Dust 514 PS3 review: Galaxy-sized potential marred by patchy execution
To the extent that you can suck it down the PSN pipes and duke it out in an intergalactic scrap without shifting a single penny, Dust 514 is free to play. But if time is money in your eyes, then CCP’s ambitious online shooter might just be the most expensive game of all time. Penetrating its intimidating exterior and getting at the succulent MMO meat underneath requires a major investment of patience, a few shreds of your sanity, and an acceptance that – for the first few hours, at least – you’ll be dying faster and more often than Reginald D Hunter doing stand-up at a Tory tea party.
Dust 514 PS3 review
Even after all that, you inevitably throw your real-life wallet at Dust 514, if only so you can get your hands on a Genesis NT-511 Sniper Rifle before crumpling into a depressed heap because you forgot to unlock the Skill Book required to actually shoot the bloody thing. Welcome to the esoteric world of Dropsuits, Fittings, ISK and Aurum – as first impressions go, it’s like being bludgeoned over the head with Einstein’s Theory Of General Relativity on a first date.
The hard truth is that Dust 514 isn’t a very good shooter. Maps are sterile & hopelessly fail to convey the scale of a war the size of the internet
Heaving walls of text and a seemingly indecipherable set of rules and interlocking menus are there to greet you as you take baby steps into a world of warring virtual corporations and political intrigue – and it really is frightening in its scale. Pop open the Star Map on your Neocom (Dust 514’s fancy word for ‘home menu’) and an oceanic sprawl of planetary systems yawns out in front of you, colour-coded to represent the corporation in control and all scrapping for supremacy in Dust 514’s parent universe of supermassive PC MMO EVE Online.
It won’t be long before you realise this is the game. Make the easy mistake of wading into an Instant Battle with default Militia equipment (it’s free, it’s unlimited, it’s rubbish) and you’re squeezed into noob puree within seconds. No, the Neocom is your home: this is where you tinker with loadouts, labour over the equipment on which to splurge your ISK (Dust’s in-game currency), and endlessly scratch your head over which layer of the never-ending skilltree you fancy peeling back next.
Eventually it clicks: battlefield heroics win you ISK and SP, ISK buys you Skill Books, Skill Books let you spend SP on skills, skills enable you to slot everything from basic assault rifles and pistols to face-melting laser cannons and tanks into your loadout. It’s unnecessarily convoluted, yes, but there really is deep satisfaction to be had in carving out a character with the potential to create a meaningful impact on such a massive scale.
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Sadly, it’s a satisfaction that all to often fizzles into apathy once you get onto the battlefield proper. The hard truth of Dust 514 is that it just isn’t a very good shooter. Maps are sparse and sterile, hopelessly failing to convey the scale and excitement of a war the size of the entire internet. That amazing, generation-defining moment when a PC player in EVE sends down a laser-guided airstrike to win you the match? A complete non-event – all you get is a tickle of red plasma and a few easily avoidable explosions.
The actual shooting is weak, too. Weapons are an absolute pig to aim, plus the shonky draw distance and scruffy textures mean getting a bead on a target at anything approaching long range is nigh-on impossible. Even the weapons for which you’ve either grinded for countless hours or splurged actual cash feel proportionately feeble in comparison to the titanic effort required to obtain them. When I pay actual pounds for that aforementioned Genesis NT-511 Sniper Rifle, I expect it to rip men out of existence, not casually flirt with one third of their health bar.
Then there’s CCP’s ridiculous design choice that means equipment is perishable, even if you’ve already bought it. Die and your über-weapon dies with you, unless you’ve stocked up on duplicates and stuck them in your Dropsuit. That isn’t complexity, nor is it the game further sucking you into its world of intergalactic space bickering: that’s just Dust 514 being an utter git.
Most of you won’t even get far enough into the game to be angry with it. It’s a game obdurately PC-like in its stat-heavy presentation, sagging under the weight of EVE’s enormous lineage and lacking the gameplay muscle to flesh out that titanium-hard skeleton of menus and corporation building. There’s enjoyment in the mind-boggling depth of it all, in the idea of Dust 514, but the execution of that idea simply isn’t good enough. An MMO shooter of brain-frying depth with a huge online world to get lost in – but it says a lot about Dust 514’s quality when shooting through menu screens is more fun than shooting guns.