I like a good apocalypse. Zombie, alien, natural disaster, robot, I’m not fussy. And I like a good western, Stetsons, spurs, six-shooters, and all that five-gallon jazz. So a game that combines a robot apocalypse with a futuristic Wild West should be ticking all my boxes. And Dust & Neon would be doing exactly that, if it didn’t fluff the landing just a little.
You’re a biomechanical clone derived from spare parts and human tissue, with the gaps filled in by rabid rat flesh, apparently. And you’ve been brought back from the dead to help your slightly insane creator rid the West of the robot scourge. The whys and wherefores are a little thin on the ground here. The story, such as it is, exists to provide some kind of context to why you’re a robotic cowboy in a world that looks like two carnival floats had a collision.
As a top-down roguelite shooter, Dust & Neon succeeds in providing satisfying shooting and feedback with a small range of guns. You have pistols, shotguns and sniper rifles, all of which come in randomised colour-coded varieties either in chests or purchased from a vendor in Exile Keep. The Keep is your hub, where you return after each mission or death, and can purchase upgrades for your current clone or unlock new weapons and permanent buffs using scavenged Cores.
With each new run you’ll take whatever you’ve managed to unlock and head back out into the world, blasting your way through four distinct(ish) environments to rank up enough to face the area boss. These fights I always found just a little annoying, since your gunslinging cowboy can’t exactly move quickly to avoid projectiles. You have a dodge on cooldown but that’s really it.
Dust & Neon does have a fairly decent cover mechanic whereby you’ll automatically duck when near cover. You hold the left trigger to pop out, aim and shoot. It feels pretty good each time, and this combined with weapons that feel impactful makes for a very fun time as you mow through the levels. Unfortunately, Dust & Neon feels skewed towards hard even on Normal difficulty, which is compacted further by a distinct lack of variety.
There are various mission types, such as destroying a set number of barrels or robbing a train for loads of cash, but the levels are small and tightly packed and soon become repetitive. The enemies don’t really evolve much, the guns don’t change in a meaningful way, and the only real unique moments are found in the six boss fights that I often found just too hard to be outright fun.
Weirdly, the most fun I had with Dust & Neon was simply reloading my guns. You have to manually load each round by tapping the button, which brings the gun up on the right side of the screen and slams in bullets in a really colourful, tactile way. There are plenty of trophies just for having fast fingers in this respect, and it always feels inexplicably cool.
The more you rank up, the more bosses will unlock, the better and more powerful the Epic and Legendary loot becomes, and the more challenging the world. So in that respect, David Marquardt Studios understood the assignment. It’s just a shame that it all feels so one-note that it becomes stagnant after just a few hours.
Dust & Neon is an enjoyable twin-stick shooter with a cool cover mechanic set in a colourful world. But it’s held back by a strong sense of Deja vu and a lack of fresh ideas. Anyone looking for something to kill a few minutes a day on a commute or provide a little challenge between bigger games could do worse, but there really isn’t an awful lot here to get your teeth into.
Shooting is solid
Good cover mechanic
Gets repetitive quickly
Doesn't feel unique
Not very memorable