A merciless, difficult score based shooter lies under the cool synth aesthetics of DESYNC.
- Developer: The Foregone Syndicate
- Publisher: Adult Swim Games
- Genre: First-person shooter
- Release date: 28 February 2017
- Played on: PC
- Play time: 3 hours
The very concept that there’s a living physical world inside a computer is a fascinating premise that’s been the core of a number of media during the years. Whether it’s Tron, with its dreary look at societal conformity within the confines of its programs during the 1980s or ReBoot’s (for 1994) state-of-the-art visuals that approached the subject in a more kid-friendly manner, it’s always been fertile ground for many a story to grow and develop.
In games, it has also generated quite a number of examples, most tied to the classic arcade era, thanks to the simplified visuals that are intrinsically tied to releases of that era — like in Asteroids’ case, for example, vectors — that’s impossible not to associate with computers. As technology evolved, so did the visual and underlying game design. And with more and more designers that grew up playing those classics now picking up the mantle to create new stuff for us to play, it isn’t surprising that retro has become the hot new thing over the past few years.
DESYNC is yet another game in that styling that attempts to bring back that old aesthetic within a modern shell. It’s a score-based first-person shooter set within a computer whose sole purpose is to pitt you in increasingly more difficult arena combat scenarios. Sadly, in DESYNC’s case, that difficulty starts out already pretty darn high, with a problematic and often unbalanced curve, which for some might be the perfect reason to brave through, while for others like me, it proves to be too much.
Credit where it’s due, there are aspects to DESYNC that make it slightly more attractive than a straightforward arcade shooter brought back for this day and age, only now with bleeding cool, colorfully straight-angled and at the same time stark, dirty, scan-lined visuals to the slightly drone-like synth soundtrack that pounds your ears at all times. One is the fact that the entirety of the game revolves around building up your score and racking up combos that go down unless you keep moving and shooting. The frantic pacing of the levels helps to establish a sort of strategic mindset as to how you approach a specific encounter, especially given that every enemy wave is scripted, so units are always going to come from the same spots no matter how many times you restart a stage. Then again, that same argument could be used against DESYNC’s freedom for creativity, even more so considering just how cramped the combat arenas are and the abundance of opponents in all shapes and sizes that come in to take little old you out.
Still, it’s relatively thrilling to discover new ways to dispatch foes. Be it straightforward approaches like as headshots and eliminating multiple bogeys with a single attack, or more elaborate ones like knocking them into spikes or other traps, you’ll certainly feel somewhat rewarded when you pull these kills off. The first time you discover one, the game dramatically freezes and pops the name of the type of kill on screen, which looks pretty cool, sure, but also manages to kill any rhythm you might’ve had dead on its track, so you better get used to these messing up runs from time to time.
You should also get acquainted with repeating checkpoints, because you’ll be doing that a lot in this game. Each level is broken up into a few of these, popping some waves of enemies before letting you pick up some upgrade shards and saving your level progress before continuing. Since DESYNC tends to not pull any punches, outnumbering you with enemies that more often than not move way faster than you do and have much bigger health pools, it’s likely that you’ll get stuck from time to time before figuring just the right order you have to kill foes in in order to succeed.
Luckily, the further you get into the game and the more shards you accrue, you’re given the option of updating your weapons and abilities. The guns in DESYNC are very cool to begin with, but rarely start out as powerful as you’d like, requiring plenty of shots to take down the weakest of enemies, so upping their firepower is a good idea in between levels. The same goes for your skills, which are pretty much nonexistent at the beginning of the game, aside from your jump button, which works as a crude way to dodge out of the way of charging enemies. Being able to heal up in a pinch is a must buy if you hope to make a dent in this game, so much so that it’s part of the shop tutorial after level one, begging the question as to why it isn’t a core skill to begin with, health kits be damned.
DESYNC does a good job in keeping tabs on the scores from your Steam friends list. In case you’re like me and have some some particularly skilled pals playing DESYNC, their possibly absurd superior scores will be displayed on screen while navigating the hub world. It even pings you when someone outdoes your previous personal best, pushing you to try levels again after you’re done upgrading further. It’s cool to go back to an earlier and particularly troublesome stage only to completely destroy it afterwards, even though, personally, it would’ve been nice to be able to do a little better the first time through.
That’s the main issue with DESYNC: it’s repetitive enough to “help” you figure out ways to beat its challenges, but you rarely feel clever or specially skilled in doing so. In the few hours I spent playing it, my victories felt like they came from pure attrition and not through any evolution of my own. Even coming back to stages with a more powerful arsenal and better powers only felt good because I wouldn’t have felt like going back to those stages under any circumstance other than being grossly overpowered. Video games have evolved enough in 30+ years to be more than throwaway experiences that you’d never want to step back into. And if a game in 2017 wants to emulate the merciless feel of old quarter-munchers, there are better ways to do it than how DESYNC does it.
Overall Score: - 6/10