Dexter the Game delivers a profanity-laced killer experience

Posted: September 13, 2009 in Adventure, RPG

For many who haven’t followed Showtime’s Dexter, the series is based on novels written by Jeff Lindsay. I remember reading his first book “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” years ago, and the intelligent, yet macabre storyline has kept me reading the novels and watching the show. Ironically, I just finished the latest book “Dexter by Design” when Dexter arrived on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. And happily, the intelligence and spirit found in the books and TV series carries through into the game. For fans of Dexter, the game will not be a disappointment with good variety, engaging play, and humor with an element of guilty morbidity. However, non-Dexter fans may want to first familiarize themselves through the TV show or the books to see if this appeals to you.

A little on the storyline…Dexter is a psychopathic serial killer who was taught his policeman father Harry how to channel his killing urges. When Dexter was younger, his urges also known as the Dark Passenger, were released by killing animals. Instilling his own special killing code, Harry decided to focus Dexter’s talents on criminals who had gotten away with murder in the eyes of the law. In Dexter the Game, you become the eyes of Dexter from the collection of evidence to ensure that Dexter is killing someone rightfully deserving to the actual killing. Of course, the catch is that Dexter must maintain his cover as an unfeeling psychopath.

The game focuses on the first TV season consisting of 5 cases:

Mike Donovan
Dear Dexter
Coke Head
Jamie Jaworski
Robert Marelli

While 5 cases sound short, it really isn’t because the cases aren’t addressed in a linear fashion. For fans and non-fans alike, the game has a certain appeal because the story is arranged so that Dexter moves back and forth between the different victims each with its own set of mission objectives. This type of format lengthens the game significantly because you’re simultaneously managing several cases each at different levels of progress.

The game incorporates voiceovers from Dexter actor Michael C. Hall, expertly used throughout to create that Dexter atmosphere. Unlike other action games, Dexter follows a steady, slower pace as you identify and stalk your victim and incorporates a mix of timed and untimed puzzles, performing and meeting task-oriented activities, and interacting with other characters. This is where the game shines because the different challenges keep everything moving.

Through the use of 3D graphics which run smoothly on my iPod Touch 2g 3.0, the game contains cut scenes that show Dexter performing his actions to give it an almost movie-like quality. The characters can look somewhat strange looking bordering on creatures you’d see from another game The Quest. Dexter’s sister for example is not as sexy as she is on the show, although Sergeant Dokes looks pretty good. But, walking through the different locations such as Metro Police Station or a victim’s home for example, really show the high production values that were put into this. In addition, after you’ve performed certain activities or completed puzzles, the cut scenes will show the result of those activities so there are moments of just sitting back to watch.

The game offers three levels of difficulty—easy, medium and hard, and the level of difficulty primarily determines the amount of available of time to complete timed puzzles and activities. You can play either in third-person (behind Dexter’s back) or in first-person mode, and choose from several types of controls—double joystick, accelerometer/tilt, single joystick, and an on/off option for strafing. The controls are used for moving Dexter while another is for changing the camera view which can also be done via drag/swipe motions. Personally, I found the double joystick with strafing turned off to be the best control system for me due to responsiveness, and the tilt seemed to be the least effective.

Various action buttons will appear relevant to the situation such as Examine, Open, Talk and Climb among others. Items that Dexter can interact with are highlighted such as doors, tools, and files. In terms of speaking with others, the Talk button will appear, that bring up text-based dialogue boxes. You are then presented with three response options, and depending on your response, you can either illicit more information or in some cases humorous response. Be warned that the profanity is similar to what you would hear in the show especially with Sergeant Dokes and Dexter’s sister Deborah.

Dexter also introduces several elements that help you complete missions. The Journal located at the top of the screen keeps track of progress the cases. This is also where the case objectives are provided and is a good guide for when you’re unsure of what to do next. For example, as you come across evidence, it’s automatically stored in the Journal, and you can refer to it whenever necessary. On the flip side, if you need to gather evidence or need to speak with a specific person before being able to progress, the Journal will also tell you.

Another element is the GPS. Since Dexter needs to travel from place to place, accessing the GPS will show different locations. By tapping on a location, the game takes Dexter there. Having said that, two key locations are relatively essential for Dexter: Dexter’s apartment and Metro Police Station. The game has a handy auto-save function, and you also go back to Dexter’s apartment and tap on the phone to do a manual save to that point. Metro Police Station has its own significance which I will get into shortly.

To add to the gameplay, you’ll need to constant watch two bars which essentially serve as Dexter’s psychological state. Since Dexter must balance his outward appearance to look normal (Mask) and his dark psychopathic urges (Dark Passenger), various activities will impact him. The Mask white bar represents Dexter’s control over dark urges, while the Dark Passenger red bar signifies his dark side. Based on how he interacts and responds with others or even kills them, the bars will gain or lose points. If the Mask white bar ever depletes down to zero, the game is over since Dexter will be no better than the criminals he stalks.

The gameplay is done remarkably well. Generally, I have concerns about games with a movie or TV show tie-in because they tend to be lacking. The devs did an admirable job creating a game incorporating a relatively engaging storyline with a variety of different puzzles which is where it shines. The initial task usually involves stalking the victim without being seen, and similar to an FPS, you maneuver Dexter in a game of hide and seek. As the story progresses, you also have the bigger task of investigating an unnamed serial killer who freezes victims before chopping them up. Other tasks involve picking locks, gathering evidence, and executing the final judgment on the victim.

If you’ve watched the series, you’ll know that Dexter has a ritual when it comes to setting up the Kill Room for his victim. Here you have the opportunity to pick the location, prepare the room with plastic sheeting, and choose the tools. As I mentioned, the game is set up so that you have several open cases and beyond dealing and completing the Mike Donovan case, the other cases are unlocked. The slashing itself is more mundane and involves specific finger swipes on the screen accompanied with the screams.

The mini-puzzles are really training exercises for Dexter that can also add Mask points if completed successfully. He can enter his lab at Metro police station to play several puzzles at any time:

Paint Chips—slider to match colors to a crime scene
Prints—memory game similar to Simon Says to bring up pieces to complete a print which you then match to something in the crime database
DNA—find matching DNA patterns
Spatter—test several weapons and draw blood spatter patterns to match existing spatter patterns

While you can move Dexter in any direction you want, some of the paths while not clearly pointed out feel pre-set instead of providing free-moving alternative choices. For example, entering someone’s house involves picking a lock, but then a dog prevents you from entering so you’re left with breaking through a window. Or in another while stalking a victim, there is only one way to accomplish the recon rather than having several options. One other note, beyond solving puzzles, some of the activities tend to be more of finding highlighted items, while other involve more searching.

Overall, Dexter the Game has high production values that admirably incorporate a good variety of challenging tasks and mini-puzzles. Understandably, with this type of game, the replay value is limited, but what is there should take a while to complete. The timed challenges are not the easiest, but they won’t strain your brain like some of the mini-puzzles. If you’re a Dexter fan, the game admirably captures the spirit of the series. For others, watching the show or reading the books first may make sense prior to playing the game. Either way, this is a solid adventure game that the devs will continue to build on with additional installments.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (recommended highly for Dexter fans; unfamiliar with certain story elements, non-fans may find the content on the morbid and profanity-laced side; high-production values, good mix of mini-puzzles and task-oriented activities; engaging storyline in a slower-paced adventure game)

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