Rating: M for Violence, Blood, Sexual Content, Drug Reference, Strong Language
Available for: PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One
Dreadlocks’ Dex (2015) tosses you in a cyberpunk world that has been dominated by advancements in technology and has you as witness to its consequences.
Set in a dystopian future, Dex follows the story of Dex, a girl thrust in the middle of a cyber war between hackers and a world-dominating group called The Complex. The game starts out when Raycast, a mysterious hacker, tells Dex that her life is in danger and puts her in the care of hacktivists named Decker and Tony. Together, they work to tear apart the very fabric of The Complex and relinquish the world from their grip. Throughout the story, the player is introduced to the city of Harbor Prime and its inhabitants in a way that sets up both the world and the themes it’s about to tackle.
Dex touches themes that are all very common to the sci-fi genre, particularly in anything that describes itself as “cyberpunk”: control and power through information on the internet, this uncomfortable conflict between what is considered “natural” and the use of “augmentations,” and the discussion of what truly makes a human. With these archetypes in tow, the question then becomes: what does Dex bring to this table?
Right off of the bat, it is established that The Complex controls just about everything: the media, information, even governments. It is meant to establish that The Complex is big, very big, and because they control most of the information consumed, they have a lot of power. You are reminded about this in many of the quests you undertake throughout the game. As you are speaking to people around Harbor Prime, you find that a lot of them have direct and indirect dealings with The Complex. Some people are more allied with The Complex than others, but this all goes to show that the organization is very much present throughout the world. Your task, as you keep finding, is to find people to help you take down the organization, and when you are asked to speak to characters, it’s not just a conversational task. There’s is usually a handy computer nearby where you can hack your way through and find incriminating emails detailing blackmail, murders, and all sorts of underground dealings. This is usually enough to convince a character to ally themselves against The Complex’s powerful hold. The Complex are no longer the ones with sole control of the information, and in that way, you are already pulling at the seams of the organization. Information control is not a new theme, but using it in a video game gives the ability to see it manifest in a “worldwide” way, allowing you to see how The Complex affects everyone to different extents. These interactions with minor characters fleshes out the world a bit more, which contrasts to a lot of sci-fi movies that make you feel like the only ones aware of this information control are the main characters. Dex does a good job of presenting the hacking game mechanic in a way that links directly to their theme, and it is especially aided by how frequently you are required to use the mechanic. I’ll admit I did struggle a bit in trying to figure out the mini-game, but after I did, I found myself enjoying it a lot. I started going back to places I had skipped earlier just so I could hack my way through the computers and find more emails and small tidbits the creators had put in. The information control theme becomes more significant towards the end of the game, but I’m going to leave that for a spoiler post.
Dex also tries to tackle the theme of nature vs “technological enhancements.” Harbor Prime, and potentially the world, seems to be at a turning point with this concept. They are caught between what is seen as natural and “pure” vs the use of technology to “enhance” their livelihoods. This presents itself in many different ways. Dex is hesitant to “upgrade” herself with implants and the like but must do so to advance the plot. There is a side quest with Barbara, a classical singer, who decides to get an implant to continue her career but is harassed by her biggest fan for doing so. The Aphrodite, a pleasure venue, is finding that their “Flesh-and-Blood” employees are more desirable than employees who have all the latest implants. The list goes on, and the world is highly conflicted for how to handle this change in society. I was actually surprised at how strongly emotional some characters were about keeping things natural. Perhaps it was my preconceived notions about the genre that I had assumed just about all the characters had some sort of implant, but progressing through the game made me realize that these augmentations are a relatively recent cultural shift. Maybe one that is accelerating too fast for the citizens of Harbor Prime. I liked seeing the cultural struggle present itself in various forms around Harbor Prime and then have it all come together for the big monologue at the climax of the game (more on this in the spoiler post). Dex creates that set-up well, especially by having Dex expressing her own initial discomfort at implants and augmentations.
I have a lot more to discuss on the themes of the game, which I will write about in a later post, but I just wanted to give my initial impressions of the game and how the story works in this medium. Dex does a good job of getting its points across without feeling overbearing or too “in your face” about the themes they were trying to get across. You are able to get a solid understanding of the world through the secondary characters, and it was refreshing to see that they all didn’t have the exact same problem with The Complex. I would have loved to have the game be a little longer, just so I could have more time with the characters, but I thought they had their significant moments for how short this game is. The fourth wall breaking moments had the right level of humor to them, which is always appreciated. There were places in the game where the plot build up could have been stronger, but, again, I will get to that in my spoiler post. Overall, I really enjoyed the game, and I would definitely recommend you to check it out if you have the chance.
Also, I didn’t have a place to say this earlier, but one of the things I really loved about the game was the atmosphere created by the art style, music, and voice acting. It really helped to set the tone for the rest of the world.
I’ll post my thoughts on the end of the story in a couple weeks, just to give enough time for those who want to try out the game first a chance to play.