By William Haderlie / August 3rd, 2016
|Title||Dex – Enhanced Version|
|Genre||Sidescrolling Role Playing Game|
|Age Rating||ESRB M for Mature|
One of the more interesting aspects of this game, Dex – Enhanced Version, is its journey to your PlayStation 4. So even before you start up the game, the story about the story is a good one. The game started as a Kickstarter campaign, not all that uncommon in the indie world. But the fact that the development team is out of Prague in the Czech Republic is very fascinating. Adding some real diversity to the voices contributing to our medium is really exciting to me. The first version of the game released on PC to fairly mixed reviews. Most sites seemed to agree that there were some great ideas there, but it was held up by a lot of bugs and some questionable decisions with playability. The developers came back at it later last year and created a better Enhanced Version and this is now the console port of that title.
Dex Enhanced Version wears its influences on its sleeve, and that is a little refreshing to me. The developers may not have the license to use the characters and names from Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, but there is little doubt how much they were influenced by those writers. But the refreshing part is that they don’t try to go all convoluted and try to obscure those influences. Instead, they just own the techno-dystopia environment and the rogue A.I. and cyber-enhanced humans story. I think that part of the reason it worked out so well for me was that Dex herself was rather compelling, and the voice acting for this game is possibly the best I’ve ever experienced from a Kickstarter game.
Who, and what, Dex is, happens to be one of the central mysteries of the entire story. One very interesting aspect of the story, it turns out. There is something to be said about knowing who and what a character is and then seeing how that avatar interacts with the events of the world. But it’s a bit of a more subtle art, to be able to have a protagonist and narrator be of the unreliable sort. She is learning who she is as you are. But the voice actress who plays her is quite good, as well as the quality of the writing, and that makes the ride a lot more fun. You soon realize that she’s not entirely a flesh and blood human. So along with leveling up your statistics in a standard RPG manner, you will also be installing augmentations which will drastically change your skills. In fact, the augmentations add a bit of the Metroidvania exploration style to this sidescrolling RPG. They give you abilities that will make new areas of the map accessible, such as high jump or breathing gas or electricity resistance.
How you choose to allot your skills will make some gameplay styles a bit more viable than others. Similar to Deus Ex, you can choose to focus on combat or sneaking or hacking as your primary style. However, Deus Ex does it a lot better than this game does. Not better because this game plays badly, but more because the much larger team had more resources to be able to invest in creating so many routes to succeed with. And I have to state that the game was initially a lot more difficult for me in the beginning than it ended up being at the end. The reason was that I focused on combat skills first, and that turned out to be a mistake, in my opinion. You will have to do a lot of Hacking in this game as a required element to the story, and then you can also choose to use it in optional situations. So if you don’t raise Hacking as one of your first skills, you may end up finding the game a bit more difficult. The other side of that is that when I maxed out my Hacking skills and purchased a few Software upgrades, this game became quite a bit easier.
The most surprising aspect of this game for me involved the Hacking. There are two versions of it, one version is when you hack in the real world and the other is when you enter a computer. But either way, the entire game style changes to a twin stick space shooter. It is actually a very interesting idea that combines some interesting ideas present in the world story with a fun gameplay style. However, it can also end up being rather difficult, especially if you are someone who loves playing RPGs, but are not very good at space shooter games. You can gain some upgrades which are either continuous or single use, such as shields and special weapons. However, the most important upgrades are through your skill tree.
Whether with hacking or talking to various side characters, the primary theme that came across to me is that this world and story were given a lot of affectionate attention. There is a lot of side content that has almost nothing to do with the story itself. There are far more side-quests than there are main ones. And there are also more random emails that give environmental context than there were necessary ones. Some of it was rather humorous as well, which was a welcome release with such a dark dystopian world. That element of humor within the dark story ended up making me enjoy this story far more than I would have otherwise.
The other element of the world that really sucked me in and made me appreciate this game is that it is written by and for adults. This game is not trying to appeal to the younger crowd and as a result, we are able to explore some other aspects of what it means to be a human or a humanoid that would not be able to be explored otherwise. I will always be a fan of game developers that are willing to respect my intelligence in that manner. Brothels and prostitutes are not only present in this game, gloriously rendered in pixel art, but there are interesting stories to be explored there that would not have been if they were edited out in order to not offend certain crowds. I also have to call out the fact that her sexual preference is up to the player’s own decisions. Any time a developer is willing to do that in an RPG will always get a friendly call out for me. That’s not to say it’s not okay or boring to have a strictly heterosexual protagonist, but if you have so many other controls over the way your character plays out, that would be an important one to also add. Maybe in the future, it will be so common that I won’t be calling it out, but for now, the diversity is something that I really appreciate. If you’ve read my reviews long enough you would know that I prefer to play any RPG as a lesbian, it’s kind of my thing.
Beyond the story and the gameplay, possibly the most impressive aspect of this game is the pixel art. This would have been an impressive looking game in any era. It doesn’t make use of many modern techniques, but in doing so it has this really nostalgic look and feel to it. It’s rather like how Blade Runner still looks amazing even today because it didn’t use any CG style effects, it was all physical effects. Pixel art seems to also age a lot better. Unfortunately, many graphics cards today cannot handle pixel effects quite as well as they do polygons. So that possibly lead to my major issue with this title. That issue is the slowdown and frequent brief freezes. There were many cases during combat and hacking that I was hit or even killed because of a game hiccup. It made me feel bad for this development team, to be honest. Because for all the great things they did with this game, that is a really bad bug to have and it was extremely common. My other minor complaints were that the quest menu and list was a bit on the convoluted and unusable side. With a good quest tracker, they would have lost a lot of the potential frustrations that many gamers will feel when trying to complete the side quests.
Those negative elements are made up for by the positive, for the most part. Beyond the voice acting, the music also makes this feel like more than just the standard Kickstarter indie game. That’s not to say that all of them are bad. But there is usually a difference between the sound quality in an indie game and an AAA release. The sound effects are functional but nothing to write home about, but the music is really quite good and memorable. So you combine that great music, beautiful pixel art, well-written story, and wonderful voice acting and it is difficult to not recommend this one.
For $19.99 you will be able to experience a 12-20 hour story (depending largely on how many of the sidequests that you do), and that is not a bad bang for your buck. You can’t get around the bugs and the rather esoteric choices, along with the fact that you will mostly be playing the same way no matter how many times you go through the game. But if you are into the techno-dystopian stories, there are few better stories in video games that are of that genre. Neuromancer and Blade Runner the pixel art RPG game, that was a Kickstarter campaign that would have been easy to be excited for, so the resultant game did a really good job of realizing that vision. I really want to see the sophomore effort from this team, they have a lot of talent over there in Prague, call me a new fan.
Review Copy Provided By Publisher
Badland GamesDexDex Enhanced VersionDreadlocks Ltd.PS4PSNsidescrolling rpg