Well, since I’m still reading the next book I plan to review (“Tower Hill” by Sarah Pinborough), I thought that I’d review a computer game that I’ve wanted to play for at least a couple of years. I am, of course, talking about an indie cyberpunk 2D platformer/role-playing game from 2015 called “Dex”.
I first heard about “Dex” in either 2016 or 2017 and I really wanted to play this cool “Ghost In The Shell”, “Deus Ex“, “Blade Runner” etc… inspired game back then. But, then I saw the system requirements. Although I had an old computer that could play modern 2D “point and click” cyberpunk games like “Technobabylon” and “Gemini Rue“, this 2D platformer required a dual-core processor. So, it got added to the long list of “games I wish I could play, but can’t thanks to bloated modern system requirements“.
But, shortly after getting a vaguely modern refurbished computer a few weeks before preparing this review, I decided to download the free demo of “Dex” (yes, unlike many modern games, it actually has a demo 🙂 Albeit one that was released two years after the game) to test it out.
And, when the game went on sale on GOG last winter (I prepare these reviews very far in advance), the decision whether to buy a copy was an absolute no-brainer. Interestingly, the version available on GOG at the time of writing is the “Enhanced Version” which apparently includes some content (eg: various cybernetic suits etc..) that was previously released as DLC, in addition to the usual GOG extras like the game’s soundtrack, wallpapers etc….
So, let’s take a look at “Dex: Enhanced Version”. Needless to say, this review may contain some PLOT SPOILERS.
Set in a neon-drenched cyberpunk mega-city called Harbor Prime, you play as a mysterious blue-haired woman called Dex who wakes up after having a strange dream. Seconds later, you get a call from a mysterious internet person called Raycast telling you that people are coming to get you and you need to run. After dashing across the rooftops and making your way through a gang hideout in the sewers, you emerge in a part of the city called Fixer’s Hope.
Raycast tells Dex to head to a local bar that is popular with hackers. But, after talking to the owner for a while, it is raided by corporate henchmen and Dex barely manages to escape to the hideout of a local hacker called Tony. To Tony’s surprise, it quickly becomes obvious that Dex can access cyberspace without having to jack into a computer. Not only that, Raycast delivers a message saying that Dex is humanity’s only hope of destroying a malicious A.I. called GSV-2 controlled by an ominous group called The Complex who want to take over the world….
Powerful artificial intelligences? A character with “Deck” in his name? A hacker cave? Yes, this is cyberpunk 🙂
One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is basically a modern low-budget 2D version of the kind of cool immersive sim/action RPG games like “Deus Ex” and “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” that were popular in the early-mid 2000s. In other words, this game has atmosphere and depth 🙂 Plus, although this game wears it’s many influences on it’s sleeve, it still manages to be something refreshingly new and interesting at the same time too 🙂 Although it probably isn’t a perfect game, it is certainly a really cool one 🙂
I should probably start by talking about the gameplay. Although the game does feature some limited 2D platforming and a combat system, these aren’t the most compelling parts of the game. No, this is a game where you’ll probably be more interested in talking to people, building your stats, looking for side-quests, drinking in the atmosphere, choosing augmentations, making decisions, solving puzzles, hacking computers, managing your inventory and exploring the city for loot.
So, yes, this is more of a RPG than a traditonal 2D platformer, but what a RPG it is. It has the same immersive, detailed worldbuilding that you’d expect to find in games like “Shadowrun: Dragonfall“, “Deus Ex”, “VTM: Bloodlines” etc… and it is an absolute joy to experience. There are lots of interesting side-characters, multiple ways to solve problems, optional side-quests, hidden items, amusing item descriptions and of course the kind of neon-drenched, run-down atmosphere that you’d expect from a cyberpunk game 🙂
Yes, not every location looks like this (and there’s lots of post-apocalyptic rubble and/or utilitarian concrete in other areas), but this game certainly looks very cyberpunk 🙂
Seriously, I love the general style and atmosphere of this game 🙂 Imagine everything cool in the cyberpunk genre, and you’ll find some hint of it here 🙂 It has “Deus Ex”-inspired gameplay, a lot of thematic and visual inspiration from both “Ghost In The Shell” and “Blade Runner”, it sometimes has the kind of vaguely anarchist atmosphere of something like “Shadowrun: Dragonfall”, there is at least one reference to the ICE from “Neuromancer” etc… I could go on for a while but, if you are a fan of cyberpunk, then this game is for you 🙂 Yet. as mentioned earlier, it still manages to be it’s own unique thing in addition to all of these cool influences.
The game’s roleplaying elements are really cool too 🙂 This is the kind of game where you’ll probably want to do as many of the optional side-quests (which involve things like taking down gangs, dealing with a stalker, rescuing a man from a brothel, finding antiques, investigating a closed restaurant etc..) as possible, and not just because you’ll get cash or experience from them. They’re interesting. Although the game’s RPG elements (eg: character stats, dialogue trees, damage scores appearing in combat etc..) are nothing new, they really help to give the game the kind of immersive depth that you’d expect to see in something like a “point and click” game 🙂
Seriously, it’s almost like a point-and-click game, but with faster-paced and more varied gameplay 🙂
Seriously, I love the writing and art style in this game. The dialogue and voice-acting feels like a reasonably “natural” part of the game’s world, and all of the in-game text has the kind of personality and subtle humour that you’d expect from a game of this type 🙂 Whilst the game’s main story isn’t anything too surprising, it is still delivered in a very compelling way and there’s enough background details, optional stuff etc.. to make the game’s world feel real.
