In the cyberpunk cyberfuture, hackers are anarchist heroes, mythical outlaws similar to the stories of the American cowboys. Standing up for freedom and helping the downtrodden at every turn, looking to overthrow the corruption that has seeped into the very roots of society in a new wild west of neon and grit. Dreadocks' newest release on Steam, the successfully Kickstarted Dex explores these themes in the 2D side-scrolling action RPG starring the mysterious Dex, a woman who may have an important role to play in a deadlocked struggle between a self-aware AI and the corporate virus released to control it.

Dex is a very good looking game, with hand drawn art for cutscenes relaying the story between action RPG levels. These are stylish and eye-catching, while still being somewhat gritty and grungy as you would expect from the cyberpunk aesthetic. The dirty, underground feeling rings through despite how nicely drawn the art is. In-game assets still look decent, though a lot of the artistic quality drops with character portraits that aren't nearly as detailed and sometimes just unpleasant to look at. The 2D sprites are very big and animated smoothly though, and it creates a nice feel of motion through the levels as you run, jump and fight through to lead Dex to her next destination. Backgrounds create the feeling of size and sprawl you expect from a cyberpunk setting with some nice layering effects as you progress through the levels.

Playing the game is neither an exceptionally well-tuned nor absolutely frustrating experience. The controls are functional for the most part, though sometimes getting Dex positioned properly in combat can take some work with the controls, and the infrequent jumps over lethal falls can fail to some unexpected timing issues with the jump and grab ledge controls. The best way to handle these seems to be hold the up button at all times rather than wait until it's needed, as the timing feels off otherwise. Combat takes a little too long but that's a minor complaint, as it breaks up some of the more annoying parts of the platforming. There are stealth options available, such as taking cover and performing takedowns, but these feel more like set pieces rather than emergent elements of play.

The game tries to balance its action elements with RPG gameplay and it feels flat and uninspired. Dialogues are uninteresting and the outcomes aren't particularly well-expressed unless you have levels invested in Charisma and the game tells you you're using Convincing actions. Otherwise, your dialogue choices don't really feel like they matter, and eventually you'll just find yourself clicking through the dialogue to get the story advanced forward.

It's unfortunate that the dialogues are so uninteresting, because the voice acting is pretty good in Dex. Not by any means phenomenal, but as a whole it's one of the better parts of the game and almost feels out of place with its level of quality. On the same token, the music is very good and perhaps is almost too good. Some of the most memorable parts of the game by far are the musical cues that play throughout.

There is, in addition to the dirty cyberpunk dystopia of the city you find yourself mired in, a cyberspace environment to access, as is tradition with these sort of games. In this case, the game sort of takes on almost a twin-stick shooter feel, similar to a very simplified version of Smash TV, and it's interesting the first time, but the interest quickly wanes as it, like many other sections of this game, just takes wears out its welcome by taking too long. Still, it's another escape from monotony until it too becomes monotonous, and it's also a way to get more flavour out of the world. It's clich├ęd and trite flavour, and not particularly worth the time investment, but if you feel like doing so, the option is there.

As a cyberpunk RPG, surely Dex is carried on its story, since the other elements don't really carry it to anything special. Unfortunately, that isn't the case either, as it's presented as yet another Chosen One who is Destined to Save Everyone and the Cyberspace Avatar and that's about when I started skipping the dialogues. Perhaps the story is itself more tolerable when not presented through very poor dialogue, but there's nothing about the game compelling enough to make you want to find out. As for the characters, they're almost exclusively unlikeable or unappealing, with the exception of Dex herself, who probably deserves a better game.

Cyberpunk isn't fresh and unique anymore, and that limits Dex since its elements aren't strong enough to support itself without the genre trappings making it interesting. Stripped away to those elements, it's in every way a mediocre 2D RPG with mediocre action elements and even worse storytelling. Very dedicated cyberpunk fans will probably find enough here to keep them compelled and playing if they are completely out of options, and perhaps someone looking for a new RPG while waiting for something interesting to come along may want to get distracted by it for a while.