As a setting, I’ve always thought of cyberpunk as the most interesting in the sci-fi spectrum. Augmentations, drugs and grimy inner cities… what’s not to love? There have been some incredible cyberpunk games over the years (the Deus Ex series immediately jumps to mind) and it’s fair to say that there’s a lot of excitement for a certain upcoming cyberpunk game this year. In the run up to CD Projekt RED’s vast new game, Dreadlocks have brought another cyberpunk game to the Switch: Dex.
You play as the titular Dex, a blue-haired young woman being hunted by a powerful organisation due to her ability to hack into systems using only her mind. With the guidance of legendary hacking activitist Raycast, Dex will need to use her powers, an array of weapons, and a misfit group of allies to survive and escape her pursuers.
Dex is a likeable and witty character in her own right, but her allies and acquaintances are even more interesting. You’ll cross paths with all manner of drug addicts, conspiracy theorists and prostitutes, each with their own charm and often with a problem they’ll need your help with. You’ll spend as much time with these side-quests as you do trying to overcome your shady enemies, and the shorter stories told within are some of the most compelling in Dex. Helping a waitress get her drugged up brother out of a brothel, or stopping a stalker from ruining a singer’s career are rewarding experiences both narratively and in terms of loot and experience.
Similarly to its cyberpunk predecessor Deus Ex, in Dex confrontations can be overcome in a vast number of ways. Sometimes conversations and checking a few private emails will get you where you need to be, but sometimes more aggressive action is needed. For these more dangerous moments, you can go into a building guns blazing, use stealth to take out foes one by one, or even hack your enemies to stun them and beat them to death.
Although the number of options you have to overcome your foes is impressive, the actual combat in Dex is very underwhelming. Clost quarters combat involves throwing a punch or a divekick and hoping the enemy doesn’t block it. Gunplay isn’t much better, with enemies taking so many shots to kill that you’ll just be standing next to each other watching your health bars lower with each shot. Be it fisticuffs or a shootout, it never feels like your skill has much of an effect on the outcome of a fight to the death.
If you’re trying to avoid the lackluster combat, you’ll be doing a lot of extra hacking. When hacking you control a little blue node in a virtual world and, in a twin stick shooter twist, you’ll need to blast the security systems of the network. The futuristic orbs and turrets you encounter are a pain to destroy. Any projectiles they fire are so fast that avoiding them is difficult and frustrating, especially around blind corners or just off screen. If you’re able to get around these annoying obstacles, you’ll be able to find information you need to progress quests when hacking, as well as disable security systems and find XP.
Since you can’t always rely on your skill to keep Dex alive, you’ll need to level her up. There are many ways you can choose to improve our protagonist, from the standard health and combat upgrades, to learning to lock pick, convince or barter better. You’ll also get access to mods to augment Dex with (because this is a cyberpunk game after all) for further improvements. Again some of these are stat based, but others can have more interesting effects like complete electricity resistance or increased jump height for exploring.
Walking the neon-lit streets of the city is very rewarding, with side-quests and spectacular visuals on every corner. There are plenty of shops and bars to spend your hard-earned money in too, to stock up on weapons and consumables. The 2D environments have a real sense of verticality to them, and there are some nice secrets to discover with a bit of climbing. I did have a real issue trying to tell which roofs were in background and which could be jumped on though, and fell to my death countless times.
Dex is so close to being an essential cyberpunk experience, but a lot of its gameplay just isn’t very enjoyable. The world and characters are delightful, but it’s hard to get past the disappointing combat and hacking. If you’re looking for something to prepare you for 2077, and build your character to avoid combat as much as possible, Dex still has a compelling neon world to explore.
Lots of options for leveling up and augmenting Dex
Multiple ways to approach every encounter
Lackluster combat doesn't feel skill-based
Twin stick hacking is frustrating
Not always clear what's background and what's foreground