Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week: thugs, drugs, and alpha-induced amnesia in side-scrolling cyberpunk RPG Dex.
Behind one door, someone sells me noodles. Behind another, someone tries to punch me to death. I buy pornographic magazines and toilet paper, then walk down the street and pay for a stranger’s organ transplant. I upload a computer virus into a vending machine that sells condoms, then buy myself a set of cybernetic legs and visit a prostitute. Who am I? Where am I? Why am I doing these things? I’m Dex, I’m in a cyberpunk world, and I have absolutely no idea.
Most early-access games give you a little something up front: a brief tutorial or a set of instructions, a cut-scene, a voice-over, or some text on the screen. Even though the games aren’t complete, they want to give you some small idea of who you are and what you’re doing. Dex, an early alpha 2D side-scrolling RPG, just plunks you into its cyberpunk world without a single word of explanation. No story, no cutscene, no nothin’.
Honestly? It’s kinda refreshing. I mean, how often do you get to start a new game without a lengthy narrative being sprayed in your eyes like so much canned mace? I’m sure the makers of Dex have a story, and the game will eventually start with it, but right now, in early access, I can invent my own. I decide to pretend I’ve lost my memory and I have to try to discover who I am based on my actions and reactions to the game world.
I quickly establish a few basic details about myself, namely, that I can punch and kick, because I immediately start punching and kicking. Sadly, I cannot punch and kick anyone I want, like policemen, pedestrians, and street vendors. I’m not sure why I’ve got the urge to kick strangers, but I definitely do. Is it a hint as to my true nature? Before I lost my memory, was I the type of jerk who just went around kicking cops and merchants?
Soon, I meet a homeless man who wants me to find some antidepressants to help him concentrate on the important research he’s conducting. I immediately agree to help, which might mean I’m pretty gullible, or at the very least, wildly irresponsible. This man certainly shouldn’t be taking prescription meds without a doctor’s supervision, and when I try to imagine a weird homeless guy conducting research I sort of assume it’s going to involve feces being thrown into traffic. Once I’ve got him his drugs, he gives me a virus to upload to a network via several prophylactic vending machines. I don’t even hesitate, I just go infect a bunch of condom machines with a virus created by a depressed homeless man.
And just moments ago I was worried because I had an urge to kick pedestrians. I think I have far bigger problems.
I buy noodles in a restaurant, then walk into another building where a man starts viciously pummeling me. I’m not sure if I’m being beaten for trespassing, or because this character knows me and hates me, which would support the “jerk” theory I’ve been working on. After losing a couple times, I discover that crouching while punching the man in the groin is the most effective combat maneuver. As the man is now deceased from groin trauma, however, I don’t learn much else.
In a general store, I look through the vendor’s selection of goods and decide to buy a pornographic magazine and some toilet paper, which tells me I’m not even remotely self-conscious. “Yes,” my bold purchase informs the world, “I am probably going to masturbate and poo later.” I meet a pharmacist who has a complaint about some local drug dealers, and he asks me to blow up their operation with C4. Seems like an extreme measure, and I naturally accept his offer despite it being quite odd that he would entrust such a task to someone he’s never met.
I head to the drug dealer’s section of the city, and there is much punching in the groin. Punching in the groin is clearly my move, and the only way to really win a fight against street thugs, unless they have guns, in which case they shoot me to pieces. I buy a gun and start shooting back, but there are tons of drug dealers, and their guns are bigger, and mine occasionally glitches and doesn’t work. I learn something else about myself: I’m not the sort of person who will keep trying the same mission over and over again, especially with a glitchy gun. Instead, I visit a prostitute (who coincidentally tries to sell me drugs after we have off-screen sex), then buy myself some cybernetic legs at an underground cyber-clinic. With my new legs, I can jump something fierce! Maybe I’m one of those vigilantes who jumps around on rooftops?
I meet a young man named Timmy, who tells me his mother needs an organ transplant. Hmm. Am I the sort of person who would pay for some guy’s mom’s surgery? I know I like porn and prostitutes, which suggests I’m interested in my own gratification. On the other hand, I’m willing to bomb a bunch of drug-dealers based on hearsay and have cyber-surgery without checking a doctor’s credentials, so I’m also impulsive, suggestible, and part easily with my cash.
Oh, why not? I buy the old woman a new spleen, then leave. I soon realize, amidst all the beating on testicles and handing out spleens, that I’ve acquired a couple skill points. Ah! This will answer some questions. If you really, truly want to know a person’s innermost self, watch them spend skill points.
My choices are to increase my endurance (boring!), reduce recoil while shooting (snore!), or get better at first-aid (dismissive and exaggerated eye-roll!). There are two others that interest me: doing 50% more melee damage, which would mean I could pummel the same amount of groins in half the time, and lockpicking. I’ve seen at least as many locked doors as enemy groins, but while I know enemy groins lead to dead enemies, I don’t know what locked doors are hiding. I go with lockpicking. Is this a clue to Dex’s true nature? Is she a thief?
If I can’t learn my own secrets, then it seems fair to borrow everyone elses. I break into several apartments, though other than some cash and even more pornography, I don’t find much of interest. When I’m leaving the building, I get glitched in a doorway and have to quit the game. So, until they fix the door bug, or add a story, I’m currently Dex: the cyber-legged vigilante who likes paying for sex, reading nudie mags, sack-tapping drug dealers, buying internal organs for strangers, medicating the homeless, and breaking into people’s houses but getting stuck on the way out. You know. That old cliche.
Dex is available on Steam for £12/$16. I really love the art and mood and music in the game, but it’s very early access at this point: there are lots of bugs (my next two games ended in glitches as well), and the controls are pretty poor for combat.