Review by Matt S.
Ninja Theory is well known for making exceptional games that simply don’t sell that well (Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Journey to the West), or exceptional games that sell well but end up being quite controversial (DmC: Devil May Cry). Dexed is a different kind of game. It’s small, it’s simple, but it is also one of the most beautiful uses of VR today, and for a simple-as-chips arcade rails shooter, I haven’t been this engaged in a shooter since Gal*Gun
Dexed operates on a really simple binary gameplay loop. There are two kinds of enemies - fire and ice - and you’ve got two different kinds of weapons. Yes, fire and ice. Ice kills fire enemies. Fire kills ice enemies. Hit a fire enemy with a fire shot and the enemy will fire back at you, which, if it hits, will burn precious points away. Hit an ice enemy with ice shots, and the return fire will freeze your point scoring ability for a time.
To get really high scores, you can target multiple enemies at once, and then use a single shot to take them all out. And that really is all there is to Dexed’s gameplay. Enemies come in patterns that make it challenging to single out the reds and the blues, meaning that getting the really high scores requires a great deal of dexterity in order to manoeuvre the aiming reticule around so that you only hit the enemies of the right colour. The leaderboard that pops up at the end of each level is going to be such a tempting challenge, as the skill involved in some of the really high scores being posted is obscene.
Ninja Theory has a VR rails shooter out, and it is delightful. #PS4share https://t.co/vlvH5c6hAj pic.twitter.com/AMiiQPxy2E— Miku McMikuFace (@DigitallyDownld) January 31, 2017
There are a couple of different ways to play the game. The standard mode takes you through a handful of different levels; aquatic, forest, snow. Then there’s the arcade mode, which places you in a featureless environment and allows you to simply concentrate on shooting enemies. The final mode is “zen,” allowing you to travel through the main game’s environments without having to shoot anything.
Funnily enough, I enjoy the zen mode almost more than the others. That’s not to say I don’t like the gameplay, because I think it’s both highly technical and incredibly well designed. Rather, I just love how serene the game is with my VR headset on. Every environment drips with intricate, beautiful detail, and because you’re travelling through these environments quite slowly, the experience does indeed feel “zen.” Unusually for an arcade shooter, the music is quite relaxed and contemplative, and this gives Dexed a unique atmosphere.
What’s perhaps most odd about the game is that it comes to us from Ninja Theory, which is presumably hard at work on Hellblade, a game which has had its planned release date slip by, but looks absolutely incredible. It’s not odd that a developer would work on multiple game projects at a time, of course, it’s just that where Hellblade, Heavenly Sword, DmC and Enslaved all share similar elements (or at least appear to, in Hellblade’s case), Dexed is an entirely different gameplay experience.
That tells me a couple of things about virtual reality: firstly, it is another example of a developer experimenting with VR, but only doing a small game project; one that could be developed quickly and cheaply. Dexed is not a major blockbuster title, and aside from the production values there’s no sense that a large developer worked on it at all. But it’s also priced as such, and seems to be more of a case of Ninja Theory commercialising some of its experiments in VR, rather than setting out with the specific intention of creating a game.
You could read that as a “problem” for VR, that the technology is lacking those “killer apps” that will get people to buy the headsets in droves. That is, after all, what ended up killing the PlayStation Vita. But I choose to see things a different way. Regardless of the commercial future of VR (and I do think there is one), game developers can really use this platform as an opportunity to explore new ideas and indulge their creativity.
This might mean that VR games never fit in with the current expectations of non-VR games, but when they’re stuff like Dexed, I don’t mind in the slightest. This is a game that focuses on immersion, and immersive it is. Simple gameplay loops give players a reason to keep coming back and playing more, but what will stay with you for far longer is just how beautiful it all is.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld