big storm coming and that you should preserve some of your valuables for later situations which might call it for more, so I can't really fault this level for suddenly expecting you to be more conservative with ammo even when it never really did before.

    All in all, this level was too different for its own good and suffered heavily from it, because like I said before with E3M5, DUSK's enemies are simply not designed to work around this type of level. I have no desire to replay this level ever again. The only secret in this level involves finding a Crystal of Madness to help you out a bit, or finding an alternate level's exit dubbed the Coward's Way Out, which given the difficulty spike of this level (or alternatively the monotony of it) I'm not too surprised was added in. There was some unrealized potential by featuring more of the bullet spam enemies for level geometry like this, but alas. At least this level worked thematically as one grand final encounter.

    At last, we come to E3M10, DUSK. Time to end this. The sun's at dusk, and in the middle of the level there's a portal leading to the final encounter. Find the red, blue, and yellow keygems and place them at their pedestal in front of the portal one last time. See, it's a callback to how you gathered keys in the rest of the game. Like how this level is the name of the game. Get it?

    Step inside, and you will be teleported to an arena where Jakob awaits, earlier only the voice in your head, now your final test. Jakob himself deserves the spot for Best Doppelganger Boss Fight in an FPS, even if that isn't a very high bar. Namely, when the fight starts Jakob will bunnyhop around the arena while firing his guns, just like you! As much as I've been ragging on about how circlestrafing is way too dominant a strategy in the majority of the game, it's a bit of a different story when you're getting circlestrafed around yourself. It is also because of this that Jakob manages to challenge you at an essential aspect of first-person shooters which almost no other FPS boss does: aiming.

    Jakob is a small and fast bugger who moves around unpredictably like some kind of Unreal Tournament bot, which makes hitting him with most of your arsenal rather tricky. With the Riveter and Crossbow you need to predict where Jakob will be next, and with the Hunting Rifle you need pinpoint Railgun precision to land a hit. The Assault Rifle can hit him the most consistently, but with its DPS it will take forever to wear Jakob's HP down, so ideally you want to use some of the power weapons.

    However, Jakob's offensive moves is where this fight falls short. He'll shoot at you with either a Shotgun, an Assault Rifle, a Mortar, or a Riveter, and the problem with the former two is that there's a huge amount of RNG to their spread. So even if you run perfect circles around him, you may still get hit because RNGesus ordained that the width of his Assault Rifle burst be just wide enough that you'll get hit anyways, which makes avoiding them inconsistent. "Alright,", you might think, "I'll just slide under his projectiles then!". However, much like with the Scarecrows/Horrors the RNG spread also applies to the vertical deviation of the projectile trajectories, so the success rate of sliding under his bullets is also incredibly inconsistent, which is also a pretty big pain on DUSKMARE.

    The only other remaining option is to put as much distance between you and Jakob as possible to minimize the chance of getting hit by the random horizontal spread of his Shotgun/AR bursts while circlestrafing around, which much like E3M9, unfortunately ends up being your sole mode of movement for this entire fight. Even if you aren't playing on DUSKMARE, staying closer to Jakob (or being unlucky enough that he ends up moving towards you) can get you some otherwise unavoidable damage depending on your luck, which doesn't feel fair either way.

    This is also largely because of the fact that none of Jakob's attacks are really telegraphed, so you won't know what he's going to shoot and when you should back off if he were to shoot his AR or Shotgun (which are functionally the same in how they force you to respond), which wouldn't have been as much of a problem if his projectiles weren't so inconsistent to avoid when you aren't keeping maximum distance. Proper telegraphing would have gone some way to alleviate this.

    I am also disappointed that for a doppelganger fight Jakob only uses four of the weapons in your arsenal, where the Riveter and Mortar is so easy to avoid because of the minimal random spread applied for those weapons and the Shotgun/AR are too identical in how you have to avoid them. It'd have been interesting to see Jakob spamming the Mortar more frequently like the Guardian does for area of denial, or him brandishing another copy of The Sword to repel your attacks back. It'd be another idea to have him shoot projectiles through walls with a Crossbow had the arena had more cover and if Jakob was able to pull out a Hunting Rifle for a telegraphed hitscan attack to force you to break line of sight á la Archviles/Shamblers, but hitscan is a no-no in the modern perception of good old-school shooters, despite being able to add a lot. In the end, as cool as being able to fight an enemy who moves and shoots at the same time is, the fight itself plays way too safe, as everything he throws at you is again dealt with by the timeless circlestrafe technique.

    So after thirty seconds or so you kill Jakob, or at least not you specifically, because when you get his health low enough some Wizards will spawn in and kill him for you because he's just that unworthy. And also to make it possible to finish this level with the Pacifist medal. And that's it. You beat the game. Go walk up the stairway to heaven an-

    Or so you thought. Turns out the force who granted Jakob his powers was the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep himself. Voiced by Stephen Weyte no less, the same guy who excellently voiced the player protagonist Caleb in the FPS classic Blood, who has returned from the dead to provide a killer performance here too. That was a nice surprise, but what about the boss fight itself? Well, it follows classic FPS tradition in that the final boss is some out-of-left-field gimmick boss.

