Dust: A Tale of the Wired West

Developer/Publisher:  CyberFlix
Year Released:  1995

Review by Gordon Aplin (April, 2002)
My 'recollection' of the 'Wild West' is based solely on the countless cowboy movies and television series that I absorbed as a child, before my taste turned to Science Fiction and Fantasy. Yet looking back, it seems to me that the Western genre as presented on television was already becoming a parody of itself with colourful, over-the-top characters and stereotypes. So much so that upon entering the small town of Diamondback, New Mexico in 1882 it felt like I already knew everybody.

Stranger on the loose
Diamondback is the town you flee to after your run-in with an outlaw known as 'The Kid'. The good folk of Diamondback are rightly suspicious of strangers (the bad folk are downright hostile) and you, as the latest 'stranger', must earn their respect if you plan on living long enough to collect your pension. Of course, once you scratch the surface of this frightened and lawless town you'll find more than dust as you uncover, greed, corruption, lies, scandal and some truly atrocious singing. You may also learn your real name and a little about your own mysterious background.

Released in 1995, Dust is a first person perspective adventure game from CyberFlix who also made Titanic: Adventure out of Time and Redjack: Revenge of the Brethren so if you have played these later games you will know what to expect from the interface. You can use the mouse to move around by clicking the arrow at the edges of the game window, but as intricate manoeuvring isn't necessary, I found it just as easy to navigate using the keyboard arrow keys and reserving the mouse for in-game interaction. There are many items to pick up (sometimes other characters will give you things) and you can examine them in more detail in your inventory. You will need to find and read books and letters to glean clues and generally learn what is going on, but it is in talking to the many townsfolk that you get a feel for the story.

The characters sometimes move around the small town seemingly going about their own business. They are generally grainy and blurred until you click on them to initiate a conversation when they step into focus as 'live' actors. The CyberFlix engine does not use full motion video and only a token attempt is made to lip-synch the speech. Though this may not appeal to everyone I got a laugh out of it because it emphasises the humour. The character portrayals are almost caricatures as they preen and pull faces and, as I mentioned earlier, the parody of familiar western characters is delightfully overdone. In conversation you can usually choose from several responses and these are updated as you move through the story. You can also enable subtitles to let you read what the characters are saying.

Guns and puzzles
As with other CyberFlix titles there are a couple of arcade elements that may frustrate some players. A couple of shootouts are just like target practice and Diamondback even has a shooting range so that you can get a feel for what is to come. As well as the shootouts against multiple 'baddies' you'll also need to beat 'The Kid' to the draw. He is pretty slick so this calls for some fancy pointing and clicking on your part. Though these sequences held me up for a while, on the whole they aren't too difficult even though you'll probably need to save and reload a few times to get through them.

But there are plenty of other challenges and puzzles such as following conversational clues, finding gifts to appease locals, negotiating a creaking staircase, and mixing a potentially lethal doctor's prescription. Help is on hand in the form of 'Help', a Chinese store owner who provides some hints and sometimes money. It is the Wild West so you'll surely want to frequent the 'Hard Drive' Saloon (and house of ill repute) and listen to the gossip, and if you want more money in your pocket you'll also have to tackle the one-armed bandit or sit down at the blackjack or poker table. The problems aren't too difficult although some of the puzzles in the last part of the game are more abstract and one in particular involving turning circular discs surrounding a face took me longer to complete than I care to admit.

Day after day
Time moves on in Diamondback as you complete certain tasks though it is not always clear (apart from going to sleep at night) what will trigger the move. You can also miss some things so the game is not too rigid about completing everything before moving on. This actually works very well although it can lead to some incongruities. For example, on my first night in town I wandered around exploring and talking to people then, thinking there was nothing else to do I went to bed. Next morning the local paper informed me that I had defeated a town bully in a fistfight. This was a surprise, as I hadn't even met him. I restored to an earlier save game before going to sleep then explored the town some more until I bumped into him and gave the newspaper editor something to write about instead of making up lies. I don't think it would have mattered too much if I hadn't had that particular fight but I don't like to miss anything in an adventure game.

Of course the graphics are a dated now but they satisfied my perceptions of the Wild West and I had quite a lot of fun with this game even if it isn't a classic. As I said the voice acting is overdone, outrageously so, so the humour isn't subtle. Amongst the larger-than-life characters there's a modern day look-alike that is hard to miss and in the dialogue you can catch some political quips as well as a good serving of clichés. Behind it all there's also an awareness of Native American culture, something that I missed in the TV Westerns way back when. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2002. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Win 3.x/95/NT 3.51, 486 DX 33 Mhz or faster,  8 MB RAM; 2X CD ROM, Super VGA graphics with 256-colour display or better; Sound Blaster or compatible sound card.
Macintosh: OS System 6.07 or better; 68030 or faster, Power Macintosh Native; 8 MB RAM; Colour Monitor; 2X CD ROM.