Dust & Neon PS5 review. I don’t think there is anything particularly controversial in saying that top-down, roguelite shooters are hardly a new concept and have been somewhat done to death. Dust & Neon is one such effort that, somewhat sadly, follows that blueprint to a fault. By delivering an overly familiar, roguelite shooter to players that while fundamentally solid in the execution of the basics, is desperately lacking in scope or ambition, we have a title that simply won’t survive the inevitable comparisons with its genre stablemates.
Dust & Neon PS5 Review
A Fundamentally Solid But Uninspiring Wild West Roguelite Shooter
The scant traces of the story that make up the narrative for Dust & Neon are essentially that you are a cybernetic gunfighter that has been thrust into a post-apocalyptic Wild West setting that finds itself besieged by a hostile robot army. And that’s basically it. Nothing else to see here. What you get with Dust & Neon is some dialogue from the mad scientist that made you, horrendously uninspired quips from the protagonist mid-battle (including such gems as “love the smell of dead droids” and “eat it! Hehe”) and a prompt which only ever says “Go and choose a mission”.
In of itself, a lack of narrative or a lesser focus on worldbuilding elements should not be a death knell for roguelite shooter, essentially because the bulk of its appeal lay in the meat and spuds of its mechanics. It’s just disappointing that the studio behind Dust & Neon couldn’t find something more engaging to do with its Wild West setting – not least when the similarly structured West of Dead makes a meal out of that setting, deftly crafting an oppressive and darkly occultist offering that stands out from the pack and compliments the on-screen action with aplomb.
Once into the game itself, events take an entirely straightforward and expected trajectory. There are four different areas into which a number of missions can be undertaken. Missions tend to be very straightforward, very short and also, sadly, very repetitive – along with the map design in each instance. Whether your wiping out all enemy robots on a map, destroying specific targets, disabling a generator or relieving a train of its loot, you can expect to repeat the completion of such objectives over and over, and as you might expect, it becomes tedious pretty quickly indeed. Further compounding this, is that outside of scouring the levels for hidden caches of money or weapon cases (many of which are left in plain view), there are no real secrets or obscured discoveries to be found in Dust & Neon’s various stages, making them feel even more rote and featureless as a result.
There is one distinct upside to Dust & Neon’s missions however, at between five and ten minutes long, Dust & Neon’s robot destroying sorties certainly don’t impinge on your time at all and their bite-sized nature prove perfectly up to the task of being fit into even the busiest of social schedules. Speaking of missions, once you have levelled yourself up sufficiently, you’ll gain access to a boss fight which represent some of the most challenging encounters you’ll have in Dust & Neon. Unfortunately, these encounters are also rather devoid of imagination, with clash following a phased pattern where the boss attacks you with their special abilities until you weaken them, at which point they conjure a mob of regular enemies to attack you. Rinse and repeat.
Though the mission structure, narrative and boss encounters all sadly underwhelm, Dust & Neon’s workmanlike, though effective looter shooter gameplay nonetheless manages to elevate the whole affair somewhat. Ably supported by super smooth 60 frames per second action that never slows down, Dust & Neon’s twin-stick shooter shenanigans feel immediately gratifying as you unleash the formidable firepower contained within the pistol, shotgun and rifle firearms that your protagonist has on their person.
Much like West of Dead, a game which Dust & Neon has a lot in common from a mechanical perspective, cover, evasion and timely reloads are the key to staying upright during a robot onslaught. Cover proves to be intuitive, you simply walk or run near some barrels, a fence, or some other obstruction and our trusty, gun-slinging protag will automatically snap into position behind it, away from the health-sapping properties of enemy fire. Evasions work in much the same way that they do in West of Dead – except here there is a sizable cooldown for using it (which can be lessened through upgrades) – with our protagonist leaping out of the way of enemy attacks in predictably exaggerated fashion.
Also like West of Dead, the reload mechanic is an important part of the proceedings. In Dust & Neon, you have to manually reload your guns – with each tap of the square button resulting in one bullet being pushed into the firearm in question – and knowing when to do it and pacing that with your own offensive output proves key in ensuring your triumph in Dust & Neon’s much more difficult later stages. Once you’ve got all of that nailed down, Dust & Neon’s core opens itself up to the player – which is to say that you’ll be spending your time destroying robots, looting new weapons, accumulating money to purchase gear and equipment and finally, scooping up precious cores so that you might upgrade your base, which in turns provides you with new buffs, gear vendors and so on. Again, it’s all very traditional.
That said, there is one design decision that utterly baffles when it comes to levelling up your cybernetic gunslinger. When gain enough experience to level up, you can’t actually level up until you return to your base hub. This is exceedingly silly/annoying, because you can have a run where you hit the experience cap for that level near the beginning of the stage, but because you can’t do anything until you return to base at the end of that level, you’re essentially wasting all of that experience points that you gain from that point onwards. It just makes absolutely no sense. Why would you do this?
As I alluded to earlier in this review, Dust & Neon has roguelite elements that have been interwoven into its gameplay and much like the core mechanics of the game itself, these too feel very shop-worn and somewhat uninspiring. While you are technically always improving, based on levelling up points that can be piled into a number of different skill trees, and your own base can be improved by collecting blueprints and cores that are scattered around each mission, you’ll also be pleased to know that you keep the experience points and a chunk of your money from one life to the next, meaning that not all is lost each time you die.
What is frustrating however, is that each time you meet the grim reaper, you’ll lose all of the weapons that are currently equipped. While this isn’t too much of an issue early on, it can prove to be exceedingly annoying to lose high quality (and very expensive) legendary firearms later in the game where the enemies are that much harder. The end result is that because you can’t just leap right back into the same hard difficulty missions that you’ve been playing, you must instead re-grind yourself back up using the easier missions. It artificially pads the game and can make it all seem like very much a chore.
In the end, though Dust & Neon nails the fundamentals of a twin-stick, looter shooter it feels far too limited, familiar and simply isn’t ambitious enough to stand out from its genre peers. Though still reliably satisfying to play at times, Dust & Neon just doesn’t offer anything new.
Dust & Neon is out now on PS4 and PS5.
Review code kindly provided by PR.