    The floor is lava, you've got two platforms with a rift between them, and there's jump pads on both of them. Nyarly will either vertically raise his tentacles to smack one of the platform which forces you to jump onto the other platform before you get squashed, or raise his tentacle horizontally for a sweep which forces you to use the jump pads on either platform to launch yourself mid-air, because if you're standing on either platform you're going to get swept. Nyarly is invulnerable until he does his tentacle slam which causes a crack in the ceiling to appear, which you can shoot open to have light shine on Nyarly to make him vulnerable to damage, which allows you to take off a fifth of his health, only to repeat the whole process another four times.

    For what it's worth, it's not another id Software puzzle boss where the challenge lies mainly in figuring out what the hell it is you're supposed to do, and it's also not another circlestrafefest. In fact, it's decently executed for what it is. The playing area for this fight is small enough so that there's little ambiguity in what your options for evasion are. The telegraphing on both vertical and horizontal vertical swipes is exaggerated enough and lenient in timing that your survival instinct should tell you to get the hell out of there, and even when you do get hit the first time around by a vertical splat it should be clear enough after the first time that only one of the two platforms gets squashed, and after a horizontal swipe the only option that remains to avoid it is to use the conveniently placed jump pads. You can't damage Nyarly until you shine some light on him, and if you're stuck for a while wondering why you can't damage him, the player character will subtly hint about "The light...", or the bright white light in this dark black sky. Since it's a crack in the sky, it should come natural after all the obvious crack-in-the-wall secrets in DUSK that this crack can be shot open too, and from there it should come natural how to damage Nyarly, so at least it can be said that the signposts are in line with your experiences in DUSK. Unlike suddenly dumping a jetpack and some metal poles in the player's lap for the final boss and expecting them to just figure out what to do with it, for example.

    However, the way the fight itself proceeds is rather basic. Once you know the strategy the execution of timing the jumps right, the fight becomes a matter of going through the motions since the time window between the visual telegraphs and when you have to be in the air/on the other platform to avoid the tentacles is very large, nor do the attacks increase in frequency or intensity the more you damage Nyarly, which could have given this fight more of a sense of pacing. You have to shoot a crack in the sky and damage him as much as you can for five times until he dies, however there's nothing to really to force you to change up your approach as the fight progresses, so the fight itself feels a little drawn out and repetitive.

    It's also not really helped by the RNG in whether you get a vertical or horizontal tentacle. Unlike with Jacob the whims of RNGesus aren't lethal for you here, instead they just waste your time. For whatever reason, Nyarly will sometimes opt to do a vertical slam on the platform you are currently not on. Meaning you don't really have to do anything but stand there and try to look for any cracks in the sky. This feels like the game is giving you a random free pass by having the boss completely miss you, on top of not giving you much to do at all since you don't need to. The unchecked RNG also has the adverse effect of your opportunities for being able to damage Nyarly being up to chance, or forcing you to wait and do nothing (but avoid the attacks) until another crack in the sky appears. A crack is formed whenever Nyarly does a vertical slam (and when all other existing cracks have been shot open), so you have to just wait until he does one before you can progress the fight. This also led to a not-so-amusing situation where I got five horizontal swipes in a row before Nyarly would finally do a vertical slam. At that point the fight becomes more tedious than anything, and ideally dealing damage to a boss shouldn't be tied to praying to RNGesus until the boss does that one attack which allows you to get some hits in. Hence why you'd want to use controlled RNG to evenly distribute the opportunities for dealing damage so the fight doesn't frustratingly feel outside the player's control where you have to hope for good luck.

    In terms of offense this fight is very passive. Nyarly is a giant stationary target who's impossible to miss, so when he's vulnerable there's no nuance to how you should aim, where you should aim, or what weapons you should use other than the strongest one available, nor does it change as the fight draws closer to its end. You'll get all weapons at the start of the level, yet you're only bound to use the power weapons as they're the most optimal for both Jakob and Nyarly. There isn't much of an avenue for optimizing damage output here or to get better at this fight by being able to kill the boss faster because of how restricted, RNG-reliant and simple-to-execute the opportunities for damaging Nyarly are. "Shoot at it until it dies", basically, with the occasional shot spent for turning on the lights.

    Get Nyarly to 1HP and you've won the game. You can't kill him because we had no ideas how to make this level finishable with a Pacifist medal otherwise. Overall the final boss level was not a complete disaster or an anti-climactic letdown, which is more than I can say about final bosses in most shooters. DUSK follows the classic structure where the final boss is a test of all your skills you've learned through the game and the true final boss is more of an excess in spectacle, except the only game-essential skill Jakob really tests you on is your ability to circlestrafe some more (and hitting moving targets wasn't arguably something that was ever really expected of you in the rest of the game), and the spectacle of Nyarlathotep and hearing Stephen Weyte again quickly wears off when you find that the fight itself is so basic. At least both bosses work thematically, Jakob being the rival who taunted you throughout the game and who you beat at the very end, and Nyarly existing as the puppetmaster behind it all. Without Nyarly in the game too many mysteries would be left unexplained and the final fight itself would be rather anticlimactic as the Jakob fight doesn't last much more than a minute anyways, but at least with Nyarly present the climax can be extended so it doesn't end so fast after 32 levels of build up, and you can explain everything story-related away with "weird Lovecraft shit", which is an encompassing enough excuse all things considered.

