At some unknown point in the future Counter-Strike, the military fps loved by children and Russians alike has become a virtual shadow of its former self. Thankfully, SCRNPRNT has done their best to preserve a server running the game’s most popular map: de_dust2. Every Tuesday, at 5 p.m. PST, there will be a ‘congregation’ in order to pay respects and, naturally, shoot the heck out of each other.
Otherwise, DUSTNET is a dark, abandoned landscape that will make you question just how alone you really are on the server.
Time has not been kind to de_dust2. Players and environments have been reduced to featureless, textureless skeletons. While the objectives of the game persist they are kept within the constraints of one endless round. Regardless, the game’s structure is unchanged: terrorists try to plant and successfully detonate a bomb at one of two sites, while counter-terrorists try to stop them. Rinse and repeat. Forever.
Players who have had their fun in the original map will not need long to adjust here. DUSTNET, despite its decayed state, shares the fundamental makeup of its glory days. Context aside, SCRNPRNT has flawlessly rebuilt such a well-known environment in a perfectly recognizable manner even without any of the bells and whistles that normally accompany it. Not that it needs them: instead, DUSTNET has its own bells and whistles to play with.
At the tap of a button, the player can fly freely around and edit the stage themselves; whether it be building new bases and cover points, setting new spawns or enabling the usage of a sweet railgun (which definitely wasn’t present in the map’s prime), all at the cost of your regenerating ‘dust’ stat. What began as cheats and console commands like bunnyhopping and double-fire can now be wielded as “upgrade disks.” While the amount of creative freedom is lacking at points, namely in the weapons department, it doesn’t detract too much overall from replayability. Whole new layers can be added, both literally and functionally, to the map, and not just by its humanoid inhabitants.
It would be impossible to take in the beauty of the black, nothing-filled skybox without also noticing the giant pair of hands floating menacingly in the air. VR players can take control of their very own horrifyingly oversized gloves and manipulate the stage from above while the chaos continues below. For a more relaxed spectator experience, DUSTNET can also be accessed via the mobile AR app, allowing viewers to project the entire map onto a nearby surface and enjoy the game. If the players desire it so, the entire map can be removed and replaced with a purely flat arena to wreak havoc in.
However, once things start to wrap up, and the player count drops, the tone of the whole game takes a significant turn. The change in audio is perhaps most indicative: an ongoing hail of bullets is no longer present, leaving behind only a series of sedated bass notes, with occasional loud interjections that are bound to put the player on edge. Exploring the map alone, the player is left to wonder just why the server is the way it is. Why are there items present here which have never featured in a Counter-Strike game? And why do I keep receiving odd messages in the text chat? What is the world like outside this decrepit server?
DUSTNET is a simple concept on paper that opens up realms of existential questions once you get into it. Whether intentionally or not, SCRNPRNT’s cross-platform multiplayer battleground is an innovative experiment which at times serves as a nostalgic playground and at others an unnerving pit of emptiness. The effort taken to replicate an old Source Engine server, even going so far as to include an old-timey loading screen, gives the game a great deal of effective authenticity. Though it may be on its last legs, de_dust2 remains as much fun here as it has been since the start of the millennia. Even if you may not be able to shake the feeling that something more sinister is going on beneath the surface.