Dex is a lot of things. It's an adventure game, an RPG, a side-scrolling action game, a Metroidvania-esque platformer, and at times a top-down shooter. And thanks to a rich game world and intriguing storyline, it's also a very enjoyable experience.
Dex takes place in the futuristic city of Harbor Prime, a cyberpunk metropolis replete with neon signs, drug gangs, shady corporations and a seedy red light district. You play as the eponymous protagonist, who wakes up in her apartment one day to find a group of corporate mercenaries banging on her door. She escapes with the help of a trio of hacktivists, who attempt to uncover why she has suddenly become a wanted fugitive.
Our heroine also has an ace up her sleeve to help her. She has the ability to hack remotely into cameras, gun turrets and even vending machines without having to "jack in" to cyberspace. She can be upgraded with a range of cybernetic abilities as well that complement her strength, hacking proficiency or persuasion techniques thus opening up a range of possibilities for differing play styles.
The first thing that strikes you about Dex is its aesthetic and atmosphere. Czech developer Dreadlocks Ltd. has done an admirable job of creating a Blade Runner-like world filled with diverse hand-drawn locations and underlain with a pulsing electronic soundtrack. There aren't a huge number of areas to explore in Dex's open world, and you'll frequently be backtracking through the same places, but they're so full of character and rich in detail that it's hard to get tired of them.
What really brings Harbor Prime to life, however, is its large cast of supporting characters, many of whom provide their own intertwining side quests that significantly increase Dex's play time. There's a good deal of variation in these missions. Some are purely dialogue based, whereas others will see you facing off against a small army of enemies. How you choose to complete each objective can have an impact on other events in the world, giving you the feeling of a greater sense of importance in the game's narrative.
Dex offers a variety of ways to approach its combat situations. You can play stealthily, hiding in cover and ghosting past enemies; use your cyberspace skills to mess with hostile surveillance equipment; or just go in the old-fashioned "guns blazing" style. Hacking computers is another big part of Dex. When you initiate a hack, you're transported inside the computer for what amounts to an Asteroids-like shooter in which you control a "ship" - for want of a better term - fending off viruses and breaking through firewalls.
This change up in gameplay gives Dex added variety, but although the combat and shooting sections are technically well done, neither really offers much of a challenge, especially when you've upgraded your attributes a bit. Once you've learned Dex's stun ability, for example, neutralizing most enemies becomes all too easy. You simply hack them from afar then run behind them and press circle to perform a one-hit takedown. Satisfying, yes, but it soon begins to make you feel overpowered. While not all enemies can be killed this way, those that can't can usually be fled from or dispatched with gunfire or melee attacks without too much trouble.
Rather than any real challenge in its gameplay, Dex's appeal comes more from exploring its believable dystopian world and experiencing its engaging story. The multiple outcomes of its missions make it feel like you're actually having an impact on events, and though its characters appear as just 2D sprites or talking heads, it's hard not to get involved in their individual plights or care about their outcomes.
Dex does have a few technical issues that need mentioning. There are frequent load times when moving between most areas which, while not long themselves, seem somewhat hard to justify for a 2D side-scroller running on a PS4. There's a bit of screen tearing in some areas, and, more bizarrely, frequent freezing where the game lags for a split-second, lurching your character a little way across the screen. This can prove particularly annoying in the hacking sections as you can be thrust into enemy fire, or even worse, end up being teleported into the side of the level, getting permanently stuck and forcing you to quit and reload your last save. This happened three times during my playthrough and got to the point where I was saving before every hacking attempt in case I got stuck and ended up losing progress.
Despite its technical problems, Dex is still an easy game to recommend. There's a lot to do in Harbor Prime and many ways to do it. You'll get your money's worth out of one playthrough, but its many diverging paths mean there's good reason to make at least one return visit.
- + Well-crafted story and characters
- + Attractive art style
- + Multiple ways to complete objectives
- - Fighting and hacking are a little too easy
- - Too many load times for a 2D side-scroller
- - Momentary freezes in gameplay can cause annoyance