Dex — Dreadlocks Ltd / BadLand Indie — PS4, Xbox One, Steam — July 12, 2016 — $20.00
“Dex” is a side scrolling adventure RPG set in a cyberpunk world where corporations have connected their networks and everyday operations through the shady, off the books organization called The Complex. Our protagonist Dex, accidentally and unknowingly pissed them off by accessing the GRID (their network). After making contact with the notorious and elusive Raycast, she is sent to meet his friends, Decker and Tony. After Dex discovers that she’s a fragment of Kether (the advanced AI program The Complex created) she and her new friends gear up to take down them down.
The game looks and plays like it was dug up from the grave of the SNES era, evoking an awesome feeling of 16-bit nostalgia. Harbor Prime looks and feels like a once great city that’s been deteriorating for years. Slums were once thriving communities and it’s neighboring ramshackle, the industrial zone, has long been abandoned. The high end district shines brightly with it’s giant storefronts and swanky penthouse apartments. Segregated from the rest of Harbor Prime and towering over everything is the Highrise district, home to all the major corporations. “Dreadlocks” has nailed the bleak, grungy, and depressing backdrop of a future not far off.
Traversing these various sections of Harbor Prime can become a little monotonous. There’s a serious amount of backtracking to complete quests, forcing Dex to re-visit every character and locale she’s come across, but thankfully “Dreadlocks” has incorporated a fast travel function to speed things up. When Dex isn’t fast traveling, she moves slow and methodically, but she can jump and crouch her way around the city. She can climb ladders at a snail’s pace, awkwardly crawl through vents and other tight spaces, jump over gaps and get to higher ground, as well as ascend stairs like a champ, but descending them is quite the opposite. When Dex is sneaking around gang territories or other restricted areas, she can sneak up behind her enemies and snap their necks. When sneaking is no longer an option, she can block and dodge attacks, unleash a lackluster three to four punch combo as well as an unlockable Power Kick. She also has a few guns to play with, but in many cases, she’s underpowered and outgunned, so getting up close and personal tends to be the best option.
Because of Dex’s ability to access the massive network of Harbor Prime, she can enter Cyberspace through Augmented Reality. Here she can hack cameras, turrets, computers and enemies with faulty augmentations. Once she has control of her avatar, she must shoot and evade annoying contingents of viruses while trying to remain inside the hacking circle. It feels like “Asteroids” meets “Geometry Wars”, but all it proves to be is a frustratingly flawed mechanic. It is entirely too difficult to hack anything without the necessary leveling and upgrades. This is all compounded by the damage Dex receives if she fails and the astronomically expensive one-time-use hacking software. These range from temporary shields, massive shockwave blasts, crowd control pulsewaves, a nest neutralizing spammer, and a high powered beam shot.
All in all, “Dex” is a very intriguing, hostile and dark world to discover, and the story compliments it well. The characters (voiced by solid albeit unknown talent) she comes across and takes quests from are well worth the time. The gameplay is nothing spectacular, but “Dreadlocks” deserves credit for how well they’ve infused the 16-bit construct with modern RPG elements. Dex does many things right and while it has a few annoyances, they don’t destroy the overall experience, except for the hacking mechanic, that can go to hell.