Dust and Neon Review
The other day I was telling someone — heck, it might have been me — that I had a real hankering to play a good, old-fashioned, isometric action RPG. You know, one of those Diablo clones that used to proliferate. Now, it seems like most action RPGs have gone to turn-based mechanics. With Dust and Neon, I got my wish. Well, sort of.
Rootin’, Tootin’ and Lootin’ Crates
Tossing together a salad of Western tropes with robots, vampires, steampunk elements or the supernatural has been a trendy thing for some time, so Dust and Neon is a little late to the party. Not that it matters much in this genre of game, but Dust and Neon‘s narrative is tissue thin. An army of robot outlaws has attacked the land, and kooky mad scientist Dr. Finkel creates an opposing force of cloned cowboys to hunt them down. It’s more of an elevator pitch than a story, but it does an adequate job of driving the action.
Dust and Neon is an action RPG, but it’s also a roguelite, so death means the start of a new run. While the levels remain the same each time, loot and enemies are randomized. The game’s roguelite mechanics mean that Dust and Neon isn’t totally unforgiving. You unlock permanent upgrades and can improve Doc Finkel’s headquarters for access to better gear and limited-time stat boosts.
Although they can be upgraded to pack a bigger punch, the game really only has three basic weapons: a pistol, a shotgun, and a rifle. There’s usually plenty of ammo out in the field and randomized loot to plunder, but combat settles into a groove that never significantly changes. In part, this comes from generally fighting against the same human and robotic enemies, though bosses provide some limited variety. Unfortunately, getting the better of the bosses — especially towards the end — requires a lot of repetitive grinding.
Rusty Machines and Grinding Gears
Dust and Neon leans on a couple of hooks to help it stand out. First, there’s a reload mechanic for all the weapons. You need to reload ammo, round by single round. While this is nicely animated, and I guess is there to add “tension” to the combat, over the long haul the mechanic becomes tedious. I kept hoping to find some sort of auto-load perk but it never came.
The second hook — I guess aside from the robots meet cowboys premise — is the game’s art style. It’s cel-shaded and stylized, colorful, and appealing. Dust and Neon’s visuals are a strong selling point. Its sense of humor, not as much. The jokes are pretty flat, not bad enough to be groaners, and not good enough to really enjoy. Chuckle-worthy, at best.
I don’t think the cowboys and robots premise really gets off the ground, but in short bursts, Dust and Neon’s action is fun. It’s a twin-stick shooter, and there’s a pretty effective cover-and-shoot mechanic, plus some rolls and other ways to avoid being fatally ventilated by enemy robots. Aside from the bosses, though, the action and pacing don’t build very effectively. To be fair, this is just a failing of many roguelikes and the tedium of repetitive do-overs.
The Mild, Mild West
In theory, Dust and Neon was made for a gamer like me. And I do like the art, the premise, and the style of action. Some aspects don’t quite feel fleshed out, like the mission designs, the narrative, and the range of weapons. Then there’s the reload mechanic, which I found more annoying than innovative. Dust and Neon isn’t a bad game, and fans of twin-stick shooters, Westerns, roguelikes, and looter-shooters should all find a little fun hunting outlaw robots. Unfortunately, its pleasures are just a bit too shallow and brief.