*This review was originally published back in September, but lost when our website host migrated. Since I put a lot of work into it I thought I’d re-post for you all to enjoy!*
Every once in a while, when time allows, you come across a game that for whatever reason has completely slipped under the radar at release. The Xbox store is such a hive of activity and releases in recent times, it’s easy to see how a title without the backing of a big publisher could go unnoticed. Dex, is just one of these titles releasing as it did in July 2016. Having just completed it however, I felt it was deserving of a full review.
Designed as a throw back, in developer Badland Games’s own words, to classic 2D platforming games, but with a twist; Dex’s vibrant, static but well drawn backgrounds make a good first impression.
Chased out of your apartment by “The Complex,” aided by the voice of the enigmatic Raycast, the opening minutes of Dex push you straight into the roof top hopping, brawling and hacking you’ll be doing for much of the rest of the game.
You’re soon meeting the accomplices that will assist you in your adventure. Decker is your first point of contact. Presumably this is a none-to-subtle reference to Blade Runner. The character model even looks like Harrison Ford! Decker explains that you’re special (shock) and runs you through a brief tutorial of the hacking mechanics.
This turns out to be a game within a game. Nothing too complicated but the difficulty definitely scales up as the hours press on. The fairest comparison I can think of is Geometry Wars but with the colours dialled back. Even towards the end of the game I never found myself getting bored when entering this server based nether-world.
The platforming elements of the game don’t feel anywhere near the challenge you might expect from a similarly styled retro game. This isn’t a criticism; to my mind there’s nothing worse than repeating a section of a game over and over because the edges of platforms just seem that step too far.
Of course these RPG-lite type games wouldn’t be complete without the ability to upgrade your character and Dex doesn’t disappoint in this regard. Upgrade points come relatively quickly and nudge you down one path or the other. Do you want to be able to hack into your adversaries directly and sneak past them? Or would you rather go the more traditional route with your fists or ranged weapons?
Whichever direction you choose, Dex seems to offer a viable play style. I found that the guns were expensive early on and as such as focused on upgrading my melee abilities without ever feeling penalised for doing so – even in the late game.
Unfortunately, Dex falls into another familiar trap for games of this ilk. By the end game, your character is far too powerful to be reigned in by even Dex’s trickiest foes. Badland do mix things up a little right at the death but not for an extended length of time. The caveat to this is that to get to later experience levels I completed pretty much all of the side quests available to me. If you’re happy to just blast through the main quest you may find more of a challenge come the final levels.
With side-quests in mind – Dex always gives plenty to do. A lot of the time they’re just simple fetch quests and a couple of times missions seemed like they would go somewhere a little more clever but just seemed to stop dead. On the whole though, tasks are short enough to remain interesting. Fast travel is enabled once you’ve visited an area once anyway so you never feel like you’re just doing busy work in backtracking.
Side-missions are of course secondary to the main story missions. Here I felt like Dex had some interesting themes. Powerful corporations and their role in governing the world seems poignant with a multi-billionaire CEO in the White House and just yesterday a UK company potentially being given the same powers of arrest as the police. Such a shame then that the story doesn’t do more to explore these ideas. The Complex are a faceless corporation who are just bad – no questions asked.
A few of the characters you meet late game have some nuance to them and at times you are given some basic story choices to make but aside from a small late game twist the story is a bit of a let down. Your character becomes augmented pretty early on, yet Dex fails to make any comment on the effects or pitfalls of this; either good or bad! The ending in particular is very poor. Think Deus Ex: Human Revolution except somehow even worse.
Story isn’t the only comparison that can be drawn with Deus Ex. The soundtrack sounds very much like the 2000 original to my ears. It’s not rubbish by any stretch of the imagination but certainly could have done with a little more variety. My wife fell asleep on my lap while I was playing one evening and said that she found it very soothing to doze to. I’m not entirely convinced that’s what the developer was going for.
It sounds like I’m being very down on Dex and reading back through I’m actually being a lot more critical than I had originally planned. The story is poor and the end game doesn’t challenge like it should. But I actually really enjoyed my 16 hours with the game – £1 per hour of entertainment is a pretty good return in truth.