You’d find Duskers aboard a deep space installation. An inconspicuous terminal glowing in an industrial mount. Monitoring, quietly chirping, likely to be idling well beyond its human operators. People rightly throw around the words Nostromo when talking about this game, a love letter to the hard Cobbian aesthetic of rugged operating systems aboard enormous machinery, space or otherwise. From this vision, wholly without nostalgia, springs a tense, tactical game of risky exploration and survival.
navigate 1 2 R2
I had previewed an old build of Misfit Attic’s retro-futurist space excursion last year, when it first sauntered aboard Steam’s Early Access. Then, a fascinating production; largely a console command-driven survival game, the player operating a small bevy of salvage drones from afar in a dead universe. Immense loneliness permeated every tap as you keyed your way through drifting derelicts, swept for motion and sought out anything that could be retrieved or restored. And then, of course, there were the anomalies. Those goddamn drone-killers.
generator; D12; navigate 1 3 R7
I’m happy to say the impeccable ambiance hasn’t been planed down between then and now. Duskers 1.0 is here, and it’s a thoroughly good tactical time.
The world of Duskers is a stark one. A retro-futurist aesthetic that, wonderfully, never accounts for life beyond a keyboard clack. Keep you Razers shealthed, Counterstrikers. Duskers operates entirely via keyboard, and had it done otherwise, much of the tension and style would have been drained.
airlock A2; motion; navigate 2 R6; tow 2
After selecting jump coordinates and the next derelict to crack, you find yourself with a small clutch of drones to command. Players must press them into the bowels of these ghost ships, utilising discrete drone systems to explore and salvage. You can sweep for motion, interface with derelict systems, gather scrap, tow salvageable drones back to your loading bay and, of course, survive and combat threats that roam the gloomy halls.
Control is split between a tactical view, governed and operated within strictly by console commands, and direct drone control at a localised level. The innards of starships are splashed temporarily with onboard LIDAR, offering a temporary tachyometric ghost. Turn, and it’s gone. Leave a room and the place is plunged back into the eerie darkness you found it in.
tow; navigate 1 R1; tow; navigate R13; interface; defense; A4, A4, A4
The direct control feels ungainly to a point, and continue to keep the player at a distance. That’s Duskers, though. Clanging through bulkheads and bumping past machine-mates in cramped quarters, operating with deftness feels very much like its happening at Europan distances. There’s no lag, but I always over or under-compensated in hovering around the confines of a dead station or silent ship. Direct control is however merely a sliver of the Duskers experience.
I liken Duskers to air traffic control. There’s a commitment to every action. Information is limited, bussed in at speed and demanded to be acted upon with measured purpose. Each command tapped into the console needs to be carefully assessed. Cavalier progression will rarely pay dividends.
Navigate all D24; generator; gather all; motion; D12; navigate 1 R17; navigate 3 R17; interface; shipscan
Duskers allows for players to chain together squad-wide commands with the semi-colon; each plotted string of directions triggers an entire run of actions as complicated as the player cares for and the game allows. It was a highlight in the old Early Access days and beyond a few gorgeous audio-visual choices, remains my favourite part of Duskers’ high stakes starship spelunking.
Once you’ve grokked the metered flow, governed by an interesting tactical language of straightforward and logical directions, Duskers goes from a quaint, ballsy little retro celebration to a masterstroke of ingenious design. The keyboard commands isolate the player from the action, but in turn, make it far more engaging. The fuzzing, fizzing interface feels like its transmitted through a decaying relay, one desperately trying to decrease the ping between you — wherever you are — and your small motorpool of dumb machines. The times I’ve muttered no-no-no as I jam on the spacebar to fast-track the predictive command text, fingers flying to slam bulkheads closed as my drones are assailed in the darkness are beyond recall. A quiet collection of vector lines and processor hums, the chip-chip-chip of cycling drone telemetry; if Harpoon were a tactical urban warfare simulator boiled down to basics of movement and electronics, Duskers is it.
As much as games journalism at large have waxed painfully lyrical about the aesthetic of Duskers and its lo-fi industrial flicker, the game is undeniably a match of style and substance. If this lonely, sweat-drenched science fiction romp is not left holding the same accolades as FTL come end of year discussions, there’s something awfully wrong. Like my personal GOTY in 2014, Duskers does so much more with comparatively less than any other big budget science-fiction effort in recent memory, such is its subtlety in design. Not one to miss.
navigate all r1; close A1, exit