by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
Cleaning up the mess
There is a whole heap of junk floating around in outer space. Around Earth alone, there are hundreds of obsolete satellites and other pieces of debris from various space programs littering the atmosphere. And in the future, with manned missions to far off destinations, there may be more space junk floating around still. Duskers has gamers playing the part of interstellar rubbish collectors as they go from one system to the next and collecting valuable scrap and fuel from abandoned spacecraft. Players send their spacecraft into each system to find ship hulks and board them. Using a number of drones - each armed with various functions - they then explore the derelict craft in the hope of scavenging any valuables. Duskers has a classic retro feel with a combination of action and text based gameplay.
Command line interface
Prior to boarding the spacecraft, you select your robot scavengers from those available. Each of the drones can be equipped with up to three functions that enable the drones to interact with the derelict structures. Functions such as Motion (motion detector), Generate (powers up sections of the spacecrafts) and Gather (collects nearby scrap and fuel) are the basic tasks used in clearing out the floating hunk of junk of valuable components. Once on board, the specific tasks can only be completed by those drones that are fitted with the appropriate functions.
Once on board, you guide the robots through the spacecraft using the direction keys. Some doors within the floating hulk will be closed and inaccessible until the internal power source can be found (or the portable power function, if attached to a drone prior to boarding). The drone functions are all entered via text into a command line interface, a familiar sight to those who have dabbled in Linux or DOS. These commands are all fairly simple to use and are well explained in the game.
We are not alone
Sometimes derilict ships aren't completely devoid of life. The Motion function can detect the dangers within the ships. When they do, Duskers can become somewhat of a puzzle game, as you find a way to navigate the ship whilst trying to avoid bumping into something unfriendly. You can open and close doors to guide these unfriendlies away from your position and - once accessed - use the ships own defensive capabilities as ways of combating them. Should a drone be destroyed by the life-forms aboard, then the functions that you had equipped the drone with will be lost, unless the drone in question can be returned to the docking station and repaired. The latter is obviously preferrred as both drones and their functions are valuable and permadeath can be frustrating.
Like the text-based gameplay, the visuals have a old-school vibe to them, with grainy visuals and simple sound effects. Although the ship layouts are all different, they largely have the same feel, which builds up the repetitive nature of the game. The grid style layouts have the feel of graph-paper designs. But, the interface is well designed and enables players to work their way through each ship in a calculated way. The command line interface feels like it has been designed to be used with a dot-matrix printer, at least to those who are old enough to remember them. The quiet within the derelict spaceships does provide for some eerie atmosphere with the limited sound effects, as you wonder if the next room has something that could destroy your drones.
Duskers starts out with a unique premise, and despite the grainy old-school visuals, audio and text-based interface, is quite enjoyable. At least for a little while. After learning all the drone functions and moving from one spacecraft to the next, repetition starts setting in. After I had one drone get destroyed and was unable to collect it to regain its functions, I felt compelled to start over which removed some of my motivation to play. Yes, it was a lesson learnt, but an auto save function might have kept me from losing interest. The text based interface may be a deterrent to gamers with a penchant for action, but for someone with some patience and puzzle solving skills, such old-school interaction could be part of the enjoyment.
Some cool puzzle solving elements