Genre: Side-Scrolling RPG
Release date: May 7, 2015
The holiday season has arrived and that means it's here! The massive, quest-loaded, science-fiction action-RPG that we couldn’t wait to get our hands on.
No silly, I’m talking about Dex, a side-scrolling cyberpunk RPG that re-imagines Westwood’s Blade Runner as a Metroidvania with the RPG mechanics of Deus Ex. It’s as compelling as it sounds, despite a generally unoriginal nature and far from flawless execution.
Styled in ever-popular 8-bit fashion, players assume the role of Dex as she races through rainy, neon-flashing, futuristic metropolis, Harbor Prime. After avoiding a mysterious unknown assassin, Dex finds herself wrapped in a conspiracy set forth by the The Complex, the city’s overreaching, always-watching authority. Dex teams up with a group of resistance hackers known as Raycast, who come to believe that Dex is “the chosen one” for her ability to hack into the The Complex’s mainframe without having to wire herself in like everybody else.
From that last paragraph you may have gathered that Dex borrows a few too many concepts and themes from works like 1984 and The Matrix. Not only that, but most of the scenery feels directly lifted from Westwood’s adventure game adaptation of the film Blade Runner, complete with a techno-noir strip club, a chrome-ladened weapon shop, an art-deco lobby of a Tyrell-type building, and countless rainy back-alleys and graffiti-ridden underground tunnels that feel uncannily familiar.
Nevertheless, while it may feel unoriginal, it's still stealing from the best, and the presentation is wonderfully done. It nails the tone, the atmosphere, and color pallet one would hope of such an homage, and the voice acting is surprisingly a notch above. Characters are dynamic, with strong dialogue -- thanks, in part, to a complex story and lots of interesting side quests around every corner -- giving Dex a very complete and thorough feel, just as you would want of a story-based RPG.
The real hangup with Dex, however, is the matter of a repetitious and poorly-executed combat system. The narrative scenes are the strong points of the adventure, so it's unfortunate the only thing tying them together are long, stretched-out side-scrolling sequences through desolate alleyways and creepy areas where you have to essentially smash-click your cursor across the multitudes of no-personality scavenger enemies that lurk at every corner.
It gets old fast: the gameplay sequences work more as challenges to see how fast you can click your mouse in order to survive while you walk through many awkwardly-navigable side-scrolling corridors. The walking keys alone are touchy, and one instance of simply trying to get into an elevator was unnecessarily hair-pulling, and even led to my unexpected death, which somehow gave me an achievement; so whether or not this inexplicable elevator death was somehow intentional or not is definitely a head-scratcher.
On a long enough timeline the game does eventually pick up, and some gameplay variances are eventually provided, such as the navigating-the-vessel-through-the-mainframe mini-game that turns up every once in awhile. However, these mini-games tend to have very sloppy controls and often feel secondhand, ultimately providing a sub-par level of variety against the otherwise mundane side-scrolling core.
Aside these qualms, Dex still stands as a fairly satisfying side-scrolling RPG for any fans of the above-mentioned influences. As someone who is a massive fan of both The Matrix and Blade Runner, playing an old-school RPG version of these works with a solid visual, narrative and sound design is a dream come true. If the gameplay matched, and was maybe a little more complex and forward-moving, Dex could have had a much higher recommendation. Unfortunately, as-is, Dex ends up feeling as though it's nothing more than a copy that never comes close to being an original.
+ Great narrative, a solid blend of many classic sci-fi classics
+ Great visual look, perfectly captures the spirits of its influences
+ Fantastic voice acting to match the well-written dialogue
- Not a single original idea
- Gameplay is rather flat and monotonous