A hardboiled criminal monotously intones "Very interesting…that thing" upon being told that a critical group of engineers is trapped by vampires in the ship's upper deck. "Very interesting…that thing" embodies the type of reaction I have to this strange, malformed piece of software. From Dusk till Dawn is one of the most laughably bad FPS games I've played in a long time. Most of the game is a buggy, unfinished, nonsensical mishmash of simple gory shootouts, backwards graphics, and some of the most ridiculous dialogue ever put to script. It was until I researched the developer Cryo and publisher Dreamcatcher, a duo most notable for producing buggy budget titles, that I realized the mess I had stepped into. Now to be honest, near the end of the game when the enemies get tougher and the shootouts get more intense, things start to heat up enough to provide a somewhat solid visceral experience. But until then, I was spending a lot of time underwhelmed and entertained only by how lackluster and technically deficient everything was.
From Dusk till Dawn is a horror themed FPS/3rd person shooter game…and there's really not much to say beyond that. It's apparently a sequel (or a remake or a spinoff?) of a 1995 action horror movie directed by Robert Rodriguez, which I have never seen. This video game tie-in however was released in 2001, quite a few years after the film. Why they waited so long to produce a video game tie-in I don't know; maybe it was licensing issue. The game takes place aboard an enormous tanker which has been transformed into a maximum security prison hosting some of most ruthless criminals in the world. The player takes on the role of Seth, a slimy tough guy imprisoned and set to be condemned for a crime he never committed (although it's difficult to discern this from the opening dialogue). The night of Seth's execution, a new shipment of convicts is brought the ship. But these aren't just more hardened thugs, these are honest to god vampires who soon set about taking over the whole prison and turning all the inhabitants into creatures of the night. Just where the hell these bloodsuckers came from in the first place is never brought up. It's hinted that the leader of the pack has come to break his convicted brother out of jail, but we never get any more background info besides that. Come to think of it, Seth is kind of an enigma too. Once he breaks out of the confines of his cell to go vampire slaying, his background and reasons for being on this mighty prison are never explored.
All we get are a bunch of stilted ingame engine rendered cutscenes told with badly rendered 3-D models and some of the most nonsensical dialogue around. This is really the most entertaining part in a game in a negative sense of course. The dialogue sounds like all the actors are intentionally skipping every other line on their scripts. Conversations don't progress in a logical manner; they just start and stop abruptly with comments by Seth that border on being completely irrelevant to the situation at hand. The priest says "We need to get to the upper ballast to bless the water" to which Seth responds "Kill them all!" Seth brings ammo to his allies and exclaims a litany of nonsense while loading his gun "That should keep those vultures away! Very interesting…that thing. They're dead!" A woman exclaims "Seth! I need my explosives! They're in back of the theater!" to which Seth replies "And to think I left my wife because she aggravated me." (instead of actually bothering to inquire as to what she needs the explosives for in the first place). My speculation is that each actor only recorded a handful of voice files and the editors were forced to recycle them as they went through the script for the game. Either that or the dialogue has been translated from another language. Either way…the lack of sense in the script results in a lack of sense in the story. It's entertaining in the same kind of way The Room or an Ed Wood film is entertaining. It's just not any damn good.
What is explored is the vast tanker itself, as the player will have to visit every nook and cranny of it blasting and staking the undead until they are no more. While that might sound like a lot of fun…it's very underwhelming at first due to some monstrous technical failings. Like The Suffering (which wouldn't be released for another few years) From Dusk till Dawn can be played from either a third person or a first person perspective, and both have some major issues. Although the third person perspective might look cooler because Seth is in full view and his gun has a nifty laser pointer, aiming is incredibly difficult due to the wobbly control of the mouse and the difficulty in tracing the laser to the point it's aiming at. A classic, intuitive shooter like No One Lives Forever understands that the most important element of a pistol with a laser sight is determining the exact point where the sight will intersect with the environment (aka locating the "red dot" on the environment). In From Dusk till Dawn however, the actual laser is so bright and illuminated that it looks like Seth is just waving around a giant lightsaber. Instead of serving as a guiding point for precision aiming, it's just a huge distraction.
Precision aiming can be much better achieved with first person perspective. The only drawback here is the first person view is incredibly primitive and visually sparse.. Seth likes to keep his gun just below his eyesight, which might make practical sense, but doesn't look very cool in an FPS title since the gun model is almost always off-screen. This might cause some confusion as the player might not know if he's holding a shotgun or a machine gun or whatever, and will constantly have to consult the HUD to find out which weapon is in his hands. Could they not have raised the gun model a little bit UP into the player's sight? It doesn't help that when you actually see the gun, it's rendered by this cheap, stiff 3-D model which make you yearn for Half-Life's weapon animations again.
