Dreadlocks Limited dips into the Cyberpunk realm with an ambitious 2D adventure title. Dex is a pseudo-sandbox title, with RPG like elements. Playing as the title character Dex, you traverse through a dark, post-apocalyptic city, literally fighting for survival (this is a difficult game). Learn to hack augmented realities and dive into cyberspace with this game, available on the Nintendo Switch and Steam. Though the game’s intentions are earnest, there are elements that feel lopsided, and maybe a bit rushed. It appears evident that the developers may have bitten off a little more than they could chew.
Programmed with absolute technology and information, Dex holds the potential to take down an anonymous cyber force reigning over Harbor Prime. This entity known as the Complex is out for her, forcing Dex to lay low in the streets and build an underground reputation. After becoming acquainted with a few others interested in rebellion, she ventures through the city to unlock the answers. Though the story may feel generic, the dialogue and well-developed characters amplify the setting. The player’s word choices and actions in game will result in one of a few different endings. Using motifs including artificial intelligence, subjugation, drugs, and sexuality, the atmosphere compensates for the at-times troublesome gameplay.
Dex strives to be an RPG in a not so linear 2D adventure. You explore a city, obtaining quests and information from complete strangers. The experience from completed quests and defeated enemies is used in a leveling-up system to receive new and improved attributes to your combat skills, hacking, and dialogue. This can allow for you to level up Dex to match your playstyle. Do you want to be a supreme hacker, combat pro, or smooth talker on the streets? While I appreciate the variety, I feel like the leveling system is more of a missed opportunity. I find myself choosing attributes out of necessity, rather than to tailor to my preferred character archetype. There’s also not an option to reassign your skill points, which could have helped curb the difficulty curve.
The combat mechanic is brutal. Dex is initially equipped with a punch and block. You will also need to use the right analog stick to dive from unblockable attacks. The enemy AI is fast and seamlessly punches through your blocks if you’re not quick enough. You will die many times in the beginning. I found that upgrading my combat skills yielded little improvements when up against three to four enemies at once. Even more so this was the case, when the enemies wielded guns and electric whips. Your best bet is to purchase a rather expensive gun and use your costly ammo sparingly. I had to prioritize buying medical kits to restore my health and focus points (for hacking). While the combat isn’t great, it does help paint a bleak picture and overall mood of Dex. The game holds no hands, and neither do the inhabitants of Harbor Prime.
Just like other stories influenced by Blade Runner, hacking will of course play a huge role in the storytelling. Dex can enter computers, and shut down security systems. This transitions the game into a shooter segment where you are fighting off viruses, in order to read files and emails, or corrupt enemy software. You can purchase and equip upgrades to destroy viruses with more ease, granted you saved any cash. Pay close attention to your hacking skills when leveling up. It will be frustrating and time consuming having to constantly back out to return to heal, then jumping back in. It would have been nice to see the hacking maybe a little more forgiving. The computers can be heavily guarded, and you’ll take a lot of damage getting to them.
I couldn’t tell if I spend more time actually playing the game, or viewing the loading screen. The game has to load every time you die and restart, as well as switch areas. This is a bit of a problem when you are trying to remember which NPCs reside in which location. It’s also not fun having to back out of cyberspace, then pull out your map to teleport to the Doctor to heal up, only to go right back to where you left off. That’s a good 3 to 4 loading screens you’ll get to look at. It’s hard to determine if you save more time leaving to heal, or dying over and over in hopes to get to the next part. This makes it burdensome to find and achieve any sense of flow when playing Dex. The load times aren’t too long, but the frequent appearance of them is worth noting prior to picking this game up.
Visuals and Audio
Dex uses what I believe to be cut-and-paste style graphics. At first glance it looks like a game initially programmed for a mobile device ported to Switch. I got used to the look and didn’t find any real issues here. What I did enjoy were the color palettes. Harbor Prime has a very post apocalyptic feel. It’s dark, run down, and covered in aging bloodstains. The characters have bright complimentary colors, such as Dex’s blue hair, that allow them to pop out. With bright highlights and beacons, it’s easy to know what can be interacted with.
Each district, or building you visit has it’s own musical theme, which helps you not feel so lost when exploring areas for the first time. The music for the Highrise Sector is vibrant and electric to match the upscale buildings and highlight the financial disparity of Harbor Prime. The tracks also slower and more mysterious at parts, such as for the derelict Taijo district. The setting is Dex’s strongest attribute, and the graphics and sound do their job as supporting cast members.
Dex is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s atmosphere and characters are good enough for anyone to dive into. However, the combat, hacking, and menu systems are flawed. This will be a deal-breaker for those who want to uncover the truth but simply can’t get good. Dex does not lend itself properly to compliment its difficulty with unpolished mechanics, and the story alone won’t compensate this issue for many players.