Dust & Neon is a twin-stick shooting rogue-lite that comes to us from Swedish software developer David Marquardt Studios, their (or indeed his) debut effort. It’s all of the most popular indie tropes placed in a futuristic-themed Wild West setting and it’s out now on PSN.
After a little bit of plot that shows that you’re the creation of Dr. Finkel, you’re soon unleased on the world where you’ll to root, toot and shoot your way through various randomly-provided and generated missions. These can range from clearing out an area of enemies, shutting down a base, raiding trains, blowing up barrels and so on and generally these all involve you just heading out there and searching around until you find the objective while enemy robots come out and look to destroy you.
Viewed from a top-down, isometric-ish viewpoint, the action initially seems pretty standard. You move with the left stick, shoot with the right and there’s a cover mechanic that lets you hide behind the scenery. However, as soon as you empty your pistol you’ll have to manually reload your gun by tapping as many times as it takes to fill up the chamber or whatever the revolve-y bit of a revolver is called. It’s pretty off-putting and definitely gives the game a unique feel, although we’re not sure it necessarily makes things any more fun. In the end we tended to go for guns with bigger capacities just so that we weren’t constantly reloading but that ended up just meaning we were hammering the reload button 10-12 times every time we ended up empty.
There’s also a dive/dodge button which gives you a little bit of manoeuvrability but, for the most part, you’ll just be running, shooting, hiding and tapping reload a lot until all threats are cleared. And initially it might all feel a bit stiff and tricky to get along with but after a while you start to improve, both from learning the feel, flow and techniques of the game but also from the fact that this is a rogue-lite that gives you a few ways to upgrade yourself temporarily and permanently.
After a few missions you’ll have ranked up sufficiently enough to bring the first boss out of hiding and then you can go and challenge them. They’ll obviously put up a much bigger fight, as well as doing the whole boss thing and going invincible for a while as smaller enemies come in to take over the important business of pissing you off. If you fail a boss level, they’ll disappear again, requiring you to complete a few more regular levels but if you succeed you’ll move onto the next area.
The whole reloading thing, combined with the variable level of quality from your guns means that things can be pretty challenging and so you’ll want to dig Dr. Finkel’s bag of tricks in order to get those upgrades. And the first thing you can do is to try to get better guns. In your home base there’s a gun generator that gives you a new pistol (as well as shotguns and rifles later on). These are pretty random and only really defined by their scores in five stat areas (damage, criticals, handling, accuracy and ammo capacity). They’re usually much of a muchness though as from gun to gun the various stats go up and down, rarely ever showing a gun to be truly superior unless you find a rare one. Trying to work out what’s best out of the various stats became a pain but, as we said, we tended to just favour ammo capacity.
There’s also a shop that lets you buy new guns, however these aren’t cheap and you only get one random selection of each gun type prior to playing a level, so we’re not exactly talking Borderlands levels of gun-shopping here. You can also find guns out in the levels but, again, these usually aren’t all that exciting.
You’ve also got ‘Snake Oil’ which gives you various buffs (and de-buffs) if you want to pay for them and also memory chips that serve a similar, temporary function. These aren’t cheap either though and so are best saved for boss encounters.
Along the way you’ll also pick up skill points and these can be spent on combative or defensive upgrades, improving things like you ammo capacity, accuracy, health and so on however none of these felt like game-changers which makes for a pretty boring upgrading experience. If games like Vampire Survivors have told us anything it’s that people really like cool, meaningful upgrades and not silly little incremental ones that barely make a difference.
In terms of the presentation, everything looks clean and reasonably well put together and it’s all supported by a cool dark Country soundtrack but as with most things set in the Wild West, the environments can feel empty and plain. The train heist levels break things up once but eventually they feel pretty samey too. It’s just one of those games that doesn’t really pop.
Now that’s not to say Dust & Neon is a bad game. It’s not. It holds together well, it has its own unique pace and it can be rewarding to take out a tricky boss or survive an encounter with lots of enemies but the mix of the deliberately stilted shooting, the mediocre upgrades and the uninspiring locations just makes the game feel ordinary across the board. Your mileage may well differ, especially if you just absolutely adore rogue-lites, but for us it didn’t quite hit the target. And we’ve got Country in our name and love ourselves a good rogue-lite twin-sticker normally.
+ Decent controls
+ Fans of the genre might like it
- Constant reloading hurts the flow of the combat
- Very repetitive