In the future, the elite live comfortably while the poor live in slums. Mega corporations control everything. People are fighting over the ideas of cybernetics and augmentations. Everyone is connected through cyberspace. It’s up to one person to fight back and expose the big bad companies for the evil conglomerates they actually are. While the world presented in Dex may not seem super original, once you dive into this unique 2D RPG, you’ll find a quite interesting world to explore.
There’s no easy way around it, Dex is basically a 2D version of Deus Ex. Now for anyone who has played Deus Ex, that is most certainly not a complaint but actually quite the compliment. You take control of Dex, a seemingly normal woman who one day finds herself the target of assassins sent by The Complex, the de facto ruler of the city of Harbor Prime. She is aided in her escape of these attackers by Raycast, a famous hacker. The mysterious figure sets Dex on a path that will change the city forever.
It doesn’t take long for Dex to find out that she is actually quite special, being able to “jack in” to the net without the need of complicated equipment or wires. This makes her the perfect person to uncover the shady goings on within The Complex so she is sent on a mission to uncover just how evil this corporation is, before they gain complete control over the net.
Naturally the first thing you’ll notice about Dex is the striking, 2D art style. The world is beautifully drawn and each area is wonderfully designed to show just what type of world you are living in. When the game is moving, however, it does suffer from graphical problems, most notably screen tearing that plagued by entire playthrough. The animations are also a little stiff and pretty much all of the dialog is presented with static figures with voiceover. The game does have a few full on animated cut scenes that are simply gorgeous. Still the most pleasing thing about Dex is the beauty of the actual world, which is varied and full of memorable environments.
The main plot of Dex follows the protagonist as she uncovers exactly what The Complex is up to, who she truly is and why she has such amazing abilities. The story takes you in a lot of interesting, even unexpected places but it does often trip up with parts that are a little too convoluted or too ambiguous to really grasp the true meaning. The finale is the biggest culprit, with everything in the game leading you in one direction, only for the game to pull a 180 and throw something completely random at you. It then asks you to make a choice between two options. Having beaten it, I’m still not exactly sure what the second option meant or what the choice would have accomplished.
However, like many RPGs, the best parts of the story in Dex are not in the main quest, but in the numerous side quests found within. Despite being a 2D game, Harbor Prime is a large, open world ripe for exploration and filled with lots of interesting things to explore and characters to meet. All of the characters in the game are voiced, almost all quite well, and the side quests they send you on are complex and deep in way not often seen in modern RPGs. You’re not just running from point A to point B to deliver or retrieve some item. Instead you’ll often find yourself feeling more like an investigator as you uncover clues and go about completing each side quest with very little direction from the game aside from brief notes in the quest log. Almost every quest also offers room for choice in what transpires as well as variety of how to actually complete the mission.
Dex is still an RPG through and through so that means you will eventually have to get your hands dirty by fighting some bad guys. There are two distinct types of combat in the game. You have traditional 2D action where you can choose to either focus on melee or guns, which also play into stealth mechanics and different weapon types. Shooting is done through aiming with the right stick while melee is limited to hitting the X button to attack and blocking with RT, although you can unlock different moves based on what direction you hold the stick while hitting X. The action is pretty stiff and ultimately uninteresting but it gets the job done.
The other major gameplay type was quite a shock to me when it first popped up in-game, and that is a top down, twin stick shooter a la Geometry Wars to represent “hacking” in the game. You control a 2D orb and must fend off various forms of “computer programs” such as turrets, super-fast purple lines, red snake and star-shaped creatures, literal fire walls and more. It’s an incredibly unique way to represent Dex’s ability to hack that unfortunately begins the game feeling pretty terrible. You don’t have a lot of health, you can only fire one, small bullet and will often find yourself overwhelmed with enemies pretty quickly. Being an RPG, though, means that eventually as you upgrade your skills the hacking sections start to become quite fun, eventually becoming the most interesting encounters in the game, especially near the end. Still, for a game that focuses so much on choice in how you play, it seems that upgrading your hacking is basically the only way to play the game, especially when you hit the complexities of the endgame.
Since Dex has the ability to hack without needing to be “jacked in” the hacking gameplay also extends into the real world. As you infiltrate the many off-limits areas in the game, you’ll need to override defenses and temporarily disable enemies to make things go smoothly. At the beginning of the game doing these things seems nearly impossible; your wimpy little orb can barely hold up against the hordes of programs sent against it. By the time you have things upgraded, though, you find that you can pretty easily cheese your way through any encounter as turrets, cameras and even enemies can easily be bypassed, making the game far too easy.
Dex was a game that took me an hour or two to really start enjoying. With the up and down nature of the main plot and the terrible early top down shooting sections, I was ready to write the game off completely. However, the game eventually opens up to give you freedom to explore right around the same time that the gameplay starts to click into place. That’s where Dex hits its sweet spot that it rides until the end.
The actual combat and action is never the main draw for this game and that’s okay to me. The action doesn’t get in the way of you wanting to explore every little bit of Harbor Prime and complete all of the interesting side quests. Once you figure out how the game works and what skills to upgrade, every little tidbit of frustration and annoyance fall off, leaving behind a surprising gem of an RPG.
SCORE: 7.5 out of 10
A code for Dex was provided to Pixel Related for review.