GDC 2009: Dexter The Game Hands-On

The oft-gruesome drama Dexter, starring Michael C. Hall as “mission-oriented” serial killer Dexter Morgan, has garnered a following over the last couple years, and was recently re-upped by Showtime for its fourth and fifth seasons. Marc Ecko Entertainment has been working on the series’ iPhone adaptation for about nine months now, and was ready to show the game off to us at GDC.

The first thing we learned about Dexter The Game is that Michael C. Hall has been heavily involved in the game’s production. He’s supplied all of the game’s voiceover work, and he worked on the concept and story as well, which roughly traces the first season of the show’s plot. The actor has invested Dexter The Game with a level of authenticity that’s sure to please fans of the series.

Happily, Marc Ecko Entertainment and developer Icarus Studios are holding up their end of the bargain as well. It seems like they have spared no expense on Dexter The Game; this thing looks and plays like a miniature GTA4 in some ways. There aren’t many limitations on the player at all–you’re free to travel, interact, and investigate as you wish using facile touch or tilt controls, from either a first- or third-person viewpoint.

For those unfamiliar with the series, Dexter is a serial killer who seeks out, stalks, and executes other serial killers. He follows the strict “Code of Harry” (named after his adoptive father), meaning that he must first prove a murderer’s guilt and extract a confession before punishing him or her with his, er, “special toolkit.” By day, he works as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami PD… useful cover indeed for a man with his inclinations.

Dexter’s not a good guy. He’s a true-blue sociopath–essentially an animal who’s been molded into human shape–and is constantly in danger of losing control of his instincts. This perilous balancing act is represented in-game by the Mask Meter, which measures your success in keeping Dexter’s facade going.

So, if you fail to disguise your true motivations during the game–say, by insulting your boss at the police station–you’ll lose some Mask. If it hits zero, you lose, but you can replenish it by tracking down and murdering killers.

This is a big job that takes a lot of detective work. You have to find the bodies, gather evidence, prove guilt, abduct the killer, and get a confession before the big finale. The screen fades to black, and you start hacking off limbs by making sawing motions with your iPhone, while your victim screams. It’s seriously crazy stuff, but we were assured that Apple’s cool with it. They carry the Dexter TV show on iTunes, after all, and the game’s no bloodier.

But Dexter The Game has a lot more going for it than just the violence. The environments from the show, like Dexter’s apartment, have been perfectly reproduced in the game, and prerendered cutscenes keep the story moving along. Plus, there are many different kinds of gameplay to enjoy. For instance, there are light stealth sequences (a bit like Metal Gear Solid) when silently stalking your prey, as well as a spatter-matching minigame for determining the murder weapon.

We were told that the first episode of Dexter The Game will have about 25 areas to explore over 10 hours of gameplay when it comes out this summer; additional episodes are to be available by September. No price is available yet, but expect it to be on the high end. It looks like it’ll be worth the dough.