How do I go about reviewing a game… No, a concept like DUSTNET..?

For those uninitiated, DUSTNET is a concept formed by SCRNPRNT, a new indie studio, and is their first release – Aiming to immortalise the final incarnation of de_dust2 – arguably the most famous Counter Strike map of all time – in the form of a £4.79 download. Players can load into a wireframe rendition of the famous map, edit it as they see fit with the in-game tools, but with a single catch – When the last person in the server logs out, the changes are wiped, and the map is restored to it’s pristine, clean state.

It’s odd; upon booting into DUSTNET, the place is void of any sort of interaction or life. I’m greeted by a hollow log-in screen that takes me into the experience, with zero players globally, and no way for me to create my own private server; I float, endlessley in the void, waiting for human contact that will probably never come, as I turn my eyes towards the interface and the other possibilities.

As I mentioned before, you have access to level editing tools, allowing you to place a small catalogue of items like powerups, an Assault Rifle, a Particle Cannon, a cube, sphere, pyramid and ammunition, ontop of a teleporter and a sign… And that’s about it. You can manipulate the three shapes in a variety of ways by stretching their width, height or depth, but again, asides from this, there’s not much to really play with.

You can change your view to be T-Posing, 3rd person or no-clip, with no strict rules able to be set on servers, meaning that if a human were to join you and your mates’ server, they’d either need to know your rules or they’ll break them by default.

I guess this fragility is what makes DUSTNET interesting as an experience – There’s literally nothing more to this game outside of a standard (Albeit trimmed) version of any CS Source / GO dust2 match… But it shows a surprising commitment to the content we often take for granted in our games – The immortalisation of a single map, with a single pair of weapons, with a trio of geometric blocks to alter said map with everything being wiped when the party packs up and goes home is… Odd.

I didn’t get to have fun with DUSTNET. I didn’t get to have my mates join in. I didn’t get to experience the map with another human… But oddly enough, it felt like DUSTNET was paralleling my lonliness. There will one day be a point where Counter Strike shuts down. For good, and in the ruins of that shutdown will remain DUSTNET. A community’s single, final testament to the map that held that game together. It’s certainly a first for any game I know of, and it’s just… Odd how it tries to bridge across PC, PC VR and mobile AR to supply this experience to any consumer. No matter where you go, no matter where Counter Strike goes, DUSTNET remains.

…That’s what makes this ‘game’ so hard to review. My time playing was limited out of isolation to a single hour, but in that hour I had experienced everything it had to offer with 50 minutes still to spare… But I guess that’s why this review has taken so long to write. I’ve spent over half a week mulling over my thoughts on DUSTNET, looking at it as a game, a piece of consumable media, an art project, a statement, and a method of preservation… But in all factors, DUSTNET is just DUSTNET. It’ll always be here. It’ll always preserve du_dust2. I guess I feel a stint of jealousy towards du_dust2 for the treatment it’s gotten in preservation, and ask why the same couldn’t be applied to retro games or films or the like.

For all it’s worth, the price of admission is an absolute rip-off, but acts more as a ticket into a museum of times old. Maybe in 10 years I’ll revisit DUSTNET, when the gaming landscape has changed… Maybe I’ll look back at it with familiar fondness… Or maybe I’ll lock it away, to never touch again.

…Who knows? I guess that’s the beauty of DUSTNET in the end of the day. It’s an unreviewable game. An unreviewable experience. An unreviewable piece of preservation. An unreviewable piece of software.

It’s the ultimate reviewer’s achilles’ heel.

…For that reason, I can’t give a score to DUSTNET, but instead can simply say that if it interests you, give it a shot. It’s a ‘game’ that is comprised of literally 10 minutes worth of content, friends excluded, yet I’ve managed to write 776 words on this void. Not to say it’s devoid of any meaning; quite the opposite – It’s a fond void. A cozy void. A void we’ll return to later, when things are better or worse, and remember “Yeah. That was a thing”.

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