Best described as a twin-stick roguelike shooter, Dust & Neon casts you as a mechanical cowboy with a vendetta. With endless levels filled with villainous robots to take down, there’s a lot to sink your metal teeth into here. But be warned: repetition is likely to set in rather quickly.
While most twin-stick shooters let you unleash hell with bullets, shooting them left, right and centre at just about anything that moves, Dust & Neon wants you to be far more calculated. Bullets aren’t unlimited, and depending what type of gun you’re using, you’ll generally have only nine in your inventory at any one time. You also have to reload manually each time you unload your barrel, and so each shot needs to be measured, prepared for, meaningful. Run out of bullets and, well, you’ve not got much chance of survival.
Thankfully, there’s an abundance of bullets to be found by looking in ammo boxes and various other crates dotted around each level of Dust & Neon. And so running out is rarely a concern – as long as you’re not too trigger happy. Levels are fairly short affairs here: each one gives you a specific task to complete. Maybe you’ll need to clear an area of enemies, or maybe you’ll need to shut down a machine. No matter your task, if you’re successful you’ll be done in a matter of minutes, being whisked back to the hub to choose a new level and start all over again.
You’ll earn experience each time you play, along with a cash reward. And most levels offer up the opportunity to find loot: you’ll find plenty of weapons chests waiting to be plundered, and there’s a chance its contents might be an upgrade on what you’ve got. You can carry three guns at any one time: a pistol, a shotgun and a rifle. Guns come in different rarities and each have their own stats. If you prefer more rounds over accuracy, or handling over damage, then it’s your call: you’re always in control of what guns you have equipped.
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Well, until you die, that is. Dust & Neon does have roguelike elements after all, and so if you die, you’ll lose your currently-equipped weapons. Thankfully, some of the money you’ve earned remains yours, and a buyback machine in your hub allows you to purchase one or more of the guns you’ve just lost. There’s also a shop where you can buy more. It’s not the harshest of roguelikes, then.
What are completely permanent in Dust & Neon, however, are your character’s upgrades. Each time you level up, you’ll earn two upgrade points which can be spent on a range of perks like more health, being able to hold more ammo, or weapons costing a little less in the shop. And so, even if you keep dying, you’ll continue to gain experience, with your character getting a little tougher each time.
The problem with Dust & Neon is that it quickly feels repetitive. Its small levels all feel very samey: sure, there’s a handful of different objectives, but once you’ve done one train heist, you’ve done them all. Being thrown back into the lobby each time you’ve completed a level becomes exhausting, because you’re only ever in a level for five, ten minutes maximum. It breaks the flow of the game, and you’ll quickly find you’ve lost motivation to jump back into yet another level, even if you’re on a roll.
It’s a shame, too, because we do enjoy the more precise gunplay that Dust & Neon offers up. Sure, reloading is a pain but it makes you more conscious of where you’re shooting. If you’re normally a spray-and-pray type of player, it’s refreshing to have to think about where you’re aiming your gun and how many times you’re pulling the trigger.
We don’t dislike Dust & Neon: its gunplay is solid, and its more thoughtful approach to twin-stick shooting is refreshing. But its levels quickly get repetitive, with little variety in terms of design and enemies. It’s the sort of thing that’s fun to jump into for short bursts of play, but it’s not going to keep you hooked for hours at a time.