Mixing the questing of adventure games with a 2D sidescrolling environment of a Metroidvania, Dex is a split of narrative and action.
The dystopian Blade Runner atmosphere, the lead female character, and unique merging of genres gives this indie game a different spin on familiar formulas. With a higher emphasis on narrative and side quests than action and exploring, Dex actually reminded me more of an Elder Scrolls game as I had about a dozen active side quests in my queue at one point. While these missions flesh out the plot, the lack of direction and nav points can be a bit frustrating since the world is rather large, has branching paths, and the overall quest is rather lengthy. Further, there is often more than one way to solve an objective which opens the door for difficult player-based decisions that can lead to some gameplay anxiety. For example, I couldn’t figure out how to release a male prostitute from his life of debauchery even thought I tried reasoning with him and his female pimp. The game simply didn’t give me any other options until I upgraded my charisma and was able to unlock new dialog options. Another example involved saving a mother. Do you give up your own person cash to help pay for a surgery, do nothing, or tell the mother’s kid to steal what is needed? There is no clear path but each yields different results.
While I do not want to spoil the plot, I will say that the main character has a special way of hacking into computers, gun turrets, and even vending machines. Hacking is handled as a twin stick shooter mini-game but unfortunately is the sorest point throughout the adventure as the player easily gets overwhelmed by viruses and failing in hacking results in losing health in real life. This bleeds into the next topic – balance. Unless you played through the entire game a couple of times, I felt like I never had enough health, money or ammo. The scarcity of resources constantly puts the player at a disadvantage and makes the campaign more difficulty than it needs to be. It also takes a lot of effort to level up and earn new abilities. Do you sacrifice one skill point to increase your health, or save up two points to increase the lock pick skill? Like the side missions, selecting abilities can directly affect how objectives are approached, failed, or missed entirely.
The pixel-based graphics do a great job of portraying the desolate environment, which is actually one of the biggest characters in the game. Animations are also handled well although I feel character movement doesn’t feel very grounded, the climbing animation is way too slow, and some jumps can be tricky to pull off. In fact, there are times when the graphics might be drawn with too much details as it can be difficult to determine which parts of the environments are interactive and which are simply background. I actually jumped off a roof thinking I would land on the building below but actually fell to my death on more than one occasion. There are also some rooms that serve no purpose and combat is loose at best. Since the player never has enough ammo, relying on hand-to-hand combat is a must but the punch/block/roll mechanics work, just not with any sort of detail.
Dex does a good job of taking popular elements from other games while putting its own spin on them but never fully hits a home run – more like scoring consistent stand-up doubles. It might not be perfect but there is still fun to be had. The open environment and open-ended quests are unique for a side-scroller and are impressive in its own right. I just wish the combat, sense of direction, and load times were as tightly designed as the plot.
Try It Instead: Another World/Out of This World
Better Than: Flashback (XBLA)
Also Try: Blackthorne or Prince of Persia
By: Zachary Gasiorowski, Editor in Chief myGamer.com