Likewise, this game looks really cool too 🙂 Not only does it use a timeless 2D art style, but there are some cool-looking locations (albeit with some fairly drab concrete ones too) and the player character animations are really cool too (seriously, it’s difficult not to feel a little bit like a Blade Runner whilst drawing your weapon or running around the city etc..). The animation for the background characters tends to be a little bit more limited but, overall, this game looks really cool 🙂
Not to mention that some of the backgrounds look really cool too.
Even so, expect a lot of understated, utilitarian and/or concrete locations too.
The game’s puzzles are reasonably decent too. I’m terrible at puzzle games and I only had to use a walkthrough twice whilst playing and, on one of those occasions, I’d almost solved the puzzle in question but made one stupid mistake (eg: forgetting that the alphabet only has 26 letters). In other words, the puzzles are reasonably forgiving, logical and relatively infrequent too 🙂 They add an extra layer of variety to the game without really getting in the way of the gameplay too much.
Plus, the game will actually reward exploration too since you can usually find puzzle hints if you look for them. However, you might need to increase the screen resolution in order to read them if you’re playing on a lower resolution.
Likewise, I love how this game encourages you to explore. Although the city isn’t that large (there are maybe 10-15 different parts of the city to explore), there are hidden items/areas to find and everywhere looks really cool too. Not only that, there is also a fast-travel system that helps to remove a lot of the “back and forth” drudgery that comes from some parts of the game. And, yes, this game can sometimes involve a bit of this, so the fast-travel (and the fact that this game has a fairly traditional “save almost anywhere” saving system) really helps a lot 🙂
Seriously, this is so useful 🙂 Without it, the game would get a bit tedious at times.
Still, I should probably talk about the game’s action and platforming elements. They are…functional, I guess.
As you would expect from a RPG, you’ll be fairly weak in both ranged and melee combat until you upgrade your stats and/or find enough in-game money (no micro-transactions here 🙂 ) to buy decent weapons and, more importantly, enough ammo for them. Although the combat is made a bit more forgiving via the inclusion of things like stealth takedowns, the fact that you can run away from most enemies and, if you complete one side quest, get a
thermo-optic camouflage stealth suit (in the “Enhanced Version” of the game) too, it still feels like one of the weaker parts of the game.
If you want an action game, then play something else. The combat here does it’s job, but it isn’t the best or most interesting part of the game.
Then again, given the inclusion of a basic stealth system and the ways that combat can be avoided (eg: hacking cameras, running etc..), this isn’t too much of an issue. Even so, it’s more like a 2D version of the combat in the original “Deus Ex” (eg: ranged and melee combat feel a little weak and/or inaccurate) and/or the combat in the original “Resident Evil” (eg: you have to draw your gun before firing. However, unlike “Resident Evil” you can move with a drawn weapon) than the thrillingly streamlined combat in something like a traditional FPS game.
Interestingly, the best action-based parts of the game are probably the computer hacking mini-games. They are these surprisingly challenging bullet hell style mini-games that are played from a top-down perspective and they are reasonably fun. Unlike the more abstract-feeling weapon combat segments, the hacking sections actually feel a little bit more like a thrilling, streamlined action game.
Yes, the combat is actually more fun in these mini-games than in the actual main game.
Likewise, the platforming works reasonably well – with Dex having the ability to grab onto ledges and to buy an augmentation that allows her to jump higher. Even so, it isn’t really a major part of the gameplay in the way that it would be in a traditional 2D platformer. In other words, the platforming is a bit more “realistic” and, although there are a couple of places where you have to dodge environmental hazards or leap over bottomless pits, these are very much the exception rather than the rule.
Yes, this moment of traditional old-school toxic-waste dodging is very much the exception rather than the rule with this game’s platforming elements.
As for the game’s length, this depends a lot on you. If you do all of the side-quests etc… then you can get a few decent 2-4 hour gaming sessions out of this game. But, if you ignore as much of the interesting optional stuff as possible, then I’d imagine that the game could theoretically be completed in a few hours at most. Still, given that the optional quests allow you to gain more experience, skills, resources etc… that you’ll need later in the game, maybe not.
Another interesting thing about this game’s length is that it is actually longer than it initially appears to be – in short, there is a point where it seems like the game has finished (eg: a “boss battle”-like segment, followed by a dramatic cutscene) only for there to be at least a couple of hours of gameplay after this. Given how compelling I found this game to be and how dramatic these extra couple of hours of gameplay are, this felt a lot like an encore at a concert and it was really cool to have more of it than I’d expected.
In terms of sound design and music, ths game is fairly decent. Although the music isn’t that memorable, it still fits in well with the game and the sound effects also do their job well enough too.
All in all, whilst this isn’t a perfect game, it is a really cool one 🙂 If you love the immersive depth of games like “Deus Ex” and “VTM: Bloodlines” and/or you’re a fan of the cyberpunk genre, then you’ll have a lot of fun with this game. Yes, the combat and platforming aren’t the game’s strongest points, but this is still a really compelling, atmospheric and just generally interesting game 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.