Dexter Morgan’s mask meter was dwindling when he cut into his latest victim with a cleaver. Jamie Jaworski begged for mercy, but he would not get any. The room in the abandoned construction site had been covered in plastic to prevent any DNA evidence from turning up, and Dexter had made sure that Jaworski was guilty beforehand. In fact, he had spent too much time reaching that conclusion.
He hadn’t been solving cases as a blood-splatter analyst at the Miami Metro police headquarters and he had been giving snide and occasionally sinister remarks to his girlfriend, sister and co-workers. Regardless, it was too late once the cleaver entered Jaworski’s bound and naked body. He deserved it. An independent investigation showed he had murdered a pretty girl for some sick snuff film. He had to pay, but this kill put the dark death dealer over the edge. It was game over. The dark passenger – his inner demon that tells him he must kill – has given him up. He could no longer hide his urges under the guise of normalcy.
Playing Dexter, I knew it would probably be game over if I killed the smut film director rather than making an anonymous tip to the police. Still, it was my choice to perform the ritual. For an iPhone/iPod Touch game, Dexter offers plenty of decisions – or at least the illusion of choice. I actually had to go out of my way for the game to end by choosing all the wrong decisions during conversations, but still, the mask meter is a smart way of replicating a show that has very little action. A generic health meter would feel terribly out of place.
With no health meter or enemies to fight, the game falls into the adventure genre, with some inconsistent stealth sequences and a heap of mini-games tossed in for the sake of action. Dexter is faithfully based off of the first few episodes of the premiere season. There will be no spoilers in this review, but the planned episodic nature isn’t really advertised when purchasing the game, so be forewarned that after a few hours and five different investigations of murderers, the game comes to an abrupt halt.
The mask meter is just one of the flourishes that show the developers really took the games’ television show license seriously. Throughout the series, Dexter’s main goal is to maintain the illusion of a drab, average guy who keeps to himself and likes giving donuts to his co-workers. At night, however, he indulges in his unquenchable killing urges. He only targets other murderers, so essentially he’s serial killer with a heart of gold. The games replicates that balance nicely, and it’s occasionally entertaining to reveal a bit of Dexter’s deadly depths with the three different conversation options during an exchange with another character.
These dialogue sequences are prevalent, and they’re made especially tolerable because of the voice acting. Michael Hall, who plays Dexter on the show, voices an abundance of lines. Many of the secondary characters have replacement actors, but most of them do an adequate job. The plethora of voice acting – good voice acting no less- is a rarity for the handheld system which is seldom taken seriously. The haunting music from the show, and even the catchy opening tune is faithfully represented. The visuals do an excellent job of getting the most of the system with detailed 3D environments although they won’t be confused with next-gen graphics. Stalking through a street at night or walking into the accurately rendered Miami Metro Police Department is a welcome change of pace even though the world is a bit static, small and there’s little interaction with the environment.
The faithfulness to the show and the attempt at creating eye-popping visuals automatically makes Dexter stand out in an App Store full of entertaining yet somewhat shallow experiences. It was those entertaining and easy to play games that I was craving despite the efforts at variety that are offered here. Finding the evidence on the killers involves talking to one of several characters – whether fellow police or a possible source of information – and performing a variety of bite-sized bit of gaming in the small environments.
The most hearty of these are the stealth sequences, which usually have time limits of a couple minutes. Dexter often finds himself stalking his prey or trying to overhear a bit of conversation. The controls, which work best if the touch screen is used like a dual-analog controller, aren’t the best since Dexter moves so sluggishly. They prey often stops to look around dumbly, which causes the screen to flash until Dexter quickly finds a place to crouch or the section has to be restarted. It isn’t particularly difficult. It also isn’t particularly fun. The occasional glitch doesn’t improve things.
A variety of mini-games has Dexter solving crimes in his laboratory in order to gain mask points, picking locks, or tilting the screen back and forth so he keeps his cool in what’s supposed to be a confrontational conversation. Most of these games are somewhat entertaining, but they sometimes devolve into silliness that takes away from the dark atmosphere that the presentation effectively creates. The most onerous moment was while Dexter was on a date with his girlfriend. They were having crabs, and that awkwardly transitioned to a Whac-A-Mole style mini-game where scuttling crabs had to be tapped in order to gain mask points.
The actual murders fare better. First, one of several killing weapons are chosen and then the victim can be woken up. A conversation follows, where dialogue options can elicit a confession (not that it matters). Once that is over, lines on the screen need to be traced to replicate the cuts into the body. None of it is totally necessary, but it’s a fun and satisfying end to an investigation which usually requires dull stealth sequences and limited exploration.
Dexter Morgan struggles to maintain his nice guy persona at times, and in some ways this game feels similar. For all its faults, Dexter is a decent attempt at console-style sophistication that is rarely available on the iPhone, and it works with mixed results. The presentation is stellar and the technology is impressive. Non-fans of the excellent television show might be a little confused about what’s going on and probably not get a whole lot of this plodding game. Still, it demonstrates what the system can be capable of with some more refinement and hopefully that refinement will come in later installments. Fans of the likeable serial killer will find the experience to be a decidedly decent diversion.