Dex (Xbox One Review)
Cybernetics and implants are slowly, but surely, becoming a thing of reality in today’s world. Implants are constructed and can be provided for those who have lost their hearing, sight, and as an experimental treatment for paralysis. Technologically speaking, we are quite some distance from becoming the next step in human evolution that many of your favourite Sci-Fi television shows tend to showboat. Futurist utopias that boast micro nanomachines that repair damaged tissue to cybernetic optical implants that let us see incredible distances still remain a dream. Whether the culmination of our existence ascertains that we follow this path – becoming more machine than flesh and blood – there are people who would see another side of the data chip. Those who think that these robotic additions would sully our purity, our natural state, wouldn’t sit back quietly and let their thoughts dim and fade. They would speak up and outward and let the world know how they feel. Dex explores that facet of society whilst sticking to the usual tropes and clichés of your typical Cyberpunk -or even Biopunk- genre title. Dreadlocks Ltd creates a dystopian world for player to explore, become engulfed in and ultimately lets them tell their own story through the decision making of and conversations in the world of Dex.
A city filled with rich conglomerates and heavy neon lights; with a dash of seediness. The world of Dex (the name of our main character) is at war with itself over cybernetics, crime, and drugs. Harbor Prime is where the player begins their journey into the virtual world of hacking and will spend most of their time throughout Dex. A generic plotline that entails a super corporation known as “The Complex” performing shady activities drags our main heroine into the fray. When The Complex intrudes Dex’s personal space by sending assassins to take her out, she decides to take things into her own hands and get down and dirty and fight back. Unbeknownst to her why she was attacked and dazed and confused she seeks refuge with some unknown hacktivists and sets out to unravel a conspiracy at her very feet.
All the tropes are present within this cyberpunk creation. However, the attention to detail within Harbor Prime sticks out the most. From the grime and gunge covered sewer systems to the seedier, underdeveloped and impoverished districts. There is a sense of desolation and misery as the poor folk of Harbor Prime battle to survive in an ultraviolent world; one which you can freely explore – metroidvania style. With gangs fighting for control over districts and polluting the populace with the ever-growing drug trade. Some of Harbor Primes normal citizens hold grudges to those that have cybernetic superiority, those who are pure flesh and blood are now exquisite oddities in the world of Dex. It’s hard to imagine living in a world as void of light and hope, with neon lit signs as the only actual light paving Dex’s dreary streets. The cyberpunk theme of Harbor Prime wouldn’t be complete without seeing the other end of the spectrum; where there are poor, there are rich. Dex’s more prosperous districts bear haven to the wealthy and some more immorally driven characters. Littered with high rise corporate buildings and well-dressed aficionados, the more affluent districts may just be as corrupt as the ailing districts of Harbor Prime as reporters scramble to make their next big story by uncovering corporate conspiracies and citizens accepting bribes to relieve what little information they have just to make a quick buck. No loyalty amongst the venal.
With Dex’s main focus being the side scrolling functionality, there is plenty of space and affordance to the action RPG elements that sets Dex aside from the rest of the genre. The combat of Dex is a bit of a love and hate affair. To begin with, you barely know how to punch straight. Starting off with no combat expertise, you may only throw two punches before your combo comes to a halt. Other abilities unlock as you level up, but the sheer frustration of trying to tackle a series of enemies with only a one-two combo is unparalleled to any other game I’ve played. To make matters worse enemies cannot be hit stunned. Unleashing your repertoire of left and rights on a single enemy will not affect how they perform, leaving them free to wail on you without concern for being knocked out of their own combo. If you’re worried that the melee combat may not be up your street then there is a very limited supply of firearms available to you once you have the dough to buy them. They pack a much bigger punch than…well, a punch! But affording such luxuries is a bit of a strategic guessing game.
Dex has various ways in which you can approach situations, such as stealth, brute force, conversation and even ignorance; just ignore the job at hand and let someone else deal with it. Deciding which route to go down is never easy though, especially to begin with. And that’s because money is always the issue. If being stealthy is your choice of approach then you may wish to invest in special augmentations that let you become invisible, these cost a pretty penny resulting in less overall contingency options as you’ll lack the cash necessary to buy weaponry. If you want to kill everything in sight, then a handy pistol or shotgun ought to do the trick, but you’ll lack better augmentations and maybe even some necessary health kits to boot to keep you going. It’s a slippery slope of trial and error in the early game but once you find you’re groove, you’ll find very little in the way of difficulty. That being said, the hacking aspect of Dex will always be a hindrance until late game.
Hacking is done through use of Dex’s virtual reality interfacing, though everyone one in the world of Dex needs to “jack in” using special neck ports (think The Matrix) our female lead can interface without one. Once a hack is initiated you are brought into a top down twin sticker shooter virtual world. Filled with viruses, firewalls, and all types of sensitive data. Your job is to break through and take what is not rightfully yours. These mini-games can be exasperating as your ability to stay alive is justified by how good at bullet hell games you are. With an array of volatile code trying to kill you and your “Focus” bar(which acts as an independent health bar for the mini game itself) the hacking aspect can become tenuous as you are required to monitor several health bars. If you die within a hacking attempt then you suffer a significant proportion of health damage and with the ineptitude to recover your focus meter (hacking health) you’ll only be able to re-enter the hack with minimal health. Resulting in an even harder and riskier attempt. Again, money is key here. You can buy pills that recover your focus meter, but you’ll have to give up other avenues of approach and venture to do so. No one way feels justified in the choices you make early on in the game, but eases up near the finalé. This design choice isn’t the most approachable one but it does give a sense of tension and frailty to the character and scenarios that the world around you pervades.
Dex is light in terms of story, it’s fairly linear but does the genre it resides in justice by implementing all the tropes that make Cyberpunk great. Hacking, conspiracies, and cybernetics are all present. With doom and gloom around every corner of this dystopian society it’s easy to find yourself wrapped up in its civil unrest. The beginning hours of Dex may be a bit of a slog and combat doesn’t really become fleshed out until you’ve invested a fair amount of ability points but still feels strong and uncompromising…mostly. If you’re a fan of the Cyberpunk genre or even just fancy the occasional side scrolling RPG then why not hit up Dex, you’ll be surprised at what conspiracies you uncover.