The shooting places a huge emphasis on location damage. Limbs such as arms, legs and even the head are all capable of being shot off. Unfortunately the enemies, being vampires, can't really be killed unless you do them in through the heart.
Or can they?
Actually I'm not really sure…FAULT #2: the shooting is inconsistent. The instruction manual for Dusk till Dawn says that the key to killing the vamps is to either shoot or stake them in the heart, but I found this to be very unreliable. I could take a shotgun and shoot a vampire grunt point blank in the chest and all it would do would cause him to fall down. I could shoot him in the legs three times in a row and he would dissolve. What sense does that make??? The only ensured kill I discovered was staking them on the ground once they've been knocked down (which is actually kind of a neat effect).
This unreliability in gameplay even extends to the boss fights. Some bosses are laughably easy to defeat (simply requiring a couple well placed shots at their weak points) while others are monstrously difficult. In a climactic scene in the prison showers, I faced off against an invisible vampire. Due to the game's incoherent narrative, I couldn't tell if her invisibility was intended or if a major glitch in the programming had occurred (the fight is proceeded a cutscene of an infected woman shaking and screaming, to which we immediately cut back to the game, except now she's invisible). There's a button near the shower stall I had to press to activate the sprinklers to make her visible. However the button is right next to the door, making it appear as if it's there to open the door. Every other button I pressed was usually a door opener, so why not this one? But I assumed that it would be locked because I was engaged in a boss fight. But no…that button turned out to be the critical piece, turning on the showers to make the hollow woman visible so I could finally blast her in the cranium (even though I assumed the heart would be the weak point!). It doesn't help that she's equipped with a ridiculously overpowered machine gun that traps you in place when she shoots you with it. One mistake and you're dead.
The graphics are unable to compete with the standards set by some other games released in 2001. But that's not a surprise seeing as this was a budget game. The character models have, what I like call, "Nosferatu fingers" as their respective appendages look like long, thin strips of paper cut out and pasted to a 3-D model. The rest of the character models are ugly and uninspired. Their mouth movements are pretty limited and stiff, looking like broken crusty marionettes. Their faces also look like they've been squashed in with glaring defects like undersized noses, no eyebrows, triangular chins, etc. The enemies are slightly more interesting. Their character models aren't any more detailed or rendered any better, however, as stated before, ever limb can be separated from their bodies making for some neat body damage effects. It is satisfying to blast off a vampire's head and watch his body dance around like a chicken before collapsing to the ground. The blood effects are actually pretty impressive with the screen getting covered with gore when blasting an enemy point blank. After every battle of course, the floors and walls are always covered with large red, gooey stains which remain. The environments are varied, but are so sparsely detailed they may as well be bland. Overall…I can't say much for the visuals, except that the gore effects are exciting.
The sound…well…is not much better. The music is well…there is no music. Unless you count the groovy synthesized heavy metal riffs on the menu screen, there is absolutely no soundtrack at all. The screams and monster screeches are passable, but the weapon sounds are horribly unbalanced. Guns like the pistol and the shotgun are understated while the flamethrower is ear-piercingly loud. The voicework as I've already noted, is abysmal and laughable. Given how bad the voicework is, I'm surprised they even got the genders straight. Seth is probably the most distinguishable character, but he's mediocre. Everyone else sounds like they were college kids goofing around with recording equipment.
Compounding this wretched package was the technical stability of the game. It was prone to desktop crashes and required several restarts prior to even being booted up the first time. In fact, it would even freeze my whole computer if I let the desktop menu sit there for too long. This game was at its final version and the computer I was playing on was an old PC I bought around the same time this game came out!! So compatibility certainly wasn't the issue.
What can I say? From Dusk till Dawn is a bad game. But it's a hilariously bad game. If you want to go into an FPS game with miserably low production values just to get some cheap gory thrills, interspersed with bad 3-D rendered stick figures spouting out some of the most inane dialogue ever penned by human hands, then From Dusk till Dawn will suffice.
Price paid: $3 A sickeningly mediocre budget game. Nonsensical story conveyed through laughable dialogue, bad physics, unbearably dated graphics (even for the time), extremely unbalanced/mediocre sound, and buggy as hell to boot. The only high point in this mess is that shooting things is minor gory fun. I hate panning games, but this seriously gave me a headache. I KNOW it was a budget title...but so was SERIOUS SAM and that was leagues ahead of this. Given that this was … more