There are some games that you slowly build into. You’re introduced through a lengthy cut-scene to the wondrous world you’re going to spend the next twenty hours enjoying. You’ll get a insight into the main protagonist and slowly work out what their problems, aims and goals are. Then there are games that immediately shout “RUN” at you. Dex is one of these games – one in which from the off you don’t know where you are, how it works, who the hell you are and…what is that coming at me with a gun? It’s a game that could tempt you to switch off early, putting on something easier. But don’t, because Dex needs a bit of time and then it will start paying you back in spades.
Dex is set in the future, but a future that is very recognisable indeed. It’s a mixture of Bladerunner, Deus Ex and The Matrix. You are Dex, a kind of cyberpunk, who’s pulled from her apartment and like you, has to work out why she is being chased. She is being hounded by a corperation called The Complex who have some sinister schemes afoot…future things and stuff. Dex is a sort of chosen one/messiah who could ruin all their evil plans. Dex starts underground in the sewers after her escape from the apartment and then works her way up to the city to try and find answers.
Gameplay wise Dex plays as a (big breath) open world side scrolling RPG platformer. It reminds me of one of those old SNES games but with a HD makeover. There are two main parts to get involved in. You explore around the world, jumping between platforms and going through doors to different sectors in the city. You have stats to upgrade using the experience you get by collecting items, doing missions and combat. These range from melee, to lock picking. All are useful, but choosing which valuable skill points you upgrade will determine the way you play. For example, not choosing charisma upgrades like I initially did will mean you won’t be able to talk your way out of situations or persuade others to do your bidding.
But anyways, let’s talk about the combat first and get the moaning over and done with. I’m afraid this is something I haven’t got on well with at all. It’s like a Double Dragon style of combat, one in which you bash a button to punch or block. Later on you’ll develop further skills enabling you to kick in order to beat the bad guys down. There are guns to be bought and using these is a case of holding LT to aim and the RT to fire, which sounds normal right? Well it isn’t because it’s a slow action that takes a while to master. The action melee fights are painful and I found myself struggling with wrong angles, getting obscured by pillars so I couldn’t see or just be being beaten to a pulp. When I did defeat someone I just couldn’t work out how I did it. It all just seems too random and unpredictable, so more then often I would just run past everyone, jumping widely to get to my destination. It does get easier as you upgrade your powers but god it’s tricky to get motivated in the beginning to see it through to that stage. Moan over.
There’s a big section of Dex that deals with going into cyber space and hacking systems. This is a kind of a side scrolling, shooting, mini game whereby you’re left destroying firewalls and trying to gather data. This is a pleasant diversion from the main game and works well as a mini game – even though it gets increasingly hard and frustrating. The main missions themselves are very good indeed with a lot of thought being put into the story and action. Sometimes you get a bit lost and there are no markers to signify your next step, so you have to carefully read the journal information again and again. There are also a bountiful supply of optional missions that you can pick up by walking the streets of the city and talking to people. There are a lot of things to do in Dex and the open world nature of the game works brilliantly.
The writing is clever and brings to life the lore and shape of the world it is presenting. The characters are fully developed and the story seems to move forward without being mind blowing. The only problem I had was that the dialogue boxes where so small and hard to read that you can be forgiven for skipping them.
The graphical tone of Dex lies in its retro styling. It reminds me of those great PC games in the early nineties like Beneath a Steel Sky. There is a cool comic book look to the city and its different locations, but this design might be a bit too retro or basic for some. The soundtrack has a similar retro feel and all the effects feel very much of that time period again, which is obviously a deliberate move by the developer. The voice over work is excellent though and the actors really commit to the tone of the game.
Overall Dex is tremendous value for money as they are lots of things to do and explore. The retro look and design might turn some people off but there is much to enjoy, especially when you get away from the boring sewers and into the city. The combat is the real problem for me and in the beginning when you’re not fully upgraded, it’s nearly impossible to work out how to progress without running away. Dex is a hard game, but with a fantastic open world and good design, it’s a game that I won’t forget in a hurry.