    Anyways, Nyarly is convinced you are worthy, and so grants you his otherworldly powers, taking the place of Jakob. The ending is rather lousy. A search for power was never a (defined) goal for the player or the player character, so having infinite power granted to us in a cutscene where we don't even get to use the power is kind of meaningless. It doesn't affect us, nor are we given a reason to care for having more power. The actual implications of us turning into a being beyond comprehension are never expounded upon, so we don't even get to see the aftermath of our cool new powers. Basically it leaves you wondering what the hell the point of it all was.

    Episode 3 in a nutshell: a lot of interesting ideas, but none of them get the time and treatment they deserve, which ends up making them feel underutilized. Purely speaking from a variety perspective this keeps each level in E3 unique and fresh, but because all those ideas are thrown out as soon as they are introduced, as a whole the game then starts reeking of wasted potential. Doubly questionable it is to introduce all these new gameplay ideas in the last third of the game when there's barely any time to explore each idea before moving on to the next one. Ideally some of these ideas could have been offloaded to prior levels (God knows E1 needs some more love) while E3 instead combines and retreads those existing concepts from completely new angles. E3 beats E1 in both the gameplay and visual department, though it lacks the sense of progression and consistency from E2 and E1, as E3 feels like random levels strung together up to E3M7 (gameplay-wise as well), whereas it was that sense of journey and progression that made E1 and E2 more compelling as a whole when each level grew progressively more twisted, and something that makes DUSK stand out on its own compared to its contemporaries. At least the later levels of E3 pick up the ball in that regard.



    That's DUSK for you. A grabbag of interesting ideas, just not very competently realized ideas. Many levels will have their unique gimmick, which is only briefly explored only to be never seen again. Encounter design as a whole is rather lacking because of the unrestrictive level layouts and enemy types which are either introduced too late or too ineffective on their own for the situations they are placed in. E1 suffered particularly from all content being equally spread out throughout the entire campaign, as it had to make do with the most basic enemy types in a down-to-earth setting which stifled encounter variety greatly because the basic enemy types weren't that effective. E3 on the other hand had so much unique ideas and enemies but failed to capitalize on it given the lack of space and time. E2 sits in a nice middle ground between the two where it manages to do a lot more with the new enemy types and the level gimmicks are decently realized instead of being quickly discarded, so it gets my vote for best DUSK episode.

    It is worth trying out on the highest difficulty where you can experience what it's like trying to play a bullet hell in a first-person shooter, but it's also worth examining in how it handles its narrative for a FPS of this style. Hopefully the NG+ update will address the weaker first episode, along adding in all the other surprises it promises.
     
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  16. taviow Magister

    taviow
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    I, too, prefer Amid Evil but I do love Dusk.
     
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  17. orcinator Savant

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    :hmmm:
     
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  18. LESS T_T Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    LESS T_T
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    Codex 2014
    GOG release (GOG Connect coming soon), LAN, and "hopefully" SDK and Steam Workshop coming on Halloween: https://steamcommunity.com/games/519860/announcements/detail/1595888090485851959

     
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  19. 80Maxwell08 Arcane

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    Didn't know they sold shirts too. Just bought the dusk one and wendigo one.
     
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  20. LESS T_T Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    LESS T_T
    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2012
    Messages:
    10,667
    Codex 2014
    A long article about the recent wave of "throwback shooters", quotes from the developers of Dusk, Amid Evil, Project Warlock, Prodeus, Hellscreen, Ion Fury, and Wrath: https://egmnow.com/blast-from-the-past-behind-the-rise-of-the-throwback-shooter/

     
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  21. Wunderbar Arcane

    Wunderbar
    Joined:
    Nov 15, 2015
    Messages:
    2,700
     
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  22. Ezeekiel Arbiter

    Ezeekiel
    Joined:
    Dec 19, 2016
    Messages:
    1,349
    Rather short review imo. He used to get a lot more in depth with way more humor. Shame.
    Still one of my fav reviewers, though.
     
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  23. Belegarsson Think about hairy dwarfs all the time ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Patron

    Belegarsson
    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2015
    Messages:
    838
    Location:
    Uwotopia
    I FINISHED THIS FUCKIN GAME 3 TIMES AND NEVER KNEW YOU CAN DEFLECT PROJECTILES WITH YOUR SICKLES WTF
     
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  24. Ezeekiel Arbiter

    Ezeekiel
    Joined:
    Dec 19, 2016
    Messages:
    1,349
    Same here, haha. Never even tried. Neat, though.
     
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  25. LESS T_T Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    LESS T_T
    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2012
    Messages:
    10,667
    Codex 2014
    SDK didn't come on Halloween but...:




    Also localization is in beta if you're interested: https://steamcommunity.com/games/519860/announcements/detail/1706231356215804486

     
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