Dust 514 Review
After you’ve made your purchases, you’ll need to equip them, in a process that requires an undue amount of attention. You’ll first need to ensure that you’ve got the appropriate skill, which means spending ISK to unlock the skill, then attributing earned skill points to its branching list of abilities (each of which needs to be unlocked in turn). Sound unnecessarily fussy? It is, and that’s just the start. Here, EVE’s “fittings” customization system makes the jump from spaceships to “dropsuits”, the name given to your loadouts. Fittings adjust your player’s weaponry, special items, shields, and armor, but you’ll need to pay close attention to your supply of consumables (and...err....”lose-ables”), as well as your dropsuit’s available power and CPU space. It’s a clever calque from EVE’s ship engineering systems, but certainly too clever for its own good. New players will find themselves scratching their heads trying to suss out the minute differences between power consumptions, let alone, say, what their medic syringe’s “meta level” is supposed to indicate.
Everything in order? Then it’s finally time for battle. A warning, though: once you get there, you’ll be dreaming of the pastoral fields of the fittings menu. Combat in Dust 514 is an unmitigated mess, an ugly, imbalanced disaster that aspires to mediocrity and is found lacking. The game’s maps show CCP’s unfamiliarity with the FPS genre. They’re full of unavoidable stretches without cover. They’ve got giant ladders that lead to empty rooms of no strategic import. They’re overly spacious and lack any points of interest, so it’s easy to get turned around and mistake one generic oversized gray box for another generic oversized gray box. Not only are they dull, but their repeated industrial sameness has a dampening effect on the notion that you’re a planet-hopping interstellar mercenary. Instead, you’re just fighting over sci-fi crates on a dusty plain, or on a metal expanse, or on a different-colored dusty plain.
If you’re fired upon while trying to orient yourself, you’ll be hard-pressed to figure out where it came from. Dust’s sound effects are among the worst I’ve ever experienced in a release - the game’s future weapons sound like card shuffling machines when fired, and the noise of incoming rounds has no discernable relationship to location or proximity. What it does have, is an uncanny resemblance to a person making “pew pew” noises. The game has a tendency to provide misleading hit indicators that cause me to spin about in search of phantom enemies. What’s most glaring is that Dust 514’s frame rate runs well under 30 frames per second, consistently, a fact that one finds themselves acutely aware of when trying to snipe a distant figure that’s flitting around the screen in stop-motion. At a distance, bullet tracers look a bit like the aliased lines of color that my old Commodore 64 used to represent laser fire. UI text has a vague fuzziness to it that makes it hard to parse, and about half of what’s on-screen at any given moment is too small to read without making a truly concerted effort of it.
There’s little in the way of good news. It’s easy to get trapped in the environment. Freezes and lag are frequent occurrences. Vehicles are sluggish and dull to pilot. The available battle modes are a lazy assemblage of genre mainstays like team deathmatch and capture the location. A great many of the weapons and crafts on hand are badly underpowered, especially when stacked up against Aurum-only counterparts. Using the aforementioned sniper rifle feels like an uphill battle against the frame rate, and the shotgun is about as useful as you might expect when most engagements take place football fields apart. At least the after-battle report is nice to look at, even if you can’t sell any of the loot you salvage from it - that part hasn’t been implemented yet.
CCP’s innovative touches do crop up here and there, like budding plants in industrial rubble. I’ll cop to a certain fondness for the creepy, new-age tracks that the game, like EVE, employs. And while the dull environments and technical limitations don’t put CCP’s best foot forward, there is some excellent craftsmanship here and there. The weapons in particular are spectacularly designed objects that are markedly different from typical sci-fi fare. They’re asymmetrical, and they avoid conventions about what a shotgun or a grenade launcher are “supposed” to look like while still feeling vaguely tangible. Ditto for the dropsuits themselves, which make every character look like a fearsome future soldier while simultaneously feeling uniquely “of” their race of origin. But little flourishes like these are drowned out by the din of the other issues that scream out constantly.
It’s a real pity. For as cumbersome and unwieldy as Dust 514 is, CCP’s methodical and large-scale approach to the FPS is certainly a change of pace from the usual suspects. I’d just like to see it better realized. Perhaps one day it will be. Lamborghini started out making farm equipment, I hear.