They say the best way to learn a foreign language is to jump right in and try to figure it out for yourself. It doesn’t matter if you end up purchasing something terrifying instead of a simple sandwich; this just ensures you’ll get it right next time! Or, you know, becomes completely and utterly confused and end up cowering in a corner somewhere. Unfortunately for developer Dreadlocks, this was the exact impression I had after firing up the cyberpunk sidescroller Dex.
I frequently pine for the days when video games didn’t hand everything to you on a golden platter and we actually had to work for our entertainment. However, the games of my childhood were far simpler than what we see now and so starting a game with little direction seems a bit cruel. But after a few brutal deaths in Dex, which make you redo the entire opening scene again and again, I did begin to get a grasp on exactly what buttons kept me alive and which sent me careening to my death. Mostly.
After meeting my first NPC, my sour opinion of the game turned around immediately. The questing system is very well done, the dialogue is witty but informative, and the storyline began to get interesting. I was presented with three scenarios for completing a quest, all unique to a specific playstyle and all equally feasible. I chose the run-and-gun approach, opting to fight my way through an enemy lair to retrieve a key instead of lurking about and searching for a different item. Many future quests had this same feel, which was great to see in a 2D sidescroller.
The biggest positive for me was when I arrived in the main city of the game. The attention to detail was exquisite; NPCs and animals roaming the alleys around me, the boarded up windows and destroyed machinery, and even the graffiti plastered over the walls. Exploring the city and interacting with the various characters within was one of the highlights of the game to me. And then I was forced to hack.
Hacking in Dex is pretty much a pixelated, shoot-em-up nightmare. In one of the pivotal aspects of the story, the game takes a hard turn and forces you to fly around playing Galaga instead of using some other method to imply accessing various terminals and networks. It is such a jarring transition that I groaned each time the game forced me into one of these situations. While I enjoyed the story surrounding the hackers, I did not care for their gameplay.
Meanwhile, fighting in Dex was a lot of fun. Your character develops many hand-to-hand fighting techniques and the game asks you to actually pay attention to what the enemies are doing in order to avoid taking significant damage in an encounter. Eventually, your character can even hold her own against a gun-wielding enemy without too much trouble, which was a nice touch. I did not care to use firearms (they’re expensive!) so the fact that I didn’t have to was welcomed.
Overall, Dex is a fun game. There is a good foundation for future expansion, if so desired, but what’s there now is a compelling cyberpunk, dystopian experience. The art, music, and animation combine to create an immersive atmosphere that I enjoyed exploring. The questing system is excellent, if vague in some points. However, my opinion of the game is marred by the “death of one thousand papercuts” that is the hacking minigame, the tutorials, and the timing of some actions. Still, if you like the sound of a cyberpunk RPG, then definitely give this game a try!