Playing Dex for the first time can lead to regular moments of deja vu, in fact working down the cliché list of gaming tropes this Kickstarter funded title triggers an alarming number of them within the first hour. Cyberpunk dystopia? Check. Supernatural abilities? Check. Random hacking spruced up as a type of mini game? Check. But underneath the whiff of familiarity lies an enjoyable adventure that may not re-invent the wheel but knows how to keep it turning.
The game is presented as a 2D side on RPG adventure where you play as Dex, a hacker with powerful abilities who has been contacted by a mysterious individual known only as Raycast. After informing you that you are on the hit list of an entity called The Complex and armed guards are currently storming the building he assists in your escape and asks you to contact Decker. From that point the mystery expands, the questions increase and the aim of the game is to find the truth whilst trying to stay alive.
You are thrown into a singular environment that sprawls over multiple areas. The standard forms of an RPG are followed with characters who would love you to fetch things, investigate things and just give them tons of money while progress with the main questline. As always there are a variety of abilities that can be increased, hard decisions to be made and many thing to pick up and sell off. So far so standard, it should be pointed out that the game has been designed to do what you expect to a high level. There is nothing that will take you by surprise during your playthrough of Dex, no revelatory moment where it moves away from tropes that already exist in other examples of the genre, but that is not to dismiss what it does do well.
Some of the quests can be cleverly executed leading to both moments of investigation, exploration and combat. For example one quest called for me to assist in taking down a wanted felon, but to do this required me to find out and create a frequency that blocked his synthetics and compose a dart to reduce his super-strength before I met him for the final showdown. Or I could have ignored all of the steps and gone straight to the combat. It managed to move the aims away from a generic go, fetch, talk or simply shoot process that has become a somewhat unwelcome staple in modern RPG titles.
There is also a cohesiveness in both style and theme. The area feels lived in and the contrast between them have and have-nots is reasonably well defined despite the familiarity of cyberpunk. By the end I enjoyed moving to different areas, investigating little nooks and crannies on the hunt for some supplies, secrets and the odd, psychotic gang. In fact there are quite a lot of psychotic gangs, which can start to bring in some of the problems.
I sense that stealth should be a viable option in this game but the truth is it never really felt that way. While areas had placers to take cover this proved consistently less than effective. At a certain point it became easier to take them head on. The combat itself is not bad, just limited. While you can unlock a larger moveset through upgrades the standard formula is chase, punch, kick and then chase again. The AI is not the smartest, at times enemies just run from side to side in order to escape resulting some sections appearing more like Benny Hill than a crack team of guards. Guns can be used in group situations but are wisely limited for the most part by the cost of ammunition.
This can leave encounters feeling more like endurance than any test of skill, preparation turning into a case of buying lots of health packs and bullets for the just in case scenarios. This is not to say it gets annoying, but these tests turn more into attrition instead of something to look forward to. And that is not to mention the hacking sections, a process that takes the form of a twin stick shooter that feels, well, simply fine. There is no real pain for failure, instead just jump back in and keep on going until you pass the section.
This is where Dex falls short. For the impressive quest structure, cohesive and detailed environments and great exploration potential the combat scenarios and fights are just too dull, forming a repeating pattern that resulted in entering a location, running up and punching people, dodge, run away and then run back. There is no switch up because, to be honest, the game never forces you to. It is not the worst issue to have, they become an inconvenience, and it just impacts the areas that should provide me with the most options and enjoyment. This comes recommended, even with this structure, as exploring this world made some headway into the problems I had. After all, that’s what an RPG is all about.