After a year of anticipation and impressive hands ons, Dexter has arrived. The game is impressive visually, and puts you in the shoes of the famed “good guy” serial killer that America has come to know and love. So how do the bodies stack up?
First off I should mention that I haven’t seen one episode of the Dexter TV show. I would say that this is because I don’t have Showtime, but in the internet days of watching shows online, alas I have no excuse. I expect a game about a TV show to be able to draw me into the story, and ultimately, make me want to watch the show in the end. I can’t say this game necessarily does the first item too well, but I’m definitely adding Dexter to my Netflix queue in the near future!
As Dexter, you play a cold hard serial killer, who happens to specialize in killing those who have killed others, and thus don’t deserve to live. You are a blood splatter forensics analyzer, and thus have full access to crime scenes, evidence, etc. The underlying tone of the game is to off your targets without leaving any traces of your gruesome hobby, or arouse any suspicion with your peers. You do this by balancing you “Dark Passenger” (the oh-so-evilness inside of you that drives you to kill) and your “Mask” (that zaney green guy… no wait, that’s something else…), so that that one won’t overtake the other. You gain points for either side mainly through choosing light, dark, or gray responses to dialogue sequences, as well as accomplishing various tasks, like patching up a tarp in your kill room.
This all sounds like a good idea on paper, but in reality I never came even close to being overtaken by this Dark Passenger fellow. All you have to do is choose the light dialogue responses and cover your ass during missions, and you’ll get off scott-free. I suppose to make the game more challenging, you have to consciously choose the darker responses to various situations. I won’t lie, many of these lines are quite entertaining, particularly due to the great voice acting in the game.
Michael C. Hall, who plays Dexter in the show, delivers an entertaining, and all around creepy, performance through
his slick dialogue and inner monologue segments. I’m not sure if any of the other characters from the show voice themselves in the game, but for the most part everyone is believable. One big downside during dialogue sequences is what I have come to refer to as the “bobble head effect”. Rendered cutscenes look fine, and are quite impressive, but in-game cutscenes look pretty terrible when characters talk. Their head just kinda bobs around and their mouth opens and closes. For such a serious game, this really detracts from the drama, and is unintentionally hilarious.
It’s hard to fit Dexter into a certain genre of game, but if I were to do so, I would say it is an Adventure/Mini-Game title. Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but I can’t think of anything better. To put the gameplay as simply as possible, it consists of you walking around and talking (sometimes stalking) to people to get clues and ideas, and then completing mini-games to gain more evidence and inevitably kill your victim. This isn’t necessarily a bad combination, but it’s a bit off-putting at first, as some of the mini-games are awesome and fit well, while others seem extremely forced. (A Simon repeating game to scan finger prints? A crap smashing game? WTF!)
The biggest disappointment for me in the game comes from one of the most important aspects of Dexter: killing
people. There is a lot of build up towards the kill moments; gathering evidence, stalking the suspect, setting up the kill room, etc. However, when you finally get a confession and go in for the kill, the screen goes black, and you have to complete a mind-numbing follow-the-leader mini-game. You don’t even get to fully enjoy the kill you worked so hard to accomplish. Lame. You would think this is a deal-breaker with Dexter, but the game offers a lot more than just creepily killing… creeps.
The ability to walk around various locations like your apartment or the police station is pretty cool, and there is a lot of attention to detail all around. Despite the crappy “bobblehead” physics of talking, the character models are the best I’ve seen in an iPhone game, and the all around 3D engine is equally impressive. The controls are very easy to handle, with the left stick moving and turning you, and swiping the screen to look. One thing I found quite hilarious, is that the pinch and zoom feature is reversed to what it should be. The game has you pinch in to zoom in, and pinch out to zoom out. Oops!
There are 5 cases to solve in Dexter, which is supposed to make up for about half of Season 1 of the show. The game ends fairly abruptly because of this, but there is quite a bit of gameplay to be had… many hours if you are a completionist like myself. The problem is, many times things feel pretty disjointed from one gameplay element to
another. Dexter certainly provides quite a bit of variety, but at some points it almost seems like too much. I never thought I would say this about a game, but I almost wish Dexter was a bit MORE linear. Since you can do whatever you want with any of the cases at any given moment, it sometimes becomes confusing as to which plot point or evidence relates to which case. If you’re already a fan of the show, this probably won’t be an issue.
Luckily, the developers have given you a journal to try to make sense of things. Each location on your GPS also shows an icon relating to which case it pertains too. Still, it’s easy for the great storyline to lose some of it’s effect unless the player knows enough to tackle each case on it’s own, completely ignoring the others. This is tough because the mini-games don’t have the handy case icon to tell you what they relate to. So in the end, even though the cases are intriguing, and the acting is great, the story can get a bit muffled, which loses the creepy/intense effect of the actual show.
All that said, Dexter is still a surprisingly deep and well developed title. If you aren’t a fan of the show, you may not enjoy it quite as much as someone who is, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t give it a try. It’s nice to see a truly mature title on the App Store, and I hope this will lead the way to other polished mature titles to follow.
Presentation & Graphics
Very impressive attention to detail and high-res textures. Excellent character models. Awesome rendered cutscenes. Very little framerate troubles. Terrible in-game dialogue animations.
Great voice acting by Michael C. Hall as Dexter, as well as for the rest of the characters. Fantastic mood music and ambient sound. Creates some tense moments.
Controls well for the most part, with a wide variety of mini-games. However, many of them seem forced, and can distract from the seriousness of the plot. Stealth missions are fun enough, if not a bit too easy. It’s fun walking around and talking to people, with entertaining dialogue choices that effect the game. Killing your victims is a big let down… which is kinda the point of the game, right?
If you take the time to complete everything, Dexter will provide you many hours of gameplay. Unfortunately, after you’re done, there’s no reason to come back, unless you want to follow different dialogue paths. Not a bad reason, I suppose.
Dexter boasts some very high production value with it’s sharp visuals, attention to detail, and excellent voice acting. Sadly, gameplay can become disjointed, relying too much on cheesy mini-games, and thus lessening the impact of the plot. Fortunately, for every lame mini-game, there is a fun one, and there is enough stealth/3rd person action to keep you satisfied. Dexter will surely entertain fans of the show, and will intrigue and creep out those who aren’t familiar with the character.