Dust 514 is a free-to-play console FPS set within the universe and in direct communication with the PC MMO EVE Online. EVE online players on the PC can hire Dust 514 players on PS3 as mercenaries to battle for control over planets, these battles all take place in real-time and EVE online players will be able to fire at ground targets in a Dust 514 match. The interaction between the two games is not only an impressive technical feat but also adds significant complexity to what at first glance look like just another shooter, and really makes Dust 514 sound unique.
There’s an expansive and fascinating history behind EVE, and this of course is now a part of Dust, so if you’re like me and completely unfamiliar with the lore, you’ll find starting up Dust for the first time to be a little overwhelming. You’re first task is to join a corporation and select a class, there’s a lot of text to read through and questions to answer, so if you’re just looking for some mindless shooting fun you’ll find this quite tedious. Once you’ve chosen your class and corporation your mercenary is transported to his hub; this is just a rather plain looking futuristic room which houses your map of the galaxy, modification station, and your armoury. This hub is where you really get an idea of how deep this game is, there are vast options for upgrades and customisation. My weekend-long beta venture was certainly not enough to explore these options in any great depth. For some, this will be exactly what they want, for others it’ll again feel tedious to browse.
So the premise is compelling and there’s a great deal of upgrades, but how does the game actually play? Well, it’s definitely a beta, meaning it’s unpolished. I experienced frame-rate slow-downs and connectivity issues, but these are expected in a beta and hopefully will be stamped out of the final game. The shooting mechanics are solid, not as polished as a Battlefield or Call of Duty, but it’s still fun to shoot things and everything works the way it should. While the mechanics have a nice feel to them, combat seems a little too infrequent, objectives are initially unclear, and a lot of shootouts happen at longer ranges than in most shooters. You’d think with 48 players it’d be an epic, dynamic warzone, but in reality the maps feel empty and a lot of the time I felt like I was running aimlessly around in my space suit. When I finally found myself in a skirmish, it took quite a few hits to kill the enemy, and with minimal cover in most places we would jump around or run in a zigzag to avoid each other’s fire – not exactly intense and thrilling action.
Dust 514 is a mediocre looking game – not bad, but artistically it’s uninspired and the bland colour-palette does it no favours. It won’t be an issue, but you won’t be praising it’s beauty.
The ideas surrounding Dust 514 are awesome and ambitious, and the core shooting mechanics work well, but the issues stemming from poor level design leave the in-game experience feeling rather lifeless. It’s not an issue that can really be fixed in these last few months of development, so I’m not expecting any game-changing differences in its the final product. The game is free though, so there’s no harm in trying it out for yourself when it releases.