Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Dex: Enhanced Edition (PS4) Review

Dex is a mish-mash of styles, combining action, platforming and numerous RPG aspects into a 2D sidescrolling game.  There are dialogue trees, stat points, stealth, fist fights and gun battles.  All of this is set in a 16-bit looking cyberpunk future.

Visually, the game has a great atmosphere.  The city areas are dark and gritty, with many of them run-down.  Throw in some neon signs and you have the proper mix for cyberpunk.  Some of the areas are hard to see in because they are so dark, but thankfully it's not the worst I've seen recently.  It feels appropriate to the setting, even if I'd like an easier time seeing in some places.  You can also zoom the camera in and out in many areas to get a better view.  I also really enjoy the sprite-based graphics.

Movement is done with the left stick, and feels very responsive.  The jumping is pretty good (and great if you get a certain enhancement).  You can climb up ledges to get to new areas, and even take cover behind certain boxes to try and evade detection.  If you can sneak up behind most enemies before they notice you, you can even do a stealth takedown.  I really enjoyed doing that, but it isn't as easy as it would seem.  Dex (your player character) has line of sight, so the areas that she cannot see will be darkened in and will not show enemies.  This can make it harder to sneak around, but there are sometimes alternate paths around enemies.

Hand to hand combat is done pretty well in the game.  Most enemies can block, so you have to time your attacks when they are open, and block their attacks.  The bigger enemies also like to knock you down, which is annoying.  The right stick will also roll in either direction, which you need to dodge certain moves.  Unlike most other games that have a similar system, I felt I had enough time to actual realize they were doing the unblockable attack and then dodge it before they did it.  Once you figure out the rhythm of combat (and get some nice skills or augments), it becomes much easier, but it can be pretty unforgiving in the first half of the game.

Dex can also buy and equip guns.  You hold one button to bring them out, and the right stick will then aim it.  They were a little slow for my liking, so I rarely used them.  I can see a few instances where they would be helpful, but I didn't feel they were necessary.  Enemies with guns, however, were very annoying, and should definitely be taken out first.

When Dex needs to hack into something, the game shifts over to the cyberspace mode.  Instead of controlling your character, you move around a circle in a top-down twin stick-like shooter.  It reminds me of Geometry Wars, but much easier on the eyes.  Your cursor will shoot in whatever direction the right stick dictates while holding the button, and you even get some special attacks.  Some are one time use items, but the better ones take energy, which will refill over time.  These attacks are also upgradeable.  The beginning was a bit rough, but once I got the 'pulsewave' ability, it became much easier.

Instead of using Dex's health for cyberspace, it will use her focus meter.  There are several different enemy types and traps to watch out for.  Enemy contact or shots will deplete the focus meter, and if it fully drains, you are kicked out of cyberspace and take some actual damage (humorously listed as 'brain damage').  Focus will refill up to 25% over time when in the real world.

The hacking is not limited to the virtual world.  You can also hack some things with AR.  This is probably my most used thing in the game.  You can hack security cameras to not trigger alarms, turn turrets against your foes, and even stun enemies if you buy the right skill.  That last one is almost broken good, since you can slide behind them and choke them out without a fight, even after they see you.  When hacking things in AR, there will be enemies constantly coming to attack you, so the quicker it gets done, the better.

Gaining levels in Dex grants you skill points that you can put into several different skill lines.  Since there are multiple ways to go through the game and quests, you have a lot of freedom in what you choose to major in.  I put most of my early points in lockpicking and hacking/AR, then some in endurance for the HP boost (since HP doesn't increase with levels) and augment slots.  Once you can install the augments, there are some really useful ones, like the higher jumping and being immune to poison gas, among others.

Unfortunately, there are also some problems in the game.  While moving through the areas of town, there was some screen tearing.  It wasn't too major, and only seemed to be in the more heavily populated zones.  There are a few other glitches.  Occasionally I wouldn't be able to hit/target some enemies unless I left the area and came back, and I wasn't able to figure out what caused it.  When in cyberspace, there are times when the game hiccups, and then puts my cursor in a wall.  I can't move, and my only options are to die or reload.  Yuck.  There are also a handful of missable quests and trophy/achievements.  Completionists such as myself won't have much trouble getting most of them, though.

Dex runs about 15 to 20 hours, especially if you do all the sidequests.  The game starts out a lot harder than it ends, mostly because of the skills and augments that you can purchase.  Early on, I would save and load a lot while trying to make my way through the fights, but it was much easier once I had a few specific skills.  Until that point, you can skate by using items you find and the doctor to heal you.  There are a few bottomless pits to watch out for as well.

Dex is a really fun game, especially once you start getting somewhere.  It is a mix of game types that are pulled together really well, and there is a lot of freedom in quest resolutions and skill choices.  This also gives the game decent replayability, since the length of the game is right where I think it should be for this type of game.  Old school action fans and RPG fans should definitely try the game out, as I had a lot of fun playing through it.

The Good:
Expertly mixing 2D side-scrolling action and platforming with RPG elements.  Many different outcomes and paths through the quests.

The Bad:
It is really easy to take damage, and costly to fix it.  Plus, getting glitched into the wall during the cyberspace segments is annoying.

The SaHD:
I enjoyed the game enough that I'll likely play the Xbox One version at some point, too.

(Review code for Dex was provided by the publisher)

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