With just a couple of weeks left before the fourth season of the Showtime series kicks off, Dexter the Game hits the App Store to appease fans of the world’s most likable serial killer. The game puts you in the shoes of Dexter Morgan as you work your way through five cases that take place during the first season of the show. The cases are new, the corpses are fresh, and Dexter won’t let the bad guys get out alive.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Dexter is a blood spatter analyst for the Miami police by day and a serial killer by night. To maintain viewers’ sympathies, he commits his crimes under a strict code that requires him to kill only those who deserve to die. Indeed, the victims are usually serial killers themselves, who have taken innocent lives and will continue to do so unless Dexter finishes them off on his stabbing table.
In the game, as in the show, Dexter’s life is complicated by having to keep his secret from those close to him. There’s his sister, who is also on the force, his girlfriend, with her troubled past, and, obviously, his fellow police officers who need to be kept in the dark.
Most of the basics of the story are explained early on in the game through an excellent ongoing voiceover delivered by Michael C. Hall, the actor who plays Dexter on the show. In fact, the voiceover, combined with background music taken directly from the show, make playing the game feel remarkably similar to watching an episode on TV. With earbuds feeding the excellent audio into your brain, and your face inches from your iDevice’s screen, you become completely immersed in the dark and twisted world of Dexter.
Wait a minute… That’s not the H1N1 vaccine.
And make no mistake: this game is not for younger kids. It’s full of R-rated stuff, like swearing, blood, mature themes, and murder most foul. The clincher is that most of the murder is committed by you. Now, that might sound like nothing new to seasoned gamers who are used to pumping baddies full of lead; but when the victim is tied down and you’re slashing away (off camera, but with sound) until the victim stops screaming, the killing feels as disturbing on your iDevice as it is to watch on the show.
Gameplay-wise, you’re presented with five cases to solve, and each one requires numerous steps to complete. Generally, you’ll discover a person of interest and then snoop around to find evidence of his crimes. You’ll analyze the evidence to make sure that this person has killed numerous people and is likely to kill again. And then you’ll prepare your murder room, capture the killer, force a confession, and dispatch him brutality.
Each of these steps is completed interactively using a wide variety of minigames. There’s one for lock-picking, password cracking, fingerprint analyzing, DNA comparing, stalking, and setting up your killing room, to name a few. Some of the minigames aren’t clearly explained, so it takes some trial and error to figure out exactly what you’re supposed to do in them.
Unfortunately, the stalking mechanic, which you spend more time using than most other gameplay modes, is poorly-implemented. The basic movement controls simply aren’t up to the task. Dexter will get caught up on objects because of bad collision detection, or won’t hustle behind cover as quickly as you need him to.
Bookshelf? Check. Blood samples in the AC unit? Check.
The amount of gameplay variety is a strength in many ways. Unfortunately, it also makes the game feel almost like a collection of minigames. There’s no core gameplay mechanic for the game to fall back on, aside from walking around and talking to people. The game is also a little buggy. Sometimes it would fail to register that we had completed a step in a mission, though the storyline would continue. It would also crash on occasion. Thankfully, it autosaves each time you travel to a different location, which helps stave off too much frustration.
What this game does flawlessly, and what will matter most to fans, is that it mimics the feel of the show. It uses the show’s quirky, dark music to great effect. There are hundreds of lines of dialogue in the game, most of which are voiced by the actual cast members. All regular characters from the show make appearances, from Sgt. Doakes and Masuka to Camilla in records.
If you haven’t seen the show, playing the game will give you a basic introduction to the plot and characters. But if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re probably better off renting the DVDs. At the same time, this game delivers a much deeper experience than the vast majority of games on the platform. It packs five plus hours’ worth of play time, tons of voice acting, and lots of high quality CG cutscenes. Any gamer who’s a big fan of Dexter will find plenty of enjoyment here. Everyone else should check out the show, because it’s pretty great. And once you have, you might also be compelled to pick up the game.