This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Dex & Invisible, Inc..
Good cyber-morning to all you "script kiddies" and "leet haxors" out there, "surfing" the "information superhighway" like a bunch of "fucking wankers". It's a special cyberpunk edition of the increasingly less occasional Zero Punctuation Indie Double Bill, where we'll review two recent cyberpunk games featuring hackers that don't wear free T-shirts from defunct technology companies or smell faintly of bacon, thus bearing a resemblance to real life hackers as close as the belt loops on a real life hacker's cargo shorts. Oh, shit!
You know, it seems like we've been doing the Indie Double Bill thing more often lately because the indie market will probably be all that's left scurrying around the ruins after the titans of AAA finally reenact The End of Evangelion together. That was the mandatory cyberpunk dig at the evils of giant corporate culture keeping the spirit of data exchange under the boot heel of The Man (assuming that The Man are all men of course; all the women in The Man are obviously sterling and praiseworthy examples of diversity in the STEM fields.)
Anyway, let's kick off with Dex, a game about a young lady struggling to cope with life in the dystopian cyber-future with what is A) a boy's name that B) rhymes with sex. She's on a mission to restore some vast controlling AI that will wrest power from the corporations or some such rubbish.
It's funny how adherence to cyberpunk, a genre based around futurist ideas of rebellion and non-conformity, so often themselves conform rabidly to cliche. Yes, it's a dystopian mega-city. Yes, everyone who applies for a business license gets a free neon sign. Yes, the city's divided between the nice upmarket district where The Man lives and the hideous slums where everyone with dreadlocks or a shaved head becomes evil and joins a gang and the rest of the population stands around staring at flaming barrels all day, trying to figure out what everyone else sees in it. And the main character has the kind of wildly unnatural hairdo you get from sticking your head in a 7/11 Slurpee machine. Now all we need to fill the cyberpunk checklist is a shitty hacking minigame, a faintly retarded futuristic Christ allegory, and at least one character named Decker. Bish, bash, and Barnaby bosh!
Dex is of the Indie School of Thought that anything full 3D AAA games can do can be done just as well in 2D pixel art; in this case, the multiplay style sci-fi RPG model of the Deus Exes of the world. An aspiration I could get behind, but while it's certainly possible to recreate Sydney Harbor Bridge in origami, it'd take a braver man than I to drive an ice-cream van over it.
Multiplay styles are difficult enough to balance even with three dimensions of wiggle room. When faced with an enemy combatant for example, Dex can either punch them (each blow doing the same damage a timid squeaky fart does to a fresh pair of underpants) while their gun-using friends somewhere offscreen to the left freely picks off your health with perfect headshots; or you can stand stock-still firing wildly with a gun of your own as the melee-focused enemies take turns using your ass as a therapy doll, assuming you've figured out how to equip the gun by moving it from one unlabeled inventory window to another unlabeled inventory window; or you can just wait until they turn around and then sprint up and press one button to cuddle them into dreamtime, more often than not cuddle the space one foot to the right of them because the positioning fucked up.
I had high hopes for Tyrannosaurus Dex after first impressions, but its attempts to juggle its ambitions becomes a struggle juggle. My annoyance grew each time I walked through a door and a camera saw me and alarms started blaring and the turrets started firing, all before the screen had finished fading in. My tether, it transpires, stretched as far as the scrapyard level where after laboriously luring away a veritable dogpile of enemies one at a time for a struggle snuggle each and then not saving the game, I walked blissfully onto a featureless section of ground and was instantly killed by a landmine. Well, Dex, as I once said to a member of staff at Seaworld as they informed me of their policy on inappropriate dolphin contact, "I know when I'm not wanted!"
So let's move onto our second game, the recently de-Early Accessed Invisible Inc., which I almost referred to as Stealth Inc. for a moment there, but no! That was a different 2.5D stealth-based second half of an Indie Double Bill review with an uncannily similar title. Invisible Inc. is a game prominently featuring a man with a sporty little trilby and a woefully outdated fashion sense, so it's already got more hacking realism points.
If you can imagine taking an isometric turn-based game like XCOM, setting it exclusively in small rooms and tight corridors and where the objective is not to shoot all the aliens but to sneak up and give them atomic wedgies, then that's about the size of it. We are the controller of a secret organization of infiltrators that's so secret it gets busted by the corporate cops like thirty seconds in and we spend the remainder of our time desperately trying to piece our resources back together before the arbitrary time limit runs out and something arbitrary happens. And on the whole, I like it!
It does feel a little bit un-cyberpunk to be actually physically in the place we're hacking into, crouching behind a pot plant, but turn-based and stealth are a good match for each other as we have time to carefully think before we step out into the enemy line of sight and try to figure out how many is an unacceptable number of shot-off bollocks.
Things did start feeling kind of crowded after I secured a full party of four agents and the corridors weren't getting any less cramped. Two agents is a stealth mission, three is a crowd, the fourth might as well show up on a party bus with some lime wedges. In the final mission, I had six bumblecunts trying to go unnoticed in a hallway! I ended up having three of them on permanent "sit on a guard's face and keep queefing so that he doesn't wake up" duty.
That's the point in the game where the plot, having been hurled away with some force after the intro, finally boomerangs back and hits us in the teeth, and on the whole, I wish it had more of a presence throughout the intervening game. When the only two characters with voice actors are forcibly added to the party at the end so that they could do all the important plot stuff rather than any of the guys who have done all the work so far who we've gotten to know, that felt like an imposition. Excuse me, madam, we can't hear our fun stealth game over you contextualizing.
I say "gotten to know"; it might have helped if any of the colorful character traits our agents are attributed with in their bios were at all evidenced in game, like with some dialogue or a slogan T-shirt. Oh, this lady is a veteran hacker but is troubled by her conscience. Yeah, that comes across as she sits queefing on a guard's face in glum silence. You get a real sense of internal conflict with her every determined clench.
- Khyber punk: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Yeah you all talk a big game about smashing on the corporations but what are you planning on replacing the McRib with
- Still playing Witcher 3