Dex (Vita) Review
As a fan of futuristic sci-fi worlds, Dex definitely is right up my alley. Feeling like a Blade Runner style storyline, in a side scrolling MetroidVania style game, with RPG-esque power up leveling, it adds up to a successful formula for people looking at finding an intriguing storyline they can really dive into. Unfortunately, much like how a delicious recipe can be spoiled if the recipe is concocted wrong, there are a few bad tastes that are mixed into this dish. True fans of the particular flavor will be able to appreciate it despite the tinges, but those trying new recipes may leave with a bad taste in their mouth.
Dex presents as a cyberpunk world where the titular hero is on the run from the traditional Evil Organization. As the story progresses, it is found that an artificial intelligence program is on a mission to achieve the Singularity and surpass human intelligence, changing the world as we know it, et cetera. Of course, it comes down to Dex as her sole responsibility to save the world.
Through the course of the game, Dex has the ability to level up and gain more powers, but this is entirely up to you as to how you want to develop. Dex can expand melee combat and ranged combat to become a powerhouse on the battlefield. She can also expand lockpicking, bartering, and charisma to take on her opponents in completely different ways. Sneak around and steal items beneficial to you, and sweet talk the leaders of your opposition to get them on your side without the bloodshed.
As you explore, you'll find new missions, and you more often than not have a few options on how to take care of them. Whether it be alternative conversation trees, or simply a different direction to get to your goal, each gamer can really make Dex their own. As the story continues, and a VR world opens up, you can even hack your way through various sections, adding yet another method through. The developers did a good job of implementing the multiple paths, and you can truly build Dex into the hero you want her to be.
A few design decisions flustered me through my time with Dex, particularly in how they manage some of the placements. Near the beginning, the enemies near the top of stairs drove me crazy. I didn't have a gun yet, but someone did. If I got to the top of a ladder and alerted someone, but wasn't able to take them down, I would end up with an alert enemy that I simply couldn't get past, climbing the ladder to get knocked back. Another time I had an option to blow up a bridge (of course I did), but it got me lost as I could no longer get back from where I came. Certain doors would be quick loads into back rooms with a pickup, while others that remained unlabeled would load up a whole new area when I may have not been ready to leave the first one.
I love the Vita, but it has it's limitations. I have always had difficulty with it's tiny buttons. It's not a one-size-fits-all system, and I would find myself accidentally hitting the right analog stick, which is a "roll" mechanic, and is not terribly helpful when done accidentally. It's also a very dark game, which is not feasible for the portable device. I regularly saw my own reflection instead of the game being played. I shouldn't have to turn off my room lights to enjoy a portable game. The biggest clincher, though, is the load times. For a portable title, the load times felt unforgivable. Loads between world areas can take up to 30 seconds, and a wrong turn down an unlabeled door turns into a full minute of wait time. More frustrating is the pulsating load bar and spinning disc, which will flat-out freeze on their own during any traditional load time. First time it happened, it took so long that I was getting ready to do a full reset thinking my system had frozen. After a particlarly frustrating death, I took the game's option to continue, and found my game reloading an extra ten minutes back from where I was, having to re-do a conversation that I had clinched the first time. Perhaps the PS4 edition of the game is better optimized, and I'm sure the controller design would allow for more Dexterity (see what I did there), but I can say the Vita edition does not pass the portable-game "bathroom time test," as it does not allow you a lot of gameplay in a traditional 10-15 minute quick play session.
Much like a favorite dish, though, Dex's shortcomings can be seen past if one is dedicated enough to the base flavor of the game. I would have loved to test driven the PS4 version of the game, because I feel that it might be more optimized over there. Not guaranteed, I'd just like to think the load times wouldn't be so atrocious, and I wouldn't have as high expectations for it as compared to a handheld. The animated cutscenes are really well done, with excellent voice acting throughout and an art style reminiscent of the old Twisted Metal 2 endings, where comics come to life with subtle changes to their positions and facial expressions. The storyline drew me in enough to push past the load times for a thorough review, but I'd really have to be in the mood and have time to focus to press on much further. A console edition would allow you to have easier seen graphics, more manageable controls, and hopefully improved load times. Without cross buy, if you are interested and have the option, save this one for the PS4. The game is available on Steam as well, where users give it rave reviews and nobody is talking about the load times, so it may even be better to try it on it's original home turf. The RPG mechanics in the Metroidvania style game in a Blade Runner world is a glorious combination, but the issues I faced left a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth when playing on the Vita.
Final Review Score: 3.5/5
Thanks to the developers for providing a digital copy of the Vita edition for review.