I always say, ”If you to do something, make sure you do it right,” and when Dreadlocks set their minds to do a retro-inspired cyberpunk action-rpg, it seems they went out of their way to deliver what could possibly be the most faithful adaptation that strikes you with a 90s flare with an intensity that melts your eyeballs and shatters your eardrums. Welcome to Dex, a cyberpunk adventure done right.
You are Dex, a female protagonist who resides in Harbor Prime, itself governed by a conglomerate calling themselves The Complex; this is a future where The Complex is the sole authority in the world and is hell-bent on assassinating you for some odd reason. Luckily She escapes danger via help from a mysterious hacker known only as “Raycast,” who enlists her in an underground war that is waged by people who wishe to be freed from the shackles imposed upon them by the almighty Complex .
The first thing that will strike you about Dex is that it is a 2D sidescroller with a Metroidvania flare to it, but something about it will soon start feeling more grand. I am still not able to put my finger on what exactly it is, but Dex definitely feels more like those old NES adventure games like Faxanadu and Battle of Olympus, both released at a time when the term “Metroidvania” was still not being applied.
Dex blends many elements together to form the final package; it has platforming, exploration, brawling–more on this later–gun fights, leveling up and a plethora of side quests that will employ cyberpunk attributes the likes of hacking. In this game, the hacking is called “Active Hacking System” and allows you to gain access to any database to steal money, data or simply move along the story, all the while as you fight viruses and overload firewalls. This is all done in a weird top-down shooting game that adds further variety to the game.
The leveling system of the game allows for points to be allocated into four core categories: endurance, melee, ranged and hacking, as well as other sub-categories that allow access to other facets of play such as charisma, lockpicking, and bartering. Believe me, these attributes need to be leveled up fast in case you want to grab some loot and influence many of the denizens you will meet along the way. Other than that, you have Augments that grant you buffs an stronger melee attacks or allowing you to have longer time for hacking and even letting you survive toxic gas or electricity. While they are optional, these augments are necessary to reach secrets and often hard to find areas for bonus items and loot.
The game plays like a brawler at points as well with Dex being able to dish out enough punishment with her fists, block incoming attacks and even dodge and roll out of the way of unblockable hits. You can even use cover to hide from potential assailants and strike with a sneak attack when they are not looking. The game has guns but they are cumbersome and require multiple button presses to equip, load, shoot and reload; a lengthy process that will open you to attacks. Guns are fun but relying on melee is how you’ll be able to beat the game.
The save system is a bit of a hassle. while you can basically save anywhere and at anytime, Dex has an autosave system that sometimes messes with your saves, worse yet, the saves are registered from the beginning of the area you are in only, so the game feels more like a console game checkpoint where each time you die, you simply respawn at the beginning of the level with all progress erased, be it killed enemies or picked loot; everything is reset for you to do again and that is bad. Thankfully, each area is small enough to not cause you major concern and going through your actions again won’t be too laborious especially in a game that is supposed to be inspired by old-school gaming.
Combining the look of a Shadowrun game–were they in 2D–I simply can’t emphasize enough how beautiful the dark and damp world of Dex is. The pixel art is some of the most impressive I have seen done in a retro game; the game looks like an HD remaster of an amazing looking Megadrive game. This little gem is a modern marvel that will keep you hooked from start to finish.
With amazing art direction, powerful voice acting, an equally outstanding musical score, and with so many nods towards old-school gaming from the character animations, to the comic book style cutscenes and even to the wonderful intro where the credits roll as you take an elevator; Dex is a game with huge aspiration that actually succeeds in reaching them .