Dex is an open world, side scrolling, action RPG that takes place in a far future Cyberpunk setting, and appears to have taken some inspiration from classic Metroid and Castlevania games. This combination seems like a gamer's dream come true, however developer Dreadlocks seem to have neglected including enjoyable gameplay, instead focusing on creating an incredibly immersive environment.
The city of Harbor Prime has been beautifully constructed and is by far and away the best aspect that the game has to offer. You wake up as Dex, with armed forces banging down your door, forcing you to escape and explore the glamorous Downtown and Highrise areas, alongside the seedy Industrial, Sewer, and Scrapyard areas. By forgoing a gigantic world and instead focusing on a singular city and its different sub-districts, the developer has created a setting that feels active and lived in. Just wandering around and talking to the various residents of Harbor Prime gives you the feeling that this is an actual society that you are walking around in, rather than a bunch of pixels in a video game.
The superb world building of Dex is in stark contrast to the uninspiring and bland gameplay. You'll be spending a lot of your time engaged in melee combat, which boils down to little more than throwing one or two punches and then rolling out of the way when your enemy attempts to attack you. You have the option to block punches with R2, however this is never really necessary thanks to the ability to roll. Even when using both the roll and the block in conjunction, you'll still find yourself losing more than half your health in most enemy encounters for the first half of the game, as there are many times where foes use super attacks that are unblockable.
Moreover, the decision to use the analogue sticks for movement over the d-pad is a poor one, as movement becomes too imprecise, often resulting in you unintentionally facing the wrong way in the middle of a fight or Dex attempting to sweep an enemy's leg instead of throwing a standard punch. This would have been easy to prevent if the game used the d-pad, or at least gave the option between the sticks or the pad.
Dex is also able to tackle enemies with guns, however this comes with its own fresh set of problems. The most pressing problem is that aiming with the left analogue stick is very twitchy, and it takes four to five seconds to accurately line up a shot, something that will result in you losing a huge chunk of health. Many times bullets won't even go in the same direction as the aiming trajectory that is displayed on screen, causing further headaches. Because of this, melee combat feels like the better choice nine times out of ten, with only one or two enemy types being more convenient to take down with a gun.
In many sections you have the choice to use stealth instead of going in guns blazing. This is always the preferred and ideal method to tackle combat, but can be incredibly tricky due to the limited view of the screen you are often given. This often results in you running into enemies you had no idea were there.
The other half of Dex's gameplay focuses on hacking, which can assist with the stealth sections. There are two types of hacking, with the first focusing on things like disabling security cameras and sentry guns, while the second type sees you hacking into computers to gain data. Hacking security cameras and sentries is extremely hard as you have to fend off viruses while you wait for your hack to completely finish. Unless you have some of the special power ups you can find that give you a shield or clear the screen of enemies, you don't stand a chance.
Hacking into computers on the other hand is relatively easy, but is unfortunately the most boring aspect of the game. Once you hack into "cyberspace", the game becomes a top-down shooter as you fend off viruses and try to obtain information and data. These sections are incredibly tedious and take way too long to complete. You'll be spending about half your time hacking into cyberspace, which feels like an eternity to be spending with an uninteresting minigame.
The game features an extensive upgrade system that helps you feel much stronger as you level up. By the end of the game, you will have 90 per cent your stats fully upgraded, though, which means that you don't even have to worry about what you're upgrading as you'll be proficient in everything by the end. It also has the added effect of making you feel way too powerful, especially when combined with the physical upgrades you can purchase to have things like your health periodically regenerate or make you immune to electric attacks. By the time you reach the final quest and what is supposed to be the hardest part of the game, you'll be so overpowered that it becomes a piece of cake.
Much of this overpoweredness comes from the game's lack of main story quests. The amount of main story quests is tiny, but because of the constant increases in difficulty, you're encouraged to complete multiple side quests for every main quest you do. If you get carried away with these side quests, the main quest becomes laughably easy. Dex is never able to manage the difficulty level adequately, and it's pretty much up to you to police yourself in order to not become overpowered.
The story quickly becomes messy and convoluted, too, making it very tough to keep up with the various plot twists and meaningless technical terms constantly thrown at you. The need to always go off and do side quests for hours at a time also makes it tough to follow along with the story.
The majority of quests have branching paths and different ways that they can be solved, which is something we really enjoyed as it had an effect on Dex's relationship with various people in Harbor Prime, often forcing you to choose between being a good person or getting more experience, money, and loot.
Dex frustratingly suffers from a number of glitches and technical problems, as well as developer oversights. It's very possible for you to get stuck multiple times in the game with no way to progress, thanks to how checkpointing works. Instead of spawning you with full health, it spawns you with whatever health and items you had when crossing the checkpoint, which leads to situations where you have no possible chance of surviving and the only solution being to re-load a much earlier checkpoint. We encountered one of these situations about 30 minutes into the game, which forced us to re-start the game from the beginning if we wanted to progress, as we had just six health points no matter where we loaded from.
You'll also regularly run into framerate stuttering and glitches that result in you being stuck in a wall when in cyberspace, or Dex completely freezing up and being unable to move.
There is an awesome world that has been built here, with so many interesting characters and areas to explore, but poorly thought out gameplay makes Dex a dull affair. Melee combat has no nuance to it, weapons control too poorly to be of any use most of the time, and hacking is repetitive and bland. There is real promise here in the world building and character development, but the terrible gameplay is too much to make up for.