Dex is a side-scrolling 2D open-world RPG by new Czech developer Dreadlocks. Due to be released on Windows, Mac, Linux, Wii U and even Ouya, it’s gathered a fair amount of attention since it’s 2013 Kickstarter campaign, where it raised 218% of its target. It’s not finished yet, but it is now available on Steam as an Early Access game. By no means is this game anywhere near ready, and the Early Access Alpha Build is still on Build 1, complete with all the bugs you’d expect; however, Dex is a game which has made a lot of promises, and I genuinely hope it lives up to them. Not only does it look incredible, with over dozen hand-drawn environments to explore around the futuristic fictional city of Harbor Prime, but Dex also appears to be bringing cyberpunk back to its roots; as a big fan of cyberpunk, that’s no bad thing in my estimation.
You take the role of a blue-haired female cyborg. You probably have a name – Dex isn’t big on the whole exposition thing just yet. Your nationality and backstory are all unknown, and there is nothing in the game at present to tell you what the hell is going on. Presumably that will all be filled in over time, as at the moment the lack of context can make it a little hard to get into.
Dex is in no way linear; in fact, it currently lacks anything resembling a story at all, though there will be one added at some point of the future. Our blue-haired heroine is set to tackle both the physical world and cyberspace in this “story-driven RPG” by the official launch. There will also be an enigmatic AI striving to surpass human intelligence, which may or may not serve as the antagonist. Like many things about the game, this is also unknown, though we can all guess where that AI trope will lead. We’ve all played Portal, after all.
Instead of focussing on story, Alpha Build 1 focuses instead on letting you explore at your own pace. You can run around, punch, kick and shoot people, and generally be as much of a dick as you want to be; you can you either take all of the jobs available to you, or turn people away for asking you to commit crimes like some no-good mercenary. Likewise, there’s nothing to stop you from being an absolute dick when in one instance an NPC asks you for money for his mother’s surgery – she has spleen cancer – and instead of giving him the $500 he needs, tell him to go rob the local neighbourhood surgeon (who has a policeman permanently stationed outside his clinic) for organs.
While these conversations are entirely text-based at the moment (and fair warning to the grammar enthusiasts out there, there are a number of errors in the game dialogue), the game will be fully voiced by the time of its official release. All of the writing in Dex so far has been done by developers who speak English as a second language, and we’ve been assured by Dreadlocks that the script will be run by an English editor at some point. While we are on the subject of bugs and errors though, be warned that Dex is full of them at the moment.
You can only hit enemies if they are a set distance from you; like with the arcade games of old, if you’re standing on top of each other, you just spam until the enemy backpeddles into hitting-distance. The shooting mechanics also need tightening; pressing X only raises your firearm on occasion, shooting people on a lower platform than your own rarely works, and the enemies currently feel incredibly overpowered – particularly those with firearms. You will be mowed down in about a second on many an occasion. There are only 4 different enemy types in Alpha Build 1, and once you level up a few times you can hold your own in a fight – but up until then your only real tactic that doesn’t involve getting your ass handed to you on a silver platter involves the dreaded dick punch. Make your blue-haired heroine crouch and punch everyone in the dick until they die if you want to live.
As you would expect from a cyberpunk RPG, there are stealth elements you can use. You can saunter up to an enemy and press T to perform a takedown, but since you creep so slowly, and the enemies are very good at seeing and hearing you (their cone of vision feels a lot wider than is shown on-screen) spamming the dick-punch really is the best (and by best, I mean only) way to stay alive long enough to level up. There are a lot more augmentations to be added to Dex, and it’s pretty safe to assume that stealth-enhanancing augs will be among them. Unfortunately if you are killed by an enemy while trying whichever tactic you chooce, you will have to restart from your last checkpoint, and for some reason you don’t always level up after killing the same enemy, which isn’t explained. There’s no checkpointing or quicksaving, and there are a few ways to die in seconds, including one incredibly frustrating mission with green drops of toxic waste one-hit-killing you repeatedly.
Likewise, if you die after collecting a reward without saving first, you’re locked out of the reward. As I said before, bugs ahoy…
That all being said, as I said earlier, Dex is a game that shows promise. It’s not only pretty, but it sounds good, too. Its RPG system seems fairly solid, though this build lacks any form of tutorial and it does need some more refinement. If you’re not an experienced RPG player, you will struggle. There is the promise of a tutorial to be added at a later date, and we will keep you posted as and when these updates come. As it stands, it took me a good while to figure out how to add extra implants to my character. Incidentally, the quest for neurological implants is currently bugged, and I can’t hand them over my spoils to the doctor who I need to install them. Hopefully this will get sorted by the next update, as I’m quite enjoying what there is so far.
Dex is a game to keep your eye on, but perhaps not one to pick up at this early stage, as currently it’s likely to frustrate more than it impresses. The next update will come at some point later this month which will bring the cyberspace and hacking functionality. We’ll keep you posted with our State of Play series as development progresses over time, so check back every month or so to see what’s new.
As a final note, Dreadlocks has told us that there is a “high chance for your feedback, suggestions, and ideas to actually influence the final game”. If that sounds like something you’d like to take part in, do feel free to contact them via their official site, Twitter or Facebook pages.