General game information
Game name: DESYNC
Release date: February 28, 2017
Price: US$ 14.99
Available on: Steam
Genre: First person shooter
Developer: The Foregone Syndicate
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
DESYNC is a neon soaked cyberpunk first person shooter with a knack for over the top kills. Instead of just shooting enemies in the head and moving on, the player is encouraged to create combos, a mechanic clearly inspired by the skillshot system featured in People Can Fly’s criminally underrated 2011 shooter Bulletstorm.
To help us deal with the generous amount of enemies that we’ll face during our journey, we can obtain several weapons (each with their corresponding alternative fire mode) ranging from a trusty blaster, to a shotgun-like contraption and other beauties straight out of the FPS playbook (the shock rifle is currently my favorite thanks to its easy to remember, Unreal Tournament inspired alt fire+primary fire combo). A currency system is also in place, letting us earn “fragments” which can then be used to upgrade our main weaponry, acquire sidearms that spawn after the player builds up a meter (something that can be achieved as we engage in particularly creative killing sprees) or purchase other enhancements such as the ability to regenerate a portion of our health bar.
Sadly, DESYNC’s weapons don’t feel as powerful as I would have hoped. The neon soaked graphics style makes it hard to see the effect of our tools of destruction upon the unfortunate enemies who are on the other end of the barrel(s), and too often I was interrupted the “click” of the trigger as my futuristic shotgun refused to fire because it was empty. An unfortunate byproduct of the game’s busy cyberpunk art style is that it’s quite hard to read how many bullets are left in each gun, and the ammo drops get lost in the heat of the action.
Moving on to the title’s marquee feature, its “attack sequences” system, I also found out that while it’s nominally as interesting as Bulletstorm’s skillshots, in practice it’s actually a lot less rewarding. We can combine different weapons or alternative fire modes to kill a single target, and our movements get tracked as well, so every attack sequence ends up feeling like a combo in a fighting game. But once again, DESYNC’s art style ruins the feedback that we should get from each combination. Executing skillshots in Bulletstorm rewards the player with over the top animations which could probably be analyzed by a fictional forensics specialist to deduce the target’s cause of death. In this game, however, creative kills will only reward us with ammo/health and floating numbers/letters. Enemy bodies disappear quickly, and the only real way to know the trigger for each combo is to read the text that pops up when we discover them and memorize it.
Some attack sequences are as straightforward as the ones featured in People Can Fly’s underrated shooter, but as we progress through the game, the combinations become needlessly convoluted, and I couldn’t help but think that they were there only because the developers know that the player expects to discover more ways to creatively murder their opponents. Another problem with the “attack sequences” mechanic is that their reliance on killing the enemy to complete most sequences almost nullifies a pretty important system which I haven’t mentioned yet. Certain enemies are “synced” to a particular buff which makes them very dangerous, and in order to counter this, we can imbue attack sequences with elements that cause them to be “desynced” if we pull off those sequences correctly. Sadly, because most of the attack sequences available require the target’s death, if we want to use the desync mechanic correctly, we’ll need to focus on just a few moves, something that ends up hurting our score, as well as becoming boring down the line.
DESYNC’s levels are presented as arenas connected by corridors, with set spawn points that activate once the player reaches a certain point in each room. Aside from enemies spawned by said points, we will also have to pay careful attention to the environment, since the game’s claustrophobic spaces can quickly paint us into a corner, make us drop through a bottomless pit, or get impaled by one of the numerous traps present in each area. There is a pretty big problem generated by the way the game handles arena rooms, however. After the initial wave of enemies triggered by the player’s entrance on each room, DESYNC adds more foes which may spawn behind the player, something that feels incredibly unfair and out of place. Adding insult to injury, melee enemies are quite hard to read since their attacks aren’t telegraphed (and some of them possess the ability to vanish and reappear somewhere else). All of this could probably be solved with audio cues signalling the arrival of unseen combatants.
Since the game is a twitch shooter, our character’s movement speed is quite fast, and we can use a dash mechanic to create combos, avoid enemy attacks, or quickly reposition ourselves after coming close to a trap. It’s not a flashy move, but it usually works well. Once again, melee enemies present a challenge here since the range of their attacks is hard to judge, and we may dodge only to find that we were a milimiter short of getting out of harm’s way. The player’s movement speed can sometimes become another obstacle to surpass, as later levels feature a staggering amount of insta-kill traps that won’t allow us any leeway if we enter their activation range. Memorizing level layouts as soon as we enter arena rooms is the best way to deal with those pesky traps, though the fast paced nature of the combat encounters tends to make us forget about some things until it’s too late.
Beating maps lets us replay them later using all the weaponry we may have collected, something that can be really useful when we are chasing high scores or trying to beat our friends (a leaderboard system is in place, and the game matches our score against any Steam friends who may own the game). A number of alternative levels with specific mutators enabled can also be unlocked, letting all players experience parts of the game in a level playing field (everyone plays with the same weapons and abilities).
To sum up, DESYNC is a stylish first person shooter let down by a few questionable choices. Gamers willing to overlook unfair enemy spawn mechanics and frustrating level design may end up loving The Foregone Syndicate‘s debut title, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
6/10 – Fair.