Dexter iPhone Preview: Bits And Pieces

We took some time out at E3 2009 to further investigate Dexter, the iPhone title from Marc Ecko Entertainment based on the hit television series about a cop by day, serial killer by night.

What Is It?
As mentioned above, Dexter is a combination stealth/adventure game based on the hit Showtime series about a serial killer who works with the police by day, the series itself being based on a series of novels by Jeff Lindsay.

What We Saw
I played through bits of the opening mission, in which Dexter stalks a minister who has been killing choir boys. Game play involved wandering about digging up said boys, preparing the bodies in a room used to confront said minister, and then stealing his keys so I could hide in the back of his car to pounce.

How Far Along Is It?
There's still a ton of work to be done. The cut scenes are all placeholders, and the actually torture mini-game from AJ's preview looks to have been removed from this build, to be replaced with something else.

What Needs Improvement?
Lack Of Guidance: The game relies on visual cues to guide you through objectives, and with much of the level I played taking place in relative darkness the cues were hard to see. They purposefully had me play through on my own to see if I could work my way through, and I couldn't...so they definitely need to add a little hand-holding, especially once you consider the target audience of casual gamers.

Stealth Ain't Easy: Once again keeping in mind the target audience, the stealth portion of the game replies too much on trial and error for the casual gamer to put up with it. I tried sneaking up on my prey a few times, only to be spotted. My demo-helper tried it himself, and it took him several tries before he finally made it. If one of the game's creators is having that much trouble, one can imagine the average user is going to go insane.

What Should Stay The Same?
Atmosphere: I actually watched a few episodes of the show once I got home from E3, and I can say that Marc Ecko has a good handle on the look and feel of the show. After playing through the level I felt a bit dirty, but also somewhat justified and vindicated, which is how I'd assume one would feel in the same situation.

Graphics: Dexter's graphics are very well done for an iPhone game, easily the equivalent of a late title on the original PlayStation. The developers seem to have a firm handle on the iPhone's capabilities and are making the most of it.

Controls: While I didn't get to try out the accelerometer controls, the virtual joystick performed quite nicely once I got the hang of it. Using one thumb to control movement and the other to turn the camera about is an elegant solution that could only be made better by the addition of an additional virtual joystick on the right, instead of just moving your thumb about the screen to look around.

Final Thoughts
Dexter has quite a long way to go yet. While the polish and the passion are there, there are still several elements that could prove far too frustrating for a casual iPhone title, and casual is the audience they are courting here. Like Dexter himself, the game has the looks, but the underlying mechanics could be a real game killer.