Published on August 19th, 2023 | by Andrew Haverty
Dust & Neon Review @Netflix @MarquardtGames
Summary: Dust & Neon lacks innovation, but shootin’ and lootin’ sure is fun!
Released back in February of 2023, Dust & Neon has made its way over to next-gen consoles in all its rootin’ tootin’ gun lootin’ glory, now with newly added missions. Indie roguelikes have been on the upward trend for the past few years and Dust & Neon looks to separate itself from the crowded pack of impressive titles. While I can confidently say that I had a ton of fun playing Dust & Neon, I can’t say with full confidence that it separates itself enough to join the ranks of elite roguelikes already available to the masses.
Set in a sand-covered post-apocalyptic wasteland (not unlike the popular franchise Borderlands), you play as some sort of half-human half-robot Frankenstein creation where your human half is a resurrected corpse. Your creator is Dr. Finkel, a mad scientist set on “cleansing the world of the robot oppression.” The world has turned into a wild west inhabited by evil and it’s your job to kill every last one of them by any means necessary. Die out in the badlands and you’ll just be recreated by Dr. Finkel to continue your endless mission, losing some valuables in the process but returning with some upgraded skills in classic roguelike fashion.
Killing all robots means eliminating the biggest and baddest of the bunch, and Dust & Neon has more than a few bosses to test your regularly improving skills on. To get their attention, you’ll first need to complete some side missions to get your rank high enough. These missions include tasks such as sabotaging an enemy base, robbing a train, or simply clearing the area of hostiles. A particular favorite of mine is “Bomb Defuse” where you need to get to a time-ticking bomb before it explodes, forcing you to rush through the mission guns-ablazin’ all John Wick style.
After earning enough rank, you’ll be able to take on one of the several high-honcho bosses, each have their own particular set of skills like regenerating orbs as a protective shield or having sharpshooter accuracy from sniping range. Best one of these bosses in combat and you’ll often be rewarded with an upgrade to your home base/laboratory, like opening up a weapon shop or gaining access to elixirs that give temporary buffs with some negative side effects. Bosses will “hide” after defeat and you’ll be able to slay them up to twice more, each time being more difficult than the last but also more rewarding.
I found most bosses in Dust & Neon to have a fair amount of challenge, with one in particular being much more irritating to deal with than the others: one that was less about outgunning your opponent and more about precise dodging at the right times. And that boss that requires precise dodging? It only gets more and more infuriating the more you have to defeat it.
Each time you rank up, you’ll gain a couple of stat upgrades to turn the tide of the robocalyptic war (see what I did there?). These upgrades may feel minimal at first, only having initial access to things like minor health upgrades or increased movement. But the upgrades get juicier as you progress, like having a percent chance to prevent death or gaining health whenever looting an ammo crate. All the while you’ll continue to loot money and other forms of currency from the enemies of the wasteland to upgrade your arsenal or your laboratory, all to increase your chances of survival.
The core gunplay of Dust & Neon is rock solid. Guns have a satisfying crack and recoil effect that helps to add intensity to every firefight. Pistols will put your trigger finger to the test, shotguns rip through enemies causing collateral damage to those that line up single-file, and snipers do exactly what they’re made to do. It’s just a shame that the game only gives you access to just these three styles of weaponry. I know it’s a wild west setting, but when I see my enemies using a grenade launcher, I can’t help but want it.
A cool gameplay twist is the need to reload each bullet into the chamber individually. This means if your weapon has a six-round clip, you need to tap that reload button six times (technically seven if you include starting the reload process) as fast as you can to get back into the action. This gives the player an interesting dilemma to deal with: take a weapon with a lower clip, but have to reload every few shots, or use a weapon with a much larger clip and be forced to tap your little heart out every time you empty it. Having to rapidly tap the reload button while being chased by a bunch of angry, weapon-wielding robots never ceased to keep me on edge.
As much fun as I was having with Dust & Neon, there are a couple of bugs I ran into during my 12+ hours that seem worth mentioning. One is minor, where looking at a gun in the shop doesn’t pull up the stat sheet or purchase icon. That wasn’t exactly game-breaking, but I ran into a couple more that were more severe.
A couple of times my game froze when opening a weapon chest, preventing me from being able to pause or back out of it in any way and forcing me to close the game completely and lose my mission progress (luckily missions aren’t usually more than 5 minutes). As for the other bug, one day I booted up my Series X and saw that I hadn’t closed the game. Opening the game up in standby, I continued to play a for a couple of hours only to notice the next day that my two hours of gameplay didn’t save. And with no manual save feature, it was really frustrating to lose so much progress, even having to beat a boss or two over again. Hopefully this isn’t anything that a patch can’t fix, but just note: close your game out before shutting down.
In the end Dust & Neon feels like a bunch of great ideas and mechanics that don’t quite push the roguelike genre in any innovating direction. That’s not to say it isn’t fun though as its fast-paced run and gun gameplay always entertains. I just wish there was more variety in the weapons and missions, and a richer story wouldn’t hurt either. The potential for an even more impressive sequel feels very likely if the interest is there and I, for one, am interested enough to see one.