I’ve been playing video games for the majority of my life. The first place I was lucky enough to play games on was the iconic Amiga 500, and the first game was my Dad’s copy of interactive murder mystery Cruise for a Corpse – that was way back in 1991. Since then, I’ve pretty much played video games every week; it’s a hobby, vocation and profession that has seen me through all the highs and lows that life has thrown at me. Why am I sharing this? Well, because I want to put it in clear context when I declare that Dog Duty is so very bad that it almost killed my passion for video games stone dead. It is, without doubt, one of the worst games I’ve ever played.
Still reading? Oh, well I suppose I should expand on that grandiose statement a little. Dog Duty is intended to be a real-time tactical shooter, one that clearly takes inspiration from Amiga classic Cannon Fodder as well as more recent hits like Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines or Shadow Tactics. The player views proceedings from above, sending their squad of three mercenaries to infiltrate and wipe-out enemy installations – each filled to the brim with soldiers, gun turrets and a near never ending stream of reinforcements.
Rather than being limited to bespoke levels, Dog Duty expands its horizons to include an open world in which your mercenary force heads out in a humongous vehicle to dodge machine gun turrets and do battle with squadrons of other vehicles before finally reaching an enemy base. At this point your warriors disembark and must wipe-out some element of the facility or collect a resource. The ultimate aim to wipe out the mega vehicles of the megalomaniacal madman known only as Octopus Commander.
Just one glance at the screenshots and it’s clear to see that Dog Duty has taken its retro inspiration very literally. This is a game that looks like it should be running on an arcade cabinet in the 1980’s. Characters, vehicles and the environment are a selection of big blocky pixels in slightly different colours. The isometric camera is strictly fixed, no zooming or rotating view point other than during scripted moments. Retro visuals can, of course, be both beautiful and beguiling, but in Dog Duty they are Cinderella’s ugly sister and hamper the gameplay. Is that a bridge, a tunnel or just a big grey brick I see before me? Quite frankly, I have no idea. I guess I’d better just drive into it and see. Oh, it’s a tunnel – who knew?
There were moments in the game where I literally couldn’t tell if my mercs were walking on solid ground or wading through a swamp. Not that this matters from a gameplay perspective as neither has any affect on the movement of units, but it just served to render every environment a chore to explore. It’s an issue only exacerbated by the mundane palette of colours, primarily consisting of differing shades of brown and grey.
Then there was the strange blurry lines over everything. I assume they were meant to be rain or maybe an aesthetic decision to enforce the idea that I was looking through an arcade cabinet screen, but they succeeded only in rendering the game deeply unpleasant to look at for any length of time.
With the actual gameplay Dog Duty fares little better. Unlike the strategic elements found in Commandos, Dog Duty is much more of an arcade run ‘n’ gun proposition. Sadly, the effect of this is that everything is far too automated. Your three person unit shoots automatically, so all you have to do is move them and occasionally activate a special ability, such as first aid or rapid fire, and your warriors do the rest. At least, that’s the idea.
Pathfinding is so inept that you’ll need to micromanage a unit to the closest of locations, and if there’s any stairs involved, just forget about it. It’s unlikely your highly skilled ultimate soldier will ever be able to find the top of them. Indeed, at one point, one of the indistinct blobs that’s meant to represent my player character refused to even mount a set of steps – despite the fact that they were right in front of him. The AI isn’t much better at shooting either – your soldiers, with great relish and zeal, unleashing pure bullet hell on the floor at their feet, when they should be shooting down at the enemy beneath them.
For a shooter that requires your squad to frequently take cover, walls are also worrying inconsistent in their solidity. Sometimes units will just walk through a wall as if they’re a friendly ghost, whilst on other occasions they’ll remain resolutely stuck on one side. This causes problems when two thirds of the unit gets stuck whilst the one remaining amateur Nightcrawler goes wondering off on his own. Worse still is when enemy bullets go straight through your cover like a flippin’ rail gun whilst your hail of bullets in return ineffectively bounce off the now solid object. It’s baffling and deeply frustrating, particularly when an enemy turret can make mincemeat of your troops in seconds, rendering cover’s indecision over its solidity even more of a nuisance.
Any other issues? You bet. Let’s have a quick round-up: the level of difficulty is all over the place, crazy difficulty spikes popping out of nowhere to wipe your squad out in an instant, whilst at other times the game is a complete breeze as your team mates wipe out waves of enemies with little player input. There’s next to no tutorial with very few elements of the game or its controls being explained. Your vehicle handles like a bar of soap covered in engine oil sliding down the back of an eel which has been lubed up with an entire tube of KY Jelly.
On the plus side, the script is funny and has decent voice overs, so, there’s that I suppose?