Eyes-on at E3 / Dexter (iPhone)

If I were to tell you the upcoming iPhone game, from Marc Ecko Entertainment and Icarus Studios, based on Showtime’s absolutely amazing series Dexter was not a licensed software abortion, would you?:

A) Call me a liar and close the window
B) Call me a liar, but read on with great interest
C) Call me handsome and accept my word as law

If you guessed “C,” then you would be absolutely correct and we could leave this post holding hands whilst skipping to David Cassidy tunes. However, to keep this train rolling (and the word count up) let’s go with “B” in which I prove to you that Dexter is just the sort of dark passenger you want traveling with you.

For those not familiar with the property, Dexter is a TV series on Showtime that follows the titular character, Dexter Morgan, a Miami Metro Police Dept. blood splatter analyst who also happens to be a serial killer, hunting only ne’er-do-wells. The game, comprised of 4 “episodes,” follows the events of the show’s first season with Dexter investigating another serial killer dubbed “The Ice Truck Killer.” The entire idea is the perfect fit for something like a classic point-and-click adventure game and that’s what Icarus Studios is accomplishing.

After checking out the game’s intro video, which is the actual intro from the show (awesome!), Christopher Mifsud, Lead Game Designer on Dexter, took us right into actual gameplay. The scenario we got to see, also serving as the game’s tutorial, involved Dexter investigating his first victim from the show, a pedophiliac priest, Mike Donovan. Although Dexter is a killer, he still needs to personally justify his actions, which is the point of the investigation aspects of the game.

Showing both a first and third-person perspective (user-defined), Christopher walked Dexter, in appropriate killing time outfit, through a nighttime forest environment with a little building/shack and dirt mounds surrounding it — if you’ve seen any movie involving murder, a dirt mound is usually a good sign of a shallow grave with a body underneath. Walking around the building (handled by either touchscreen or accelerometer tilting) we came upon a shovel with a slight glow, to indicate it can be interacted with, which was picked up by a simple touch of the touchscreen. Shovel in hand we were shown one of the many interactive mini-games featured in Dexter; in this case, digging up graves (blood splatter analysis and fingerprint IDing were also mentioned). This action required alternating presses on points of the touchscreen in a rhythmic fashion and, depending on the difficulty selected, could demand some finger dexterity (no pun).

After successfully digging up the grave, Dexter found the evidence he needed to move on with his kill which would be taking place in the shack located ~8 convenient feet away. Any Dexter fan can tell you that preparation of the “kill room” is an absolutely key step in the process of taking out the trash and it’s in the game. The actual act isn’t done by the player, instead shown via a cutscene, but once the room has been prepared (identical to the show and victim), you’re able to go around and fix slight problems, such as openings in the plastic sheets, which helps keep your ass safe from being discovered down the line. This is key because Dexter has to balance his “Mask;” how Dexter appears to those around him. The “Mask” is represented by a meter and should it dip too low, the people around Dexter will start to become suspicious. Being sloppy, like not covering your tracks during an investigation, will cause this to drop, but being good and clever will keep it in line and allow Dexter to continue on with his master plan. On top of keeping up the “Mask,” there’s also the aspect of the “Dark Passenger.” The “Dark Passenger” is Dexter’s need to kill and what brings him to that point will play against the “Mask.” Keeping a balance between the two is key to Dexter’s survival.

Now that we had a kill room what good would it be without someone to kill? This brought us to the “stalking” portion of the game which is like Splinter Cell: Dexter. Taking place outside a church, Dexter has to sneak up on his victim, using hedges and other objects in the environment as cover, and stick him in the neck with tranquilizers to carry him on to his end. Being a totally open area there were different ways to approach and tackle the situation so the player will have a choice, but time is of the essence so there’s no room to prance around thinking of sunshine. Seizing the right moment when the victim’s back was turned, Dexter overtook him and we were brought back to the kill room.

With both room and victim prepped for the kill, Dexter was ready to execute the final steps of his plan. Using a dialogue tree similar to what you’d see in Mass Effect, Dexter interrogated his victim, outlining his crimes and generally just being dark, creepy and entirely Dexter (the voiceover from show star, Michael C. Hall, certainly helps). The dialogue tree allowed Dexter to dip into the light and dark sides of his character, uncovering final bits of evidence and a confession from the victim. The confession helps to keep the “Mask” meter filled and can kind-of-sort-of be “failed.” Nobody likes a failure. When the conversation reached its end point the actual killing commenced, but the final implementation wasn’t ready for the build we were shown. Christopher said carrying out the execution would be similar to the gesture-based commands found in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed with different moves for different devices of death. The end of the demo took place in Dexter’s faithfully recreated apartment where a fan of the show knows what happens next and non-fans will (hopefully) know soon enough.

Admittedly, when a game based on Dexter was first announced, I wrote it off as another cash-in of a beloved property. I’m kind of a dick like that, but I instantly don’t think certain properties can be handled in way that’s beneficial and honorable to the source. After seeing Dexter in action, I honestly couldn’t be more excited. Details such as the faithful recreation of environments like the kill room, Dexter’s inner monologues, loading screens with words of wisdom from Dexter’s adoptive father/mentor, Harry and the way everything just feels like it’s an actual part of the universe rather than simply a game based on it.

The full-backing of Showtime (season 1’s score provides the atmosphere), of writer/producer Tim Schlattmann helping to flesh out side-stories, add new dialogue/content and keep the tone feeling very “Dexter” in nature and of the cast providing likeness and voice to their digital representations (Deb, Doakes, Rita, Masuka and LaGuerta are definitely in) only helps to cement this as something true. It’s easy to tell, even in its unfinished form, the teams at Icarus Studios and Marc Ecko Entertainment are huge fans of the property and are crafting a labor of love with a real attention to detail. While there’s still plenty to be shown, fans should expect something solid and hopefully non-fans are attracted to such an amazing property when the game drops this Summer.