The world of Dex is a cyberpunk extravaganza filled to the brim with charming animations and visuals that emanate a wealth of grunge and personality. Yet, disappointingly, Dex is pulled down by the anchor that is, in a couple of words, uninspired gameplay.
The meat in any retro side scroller is in its combat and platforming, or, in the case of a title like Dex, the interactions with NPCs and the unfolding story. The latter is, for the most part, an engaging real, but it’s a little bit disappointing that Dex lacks in its fisticuffs in what it packs in its aesthetic and world-building. The polluted cyberpunk environment filled to the brim with stunning hand-drawn characters and little details filling the seams is conjoined with an odd punch and roll back set of interactions that get repetitive fast. There’s little complexity to the brawls, but not enough simplicity to make them engaging. Enemies have a fair amount of health, given that you’re punching armored grunts with your fists, meaning that you have to take your swings and then step out of the way as they retaliate – it’s as monotonous as it sounds.
What about gunplay, then? Surely a handy rifle or a small handgun can keep the momentum going. Well, it’s somewhat hit-or-miss, as aiming is somewhat janky and slow-paced, meaning that taking the time to line up a shot often results in you finding yourself at the brunt of a foe’s own lethal force which they can annoyingly dish out at almost twice the pace. You’re better off throwing hands but in the early game, you’ll find yourself knee-deep in medpacks as your enemies push through your block with special attacks, forcing you to roll more than the hunters of Yharnam.
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Combat isn’t all Dex has, however, as a major portion of the game is in the hacking, as indicated within the very first minute when you’re told to shut down an elevator to stop some grunts from pressing their way into your apartment to throw you into cuffs and take you off to Neverland. These portions are relatively easy and don’t ramp up much in their difficulty or complexity, making them an unbelievably repetitive affair. Being able to hack into a technology-rich world sounds brilliant in concept, but Dex fails to deliver.
Story / Personality
Dex is an interconnected, gadget-ridden spotlight that shuns on our world, and whilst it may not offer any social commentary that’s particularly new, it is somewhat nuanced if not a little cliched. Don’t expect a riveting mind-opening piece like the peaks of Black Mirror. Rather, you’ll find yourself in a cyberpunk city, stepping into the shoes of the titular character, Dex, who will be an instantaneous hit to any fans of Ghost in the Shell. It’s nice to see a cyberpunk setting putting a heroine at the forefront for a change, especially a bisexual with personality.
She, like Keanu Reeve’s John Wick, is on the run, given that the all-seeing corporation The Complex is on her tail. Fans of conspiracy theories and action-packed narratives will no doubt find a wealth of hooks to sink their teeth in when it comes to Dex as whilst the beginning is somewhat of a slow-burner, the climactic peaks are often and plentiful, making the progression engaging throughout. Toppled with choices-a-plenty and outcomes that feel earned and rewarding, Dex keeps you on your toes as you sift through the dialogue with the well-written inhabitants of this dystopian world.
A well-built cyberpunk is always a treat, and Dex nails the landing with its stellar personality, banking on the beauty of Blade Runner and the technology-rich future of Total Recall, with inspiration abound, as well as its own grit-and-grime-aesthetic that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a 2-dimensional sidescroller version of the original Fallout. Nonetheless, its introduction feels somewhat hollow, with a blank corridor and generic grunts, red ladders that are patronizing in their intention and a basic skyline backdrop with little else. Things don’t amp up until you press forward into the living and breathing world of Dex, which is utterly captivating in its immersion.
Graphics / Art Direction
The gameplay might be a tad sluggish and tedious, but the saving grace in Dex’s design absolutely lies within its art direction, with its grunge and grit, inspirations galore and hand-crafted artwork that oozes personality. It’s a gorgeous experience with stunning scenery, barring the somewhat bland introduction that doesn’t truly give you a taste of the living and breathing, colorful yet grimy environments that make you feel beaten down and yet in awe of the grandeur of this tyranny.
Final Score: 68%
There’s a foundation worth looking at in Dex, with plenty of stunning artwork and designs, rich narrative choices and a captivating protagonist, so it’s a shame that the meat of the pie is lacking, with a fairly weak combat system. Given its prowess in the visual department, disappointing is the best word to describe how it handles, with clunky fights and monotonous minigames, leaving a sour taste in your mouth.
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