Review: Dexter: The Game

Imagine your favorite TV show. Now squeeze everything you like about it into a neat little package suitable for a mobile device. Did you remember to include the stunning cast? What about the hilarious one-liners? Did you manage to get some high-key developers on board? As you can imagine, taking a hit television series and turning it into a viable video game requires quite a bit of planning, just like what’s required of lovable-but-incapable-of-loving Dexter Morgan. The smash hit Showtime series “Dexter” has been graced with its very own iPhone game, and from where I’m standing, it packs quite the punch. Admirably, Dexter the Game manages to fit all the atmosphere of the show into a handy adventure that you can take on-the-go. Who said major platforms should have all the fun?

If you’re not familiar with the series, be forewarned that this may not be the game for you. I’d recommend at least paging through the first novel or viewing the first episode before purchasing this game, as you might be just a touch lost otherwise. In a nutshell, Dexter Morgan is a serial killer with a heart of gold. Well, almost. More like a heart full of black. From a young age he was taught to suppress his urges to kill, though after his father Harry Morgan passed away, he’s since taken to releasing his sociopathic urges on those who he feel do not quite deserve the gift of life. By day, he’s a blood spatter analyst working for the Miami Dade Police Department. And by night? He’s doing his best to clean up the city the only way he knows how — by brutally murdering anyone who he feels has broken the so-called Code of Harry, and in his mind deserves to die.

The iPhone/iPod Touch translation of this intriguing case study of a psychopath is a gripping and entertaining adventure title. It follows the first season of the show and serves up five devious cases for gamers to take on, consisting of real victims from the show, including the obnoxious Jaworski. The game plays out in a very simple fashion. Dexter may move between each victim simultaneously, presenting the illusion of a non-linear game. Though each victim is set up with their own list of objectives to complete, you can zigzag between them in all in order to drag out the game a bit. You know, work on your micromanagement skills. Dexter has to manage working for the law, a family life, and the burden of the Dark Passenger. Trust me, what you’ll be doing is cake.

After selecting a difficulty you’ll be tasked with tracking down each victim and “disposing” of them. To do this you’ll need to identify each person, stalk them until you have gathered up enough information to move in for the kill, and interact with several other characters from the show to make progress and to quell your Dark Passenger. While the tasks you’ll be performing might not be as mundane as other adventure games, that’s what this game still is. Contextual actions will be used in order to climb, talk, speak, examine, open, and all of those other handy commands we picked up back in our LucasArts adventure days (remember those, kids?).

Speaking to characters is quite simple and you can respond to questions or statements with one of three options ranging in tone and attitude. Talking is actually quite integral, as you will need to attend to two scores within the game in order to ensure that failure does not occur. Each response you make in conversation, as well as several moves in passing, will affect your Dark Passenger and Mask scores. You’ll need to strike a healthy balance of both in order to keep your cool and not to blow your cover. This can be a bit difficult at times, but if you play it safe you’ll be sailing through the game in no time.

You won’t have to rely on your keen senses and intuition to progress. Dexter is equipped with a standard set of tools such as a journal and a GPS that will aid you in reaching your goals, rather than wandering around blindly like the police department tends to do on the show. Come on, guys. Doakes was right, you know. You can tap on the location you need to reach, eliminating the need for travel, though this does tend to cut down on open exploration and, thus the length of the game. It would have been nice to have been allowed more time to look around the world of Dexter and investigate, especially for fans of the show such as myself.

Through a mixture of mini games, character interaction, and examination of items as well as your victims, you’ll eventually land that coveted kill. Hey, isn’t that what we’re all here for anyway? The process may become a bit repetitive at times, as each mission requires virtually the same set of objectives, but they still end up being quite entertaining, especially for fans of the series. It’s just like as close as you can get to Bailey’s without getting wet, only it’s as close as you can get to being a serial killer without being apprehended.

While the game is dandy in its execution, I did find that the controls were a bit plucky for my tastes, making navigation frustrating in some spots where I could not get Dexter to perform certain maneuvers, irritating me greatly. However, this was a rare occurrence, and it is understandably difficult to create a seamless control scheme when there is only one button to speak of on the entire unit. The virtual controls did a good job of performing their assigned duties, though this aspect might well be a turnoff for some. You can cycle through several different setups, so what works for one person may completely turn another off.

For an iPhone title, the graphics are outstandingly well-representative of the characters and environments within the show. Action is rendered via 3D, though there are several cut scenes within to move the action (and special moments) along quite nicely without relying on the rendered models. As far as voice acting goes, Michael C. Hall lends his talents to voicing the very neat monster, and the original voice cast is a great touch. What would the game be without the people who bring such flawed yet intriguing personalities to life?

Dexter: The Game is a great attempt at capturing the spirit of the TV show and turning it into an interactive experience that anyone can get into and play, even those who might not particularly enjoy video games. Its adventure-styled presentation, original voice acting from the actors themselves, and the simple branding of Dexter should be enough clout for gamers and fans of the show to pick this up. If you’re just looking for a simple adventure to power through on your iPod Touch or iPhone, you may want to pass this one up. Only serious Dexter fans need apply.

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