This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Fortnite and Dusk.
Our topic for the day is early access shooters, for it is very important that shooters undergo rigorous testing before they're officially released. It's all too easy for something to go wrong with the formula of "click on the thing and the thing dies"; what if you click on the thing and the thing doesn't die? What if you click on the thing and give the thing a bunch of flowers? The only possible solution is to let people pay for it before it's finished and make sure they're good and sick of it by the time it's to releasable standard.
So let's start with Fortnite Battle Royale with Cheese. PlayerUnknown's Bobcat Goldthwait is, of course, more popular than the last pair of socks at the wanking factory, and when something attains that level of success, there have to be a few less well-known alternatives so that hipsters can say that they're way better, actually, but you wouldn't understand, 'cos you're a pleb. Apparently, Fortnite was already some co-op survival shooty crafty bollocks that they added a battle royale mode to when they smelled the whiff of opportunity coming off PlayerUnknown's Buggy Glitchfest, but who the fuck cares, 'cos the base game costs money and the battle royale mode is free to play, and frankly, I wasn't planning to spend more on shooty fun times than the bus fare to the homeless shelter.
It's a pretty faithful copy-paste of the mechanics: you wait for 100 players to join while running around an island where no one can die competing to find the most creative way to annoy each other, and then we cut to a plane passing over an island and decide when we're going to parachute out. Loot houses, last one standing wins, white circle, crouch in a bush and have a smoke, blue circle, keep serpentine-ing towards where the line's pointing at and try not to cry. Where it differs is in the much smaller map and related lack of vehicles and in the more cartoony art style, meaning the men have big chins and the women have big bums, and guns hover off the ground slowly spinning like they're being sold on the Shopping Channel.
If you've ever rage-quit playing PlayerUnknown's Burly Gentlemen because you realized too late that the two pixels in a distant window in the middle of a bombed-out city was actually a sniper, then Fortnite might be the alternative for you, as the larger-than-life art style removes a lot of the "playing Where's Wally? for your life" aspect of PlayerUnknown's Blatantly Garish; you can't even go prone, which is one way of ending the argument over whether it's a good idea or not. The more confined map means the games are shorter and you can get into action more often, and the action can mean interesting circle-strafing shotgun contests as well as fucking sniping duels.
So maybe it is better than PlayerUnknown's Bush Getaway if you've run out of podcasts and aren't willing to sit quietly in a hedge for half an hour, but then again, the smaller map also means that if you haven't got a decent weapon inside the first minute or so, then you're fucked, because everything will be looted by then. Also, Fortnite has construction mechanics presumably transplanted from the base game that I'm not sure I like, 'cos more than once, I've seen endgames descend into two or three dudes aggressively building towers at each other because no one's prepared to risk coming outside. So now, as well as "gitting gud" at the combat and exploring and shit, we have to "git gud" at building towers ridiculously fast. Also, fuck traps. You can pick up an item that traps a section of floor, other players can't see it, and it instantly kills them. That's not pitting skill against skill; that's just "Oh, you walked into a room? Well, fuck you! That'll teach you to wipe your feet."
Oh, but it is early access, so maybe they'll have changed that by next week or added a chocolate fountain. Who the fuck knows? Let's talk about another early access shooter called Dusk, yet another deliberately old-style nostalgia game in this new age where pixel art is passé and it's now early 3D that the nostalgia nerds demand between mouthfuls of barely-chewed 90's breakfast cereal. Dusk is deliberately citing Quake and Doom and Unreal and everything else that felt like any title longer than six letters was just showing off.
Dusk is not to be confused with Strafe, of course - another recent game evoking the same era of shooters - 'cos it's got a completely different name. All right, fine, it's also not a roguelike, which is for the better, to my mind. Hopefully, we're growing out of this "let's make everything a fucking roguelike" phase of gaming; replay value is all very well, but with random levels, you're also sacrificing any opportunity you had to tell a story with the environment. In Dusk, you can have a level set on a farm and be all like, "Hey, this actually looks like a farm! A farm pieced together from a selection of differently-sized cardboard boxes that are all colored like they all got fished out of the septic tank behind a bran-tasting facility, but recognizably a farm nonetheless!" Which brings me to the specific problem with this kind of nostalgic recreation with old-style graphics: while 16-bit pixel art can still conceivably look "good", early 3D invariably looks like crude paper crap that someone assembled using only their sphincter muscles, and I think there's a tendency to hide behind that.
But ultimately, even the thickest layer of nostalgia graphical manure can't hide good, old-fashioned bad level design, and some of Dusk's maps remind me of those CDs of 500 custom Doom and Quake levels you used to get from car boot sales in jewel cases with photocopied inserts, the ones that contain levels that some student had smashed together from plain rectangles on the day they figured out how the level editor's rotate function worked. What I'm saying is, I'm actually old enough to remember the Quake era, and if Dusk had come out around then, it wouldn't have been in the upper tier of shooters at the time. This ain't a Quake; this is closer to a Chasm: The Rift or a Redneck Rampage, although I'll concede it's at least on a higher tier than Blood II: The Chosen.
Wow, this is all starting to sound needlessly mean, isn't it? "There's, like, one-and-a-half guys working on this thing, Yahtz. You're supposed to shower it with condescending praise if it so much as has gravity set to go the right way up." Fine. There are some areas where Dusk absolutely nails it: for one, the atmosphere, and for two, the combat. The monsters range in design from Playmobil farm animals to stick figures that move like they're on roller skates, and to my mind, a few too many of them fire projectiles that move in randomized directions, so you have to basically roll a dice on whether your fat arse is about to dodge the right way. But the weapons are good; they've got that all-important visceral kick to them that makes for fun gameplay, and since you're using them an average of about twelve billion times per minute, good weapons and action can be a shooter's saving grace. Leaping over an enemy and blowing them away with dual-wielded shotguns is going to be fun even if the enemy looks like a toilet roll tube with pipe cleaners stuck to it.
Having said that, I wouldn't recommend getting Dusk now, nor would I recommend any linear single-player game going early access, because it's just sacrificing the first impression, and after you finish the two available chapters of the promised three, you'll be left blindly groping for a climax like there was a sudden power cut to the backstreet massage parlor. Sort of underlines the inherent problem with reviewing early access games, but as a great YouTube channel once said, "Fuck you; it's January." What else am I going to review? The smell of my dog's farts? Two stars, bold and earthy, with subtle notes of toilet water.
- Early to bed, early to access: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- By the way finding something to use as cover art for Dusk was a right arse 'cos I kept turning up Hotel Dusk and From Dusk till Dawn DVDs instead
- Burlap sacks ever a risky fashion statement