I wasn’t sure what to expect heading into the PlayStation 4 version of Dex. The cyberpunk aesthetic and mention of Metroidvania elements could lead me to believe that the developer Dreadlocks had crafted a game specifically to satisfy my tastes. Although the original PC release had received some not so favourable reviews. From the ten or so hours that I spent with the game, I can safely say that Dex is a solid experience that’s only held back from excellence due to a few poor design choices.
If I had to pitch Dex to a publisher, I would describe it as a gritty 2-D version of the Deus Ex series. Dex shares the cyberpunk setting, open world environments and RPG elements of Deus Ex. Although where Deus Ex: Human Revolution had a sleek aesthetic inspired by European culture of the past, Dex is dark and dirty. The game is set within the Blade Runner-esque city of Harbour Prime with locations that range from the streets, offices, strip clubs and industrial plants that all feature their own unique form of degradation.
You play as Dex, a woman on the run who discovers that she can access cyberspace without a neural jack. Masked forces are chasing her, and freedom fighters believe that she is the human avatar of a legendary rogue AI destined to reach the singularity. The story also features themes of corporate greed and conspiracies. These are familiar cyberpunk tropes but good ones. Many of Dex’s quests feature alternate dialogue options with varied outcomes that shape a more personalised experience. The voice acting is also excellent.
There are quite a few side missions that you can complete although they don’t offer much in the way of variety and story development. The most problematic part of completing side missions is locating the NPC who gave you the quest. The unnecessary maze-like environments and the minimalist map design can make it difficult to find them. Although the loot, XP and cash rewards make these quests worthwhile.
Dex can utilise hand to hand combat, ranged weapons, stealth attacks and cybernetic enhancements when confronting enemies. She’s quite well armed, but the enemy AI is incredibly difficult. Encounters with new enemy types requires you to decipher their attack pattern and discover their vulnerability. Some are susceptible to sneak attacks, others environmental damage, etc. The shooting mechanics are overly complicated and make aiming quite the chore. I would stick to hand to hand whenever possible.
Another main area of the gameplay is the augmented reality sections, where the game transforms into a twin-stick shooter, and you hack systems by literally fighting off viruses. These sections feel like a watered down version of Geometry Wars and become repetitive. A lot of games feature a hacking mini-game, and I see what Dreadlocks were going for, it just wasn’t as interesting as it could have been.
The XP-based upgrade system is quite robust. What XP you earn from kills and quests can be spent on various upgrades that allow you improve everything from HP and combat skills to lock picking and bartering. The upgrades add more depth to the already solid RPG mechanics and provide you with further options to personalise the experience.
Dex is not a perfect game, but it is a great one. There are so many features packed into this side scroller that it feels like some elements received more attention than others. Although the minor blemishes don’t tarnish what is both a great RPG and cyberpunk experience.
Dex is developed by Dreadlock Games that are based in Prague. Dex is available now on PC, Mac, Linux and all current gen consoles.
Michael Vane is a freelance journalist and co-editor of PN2. He’s on Twitter @DrVane