Cyberpunk, Westerns, and Roguelites all share one thing in common. Life? Is cheap. David Marquardt Studio’s Dust and Neon truly embodies that ethos with punishing gameplay set against a post-apocalyptic cowboy versus robots world drenched in equal parts shining lights and dusty cacti. It manages to feel both familiar and uniquely engaging with its aesthetic, a slick combination of colorful robots run amok in western towns. An extra layer of B-Movie schlock ties off the adventure with a bow, humor and mad scientists slotting neatly into the world. The story follows a nameless Cowboy brought to life by the aforementioned mad scientist, a man trying to regain his prominence in a world overrun by robots. It’s a good set up for some goofy fun. The gameplay however is not nearly as inviting as this set up would possibly imply.
Like all of its Rogue inspire brethren Dust and Neon expects you to die. A lot. Unlike some of its more well-known comrades however this is a game of patience, position, and sometimes an infuriating lack of accuracy. Rather than showering its player with weapons and perks the main gameplay loop here has been stripped to some very extreme basics. The Cowboy only has access to three types of weapons, a rifle, a pistol, and a shotgun, with each one carrying limited ammo. They are controlled via a twin stick shooter control scheme but the game itself rewards careful positioning and use of cover. Attempting to run and gun as most twin stick shooters advise will lead to another dead Clone and a swift restart. This does not mean the game is without complexity, however. The statistics, number of shots, and damage are all randomized for each weapon picked up which can allow for some interesting build making for those so inclined. This combined with the game’s signature mechanic of having to reload each bullet individually, no quick loads for you dear player, means that battles can get intense and remembering exactly what weapon builds you are using is essential to victory. However, a steady hand and a well laid plan is not always enough.
Dust and Neon’s greatest flaws arise from the very introduction of stats to the twin stick format. Every weapon has an accuracy stat and it is not uncommon for a perfectly lined up shot to veer wildly off and miss the target by a country mile. Combine this inaccuracy with the robots tendency to rush the player and it is not uncommon to unload an entire wheel of revolver ammo and only drop a single enemy before being wiped out. And when a player dies not only do they lose their gear but also their money and any base upgrade resources they had gained. This makes each death painful as without those resources it’s impossible to even upgrade things to make the next go easier. Overall the game is a fun looking, difficult roguelite that will reward those willing to engage with its systems. However it is not for the casual fan or those with low patience thresholds. 3 out of 5 Dragons.