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What makes Duskers so terrifying is the deeper investment it elicits. Players are bound to project something of themselves onto any unlikely vessel, be it a sprinting hedgehog or a pointed firearm, as long as it faithfully responds to a mouse click or a button press. But Misfits Attic’s game about spaceship-exploring drones and the survivor who pilots them draws you in by completely obliterating the distance between digital protagonist and player.
Consider the other scariest sci-fi game of the past few years, Alien: Isolation, and all the barriers between you and its heroine. While she’s crawling through the metallic arteries of the Sevastopol’s ventilation system, you’re sitting comfortably on your sofa; she’s delivering lines of dialogue you’d never speak, based on knowledge you never had; and when the Xenomorph finally gets her, you’re not dead, you’re just staring at a reload screen. As immersive an experience as it may be, every single interaction in Alien: Isolation carries a subtle reminder that you’re not Amanda Ripley.
Duskers will have none of that. The ungainly drones that board decrepit spaceships in search of loot and information may be the game’s heroes, but its central character is their unseen handler, one whose input precisely corresponds to yours. They type commands to navigate mechanical proxies, same as you do. They pore over ship schematics to come up with the safest possible exploration plan, just like you. And presumably, they also hold their head in despair at the cruel punishment dished out for a seemingly trivial error: fumbling with the keyboard, opening the wrong airlock, and evacuating everything—your drones included—into the cold vastness of space, perhaps, or disregarding the persistent pounding coming from the door of an adjacent area for one second too many. If you turn down the lights and shut off distractions, Duskers really feels like you’re inside a cramped control room frantically pushing keys at a sooty cockpit, definitely more Millennium Falcon than USS Enterprise.
It’s a brilliant concept elegantly executed and complemented by a static-laden security-camera aesthetic. The command-line input is intuitive enough that it soon becomes second nature, but the need to control a whole squad of drones in real time as they explore an environment that may turn lethal at a moment’s notice means that the only time you can relax is between missions. Even then, deciding on the best way to spend your meager loot involves no small amount of stress. Do you repair the heroic bot that got battered in its last outing, restore your gradually degenerating visual feed, or purchase a vital drone ability like Motion Scanner or Lure? Greed will kill you in Duskers way more often than swarming alien hives or leaking radiation, but ironically enough, it feels like there’s never enough scrap, the game’s multi-purpose currency, to cover even basic needs.
Failure comes often and brutally, yet unlike most games, your continued existence in Duskers is perfectly justified. Your drones have been sucked away by the void or torn to shreds, but you remain at a safe distance, physically intact, if mentally nerve-wracked. Unlike more charitable roguelikes, there are no persistent rewards to ease the struggle of future play-throughs.
Still, there are some things you do get to keep after each defeat, and they suffice to invite further forays into the galactic graveyard. There’s the knowledge and experience you accumulate by playing, which endows the tiniest details with foreboding, like the barely audible buzz coming from somewhere near your computer terminal and the dubious vents that may or may not be shattered even when they’re in a seemingly uninhabited room. There are also the broken, incomplete logs you plunder from derelict ships that hint at a species-threatening pandemic and escaped super-predators, slowly assembling into a tantalizing mosaic of theories to ponder on the long days of your lonesome space scavenging.