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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Qubic Games
Developer: Dreadlocks
Release Date: July 24, 2020


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Switch Review - 'Dex'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 23, 2020 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

Dex is a story-driven, 2D side-scrolling RPG with a fresh new vision of cyberspace offering a unique visual style and a living city, open for exploration.

Dex follows the titular character, a blue-haired woman who's living in a near-future cyberpunk dystopia. One day, she is attacked by mercenaries who want to kill her, and she's guided to safety by a mysterious voice. Before long, she is embroiled in a complex conspiracy involving the world's megacorporations and a Super-AI that has the potential to control the world or set it free. It's up to Dex to figure out how to unshackle the AI before the megacorporations can use it to gain control over every living being.

Dex isn't a particularly creative take on the genre but it's fun and very much in the vein of Deus Ex. The characters are likeable enough, and Dex is given a surprising amount of personality through her dialogue choices. Some of the conversations are overwrought and slightly pretentious, but that is also fairly on point for cyberpunk. I enjoyed the world-building and setting, and while it isn't groundbreaking it's compelling enough to be interesting.

The easiest way to describe Dex is that it's a side-scrolling Deus Ex. You can freely explore the dystopian city from almost the very beginning of the game, but only in two dimensions. It's easy to get the grasp of the controls and gameplay. You have a jump button, an interact button, a punch and block button, and a button to prepare your gun to shoot.

Early on, Dex gains the ability to hack into cyberspace from anywhere and at anytime. This takes the form of "AR" mode, which happens in the world, and "Cyberspace" mode, where you enter a mini-dungeon. Either way, time is frozen while you are hacking, and you control a tiny blue puck that you can move around the environment. When you attempt to hack something, you'll alert security, which sends viruses after you and forces you to defend your hacking position by shooting lasers and missiles. The cyberspace dungeons are more involved but have the same general gameplay, effectively turning the game into a rudimentary shooter.

That is your baseline of power. As you progress, you'll level up, which allows you to unlock new abilities from multiple skill trees. The abilities include new melee combos, hacking enemies in mid-combat, and special persuasion options that can potentially open up plot paths. During your time with the game, you'll get enough skill points to max out almost anything, but you'll get a lot further by prioritizing hacking, lockpicking and persuasion than just focusing on punching things.

You also can unlock augments, which grant passive abilities. You have a limited number of augment slots, but can upgrade the number as you get further into the game. Some augments are passive, such as health regeneration or jumping super high. Others can be toggled on and off, such as one that shows an enemy's cone of vision. You need to be picky about your augments, so be sure to grab High Jump and Immunity To Gas, or you'll miss out on some cool stuff.

The biggest issue with Dex is that there's an abundance of combat, which is its weakest element. Melee combat is repetitive, since all you do is block, hit, block and repeat. Gun combat feels restrictive and unsatisfying with somewhat limited ammo and awkward aiming mechanics. Once you gain the ability to hack your opponents, which can happen extremely early in the game, a majority of the fights devolve into hacking them until they're stunned and then using the insta-kill takedown ability. Add that to the fact that the game comes with the DLC from the original version, which includes a suit that gives you near-permanent invisibility, and enemies aren't dangerous so much as a nuisance.

This hurts the game by making combat dull and discouraging other methods of exploration. When I got the High Jump augment, I could avoid combat entirely by taking normally inaccessible high paths. There's no reason to do this because it's more dangerous (due to falling damage) than just fighting enemies, and you don't get any experience points for ghosting. Avoiding enemies is pointless, since you end up weaker for it. Likewise, finding hidden vents or alternate paths feels cool until you realize that it's more work and fewer benefits.

It's a shame because Dex is very good about giving the players a choice in how to proceed, especially in the side-quests. There are often multiple ways to reach a single solution, and the multiple paths can lead to different outcomes for characters. Putting in extra effort may allow you to save people who you want to save or earn extra rewards. Sometimes, you're given difficult choices, such as whether a very stupid man can be responsible for the crime he committed at the behest of another, or whether a woman can be blamed for doing terrible things to protect her husband.

Visually, Dex looks great, especially for a title by a smaller development studio. The 2D animated world is lovingly drawn and contains lots of little details. Dex is well animated, but some of her climbing and crawling animations look awkward. Major scenes are done using large artwork, which gives them some additional punch. The game has complete voice acting for every major character, and most of the actors sell their roles quite well. The music is largely forgettable, which is disappointing for such a memorable world.

Overall, Dex is an excellent take on a cyberpunk Deus Ex game, and it managed to accomplish that with a smaller development budget. The characters and world are fun and engaging, and there's clearly a lot of love that went into the title. The combat is plentiful but lackluster, but if you don't mind having to push through dull combat to reach the better parts of the game, then you'll like a lot about Dex. It might not be Deus Ex on the Nintendo Switch, but it's a lot closer than you might think.

Score: 8.0/10

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