Very Early Access, But Much Potential Lies Within Dex
by Nathaniel Liles
As you all know, most of the games we play here are unfinished, be they demos, early access, betas, tech demos, or proofs of concept. There are an alarming number of ways for game developers to get paid for a job they haven’t finished yet, but the bright side to all of this is that sometimes, even before the game is finished, it’s worth the price of admission. This kind of optimism is great, because it drives things like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. It allows people to pitch their ideas and get funding from a body of people, and…
I don’t need to explain all this, you’re on Cliqist. You know how it all goes, and you know it can be exploited, but here’s the suspenseful part: I’m reviewing a game today, and I’m not going to tell you if it’s good or not. I’m going to make observations and you have to make your own decisions. Because I am pure evil and I want to encourage you to make your own choices. I have no idea if you’ll like this. But I did (kinda).
Dex, in its current form, is very early access-y. There are a lot of bugs, a lot of empty rooms, a lot of dead ends, and a lot of items described in-game as “not yet implemented”. Unfortunately, none of the armor has been implemented yet, so I’ve got that going for me. On that note, let’s talk about combat and exploration – the true meat of the game, all things considered.
Exploration in Dex, the sci-fi cyberpunk action RPG in question, follows your typical side-scrolling platformer RPG formula. Now, since that entire concept is a little atypical, it takes a little bit of getting used to, but it comes naturally one you adjust to playing a platformer with your keyboard. This is definitely the kind of game that I would rather play with a controller, but unfortunately, the controller support is limited at best. It doesn’t help that the controls are only indicated for keyboard users as well. Exploration flows well, doors lead into interesting new areas, and as you hone your lockpicking skills, new areas open up. Unfortunately, since this is still in an early enough phase of development that it references itself as being unfinished (one in-game character is worried that the developers will hear him complain about a lack of content), there’s little to no reward for exploring. When you do find something, it’s along the lines of a small health or experience boost, and it really is small enough to be uninteresting. I can’t knock the game for having missing content since it’s branded as “early access”, but it is selling for $15.99 on Steam, so maybe I should be a little more abrasive. If you choose to get this, don’t expect a lot to be there at first.
Combat is so close to being right, but unfortunately, it’s in a proverbial “uncanny valley” of playability. It’s so close to being playable that it just comes off as… Uncomfortable. Now, as I mentioned before, this game is better suited to a controller, but it would also be nice if the keyboard controls were remappable. Unfortunately, they’re not, and I was forced to hold the middle mouse button – hold the middle mouse button – to raise my weapon. The only reason this didn’t ruin the game for me is that my mouse has a side button that I’ve remapped to be the center mouse button. Combat itself does not flow well. Melee attacks – one of the main forms of self defense in the game – are pathetic and have no weight to them. Most enemies are armed with guns, and since this is a game that gives you no direction whatsoever (a plus in the eyes of many), you’re never given a gun. You have to figure it out, which was honestly fairly satisfying, but let me walk you through a few combat scenarios so you can understand the current state of one of the most essential elements of the game.
Situation 1: You walk into a room full of unarmed enemies. They attack you.
Possible Outcome 1: They punch you until you fall back through the door through which you came, repeat process.
Possible Outcome 2: You duck fast enough to render all of their punches useless, take your time kicking their legs until they die, and proceed.
Once you have a gun, however, things change. It’s no longer a test of leg-punching. It’s a tense game of “shoot that guy before he gets close enough to kill you” that rewards preparation and planning. You have to get your gun up, aim, and fire several times before they lock you into an inescapable chain of melee attacks, and that possible frustrating outcome will drive you to succeed. I’m being serious here. The in-progress melee combat makes ranged combat all the more crucial and tense, and it’s definitely beneficial to the core experience. It gets even more tense when the enemies arm themselves, and since there’s no abundance of healing items or cash, you’ll find yourself in genuinely tough spots.
Story is in a moderate-to-severe state of non-existence, unfortunately, but quests do a fine job of encouraging you to push your limits, and they don’t hold your hand. At one point, a quest told me to explore a guy’s apartment, but it was locked. I needed level 2 lockpicking to open that door, and since the game never told me how to obtain skill points (or pick locks, or level up, or… anything), I had to figure it out, and it was satisfying and not-too-difficult of a task.
Visually, the game is a treat, but it’s a treat with a weird texture to it. Some animations are awkward in ways that are unexpectedly jarring, and everything is in a weird resolution that strikes an odd balance between pixelated and hand drawn. If you can see through the flaws, the individual assets are very appealing, but the way everything works together made it difficult for me to become immersed in the environment. Music is unremarkable, but pleasant until it gets repetitive.
My final verdict is… There is no final verdict. I enjoyed my time playing Dex, but it was absolutely riddled with small flaws and broken mechanics that would’ve ruined the experience for me, personally, if I’d paid the $15.99 price it’s currently asking. It’s hard to recommend in its current state, but if you check it out (by clicking this link to go to the Steam page) and like what you see, you can buy it early to help the devs out and play it when it’s finished. Just be careful out there, make informed purchasing decisions, and don’t give money to people who haven’t earned it. Stay classy, thanks for letting me talk your ear off.
[Google][pinterest][follow id=”Cliqist” size=”large” count=”true”]
[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/nathaniel.jpg”] Nathaniel Liles is a freelance writer, writing major, and indie musician based in Southern Indiana. While procrastinating or avoiding real-world responsibility, Nathaniel enjoys playing rhythm games, action RPGs, and very colorful games with many bright, flashing lights. You can listen to Nathaniel sing songs or download his music for free on his BandCamp page. You can watch him play games on his Twitch channel. You can also follow him on twitter at @NathanielLiles. And finally, you can read more of his writing over at EliteGamingComputers.com. He’s a pretty connected guy.[/author]