I first heard about DESYNC a few months ago in a PAX coverage on YouTube and was hooked almost instantaneously to it’s weird mixture of vintage-hyper futuristic style modern take on the art style. The cyberpunk design along with old school shooting mechanics really stood out, not only from the indie crowd, but also from the AAA crowd. Doom and Shadow Warrior 2 had just gone by, and this was something I could look forward to.
So, what is DESYNC?
DESYNC is an intense single-player first person action game that begs you to play dangerously and creatively .
The game is developed by a small team called Forgone Syndicate and is published by Adult SwimGames and honestly their description couldn’t be any nearer to the truth.
(+) Arcade Euphoria
First, let me get this out of the way, the game is hard. If you are looking for a casual experience, don’t buy this game. If you get frustrated easily, don’t buy this game. If you are looking for a cohesive story, do not buy this game.
It is a game that requires constant focus, precision, twitch reflexes and a good sense of timing. Personally I do incline towards hard games because I like a challenge and apart from being hard, the game looks artistically pleasing for most of the part, has stellar sound design and most importantly tight controls.
DESYNC is an arcade game, where you progress through levels to unlock further levels with boss fights after every 3 levels. Each level is divided into small arenas which the player has to clear before moving on to the next section and each level contains 3-5 arenas.
Also point to note, the game does not have a difficulty setting, so you get into the game pretty much with a fixed difficulty; something akin to Dark Souls.
There are a heck lot of achievements, many of which are hidden and only unlock once you complete them. Apart from that, the leaderboards and the rivalry system really make you wanna come back to the game once someone beats the high-score.
(+) The Basics
The game works something like this- You are dropped in a level, you have to go through levels and attempt to kill enemies as stylishly and diversely as possible. There is limited exploration, but there are some nifty corners where you can find shards which can be used to upgrade your weapons. Weapons are given through the initial play-through at the start of certain levels, the first gun being a pistol, and then progressing to shotgun, sub machine gun, rail guns etc.
Talking about game mechanics, it has the control scheme of all other shooters, WSAD for movement, Space for jumping, Shift for dashing. You have Q for using a special utility 1 and E for special utility 2, both of which vary with what you select and have the general mouse functions of looking around and shooting.
The passive gameplay works pretty much like Doom, where the enemies drop certain consumables such ammo, health etc. There is a reload function, but the player is just required to press R and that’s it, it’s instantaneous and only requires drops from the enemies in the game. The guns have alternate firing modes as well which adds another dynamic to the game.
(+) The Little Details
If there is something old school shooters have made us accustomed to, it has to be the lack of recoil in guns. And at first, while the players are strafing around an arena at breakneck speeds, they might not notice that guns have recoil, but then while shooting, they might just get pushed into some trap that they were pretty sure they were going to avoid. The next time that happens to you, remember that the guns have recoil.
There are a heck lot of little details, which the game doesn’t tell you about, IE, there is no hand-holding. One of them includes the method of how to get health leeching bugs, off your face, which I’ll let you figure out on your own. (Also a small bit related to DESYNCs you’ll have to figure out)
(+) Architectural Art
The level design is one of the biggest factors that made me want more of the game. The levels have almost been masterfully crafted and built around the gameplay they were aiming for. The verticality, the enviromental hazards that are not only lethal to enemies, but to the player as well, the precise placement of objects etc really make you wanna try it one more time.
The levels might not be as open as say, Doom or Shadow Warrior 2, but the quote- “Make the most out of something”, makes sense in this case, because of the closed and limiting environments.
Apart from the levels, there is a hub world from where various levels are accessed and the character can be upgraded from the drops in levels. These level ups include certain augmentations, weapon upgrades and shards which are used to upgrade weapons.
Coming to the enemy design, there is a considerable variety of enemies which show up as the game progresses, becoming more punishing moving forward. Apart from that, the bosses are also well designed and have that sense of ‘WoW! What is this?!‘ when you face them, with each boss having unique design as well as move sets.
(+) Contrasting Craftiness
The art style, as mentioned above is very standout for this game and is a weird mixture of cyberpunk-vintage-polygonal-y structured art style which seems like a weird combination on paper, but when in full flow the game looks gorgeous from an art style perspective.
Apart from that, the techno punk music really adds to the atmosphere. This is probably the best OST for a game I have heard since FURI, another game that had some exceptional music.
(+) The Replayability
Apart from there being leaderboards, to increase the play/replay value of the game, there are another set of maps that are called Aberration Zones. Basically these are reversed levels where, again, you progress through arenas, but with a twist. The twist is that, there are certain mutations applied to the player after each arena, and they consequently add up to the end of the level.
The mutations include- enemies not taking damage while on land, disability to dash etc, but the primary one is that you can only dual weild the weapon that has been give to you at the start of the level. Heck I wasn’t able to complete the third aberration zone because it was too hard.
(-) Missing Mentor
Now let’s talk about some of the gripes I have about the game. Well there are very few problems that have cropped up in my playthrough and one of the more daunting problems of the game is the lack of any sort of tutorial. You must be wondering, why would an FPS game require a tutorial? Well it’s not for the active game loop, it is for things such as upgrades.
There is no clear information about what each upgrade does, what you are upgrading to and how do shards exactly work. By the time I figured it out, I was already done with the first boss fight, though I must admit, that I am a very impatient person which maybe an influence of the ‘Quest for Instant Gratification’ of modern society/gamers.
(-) Ankle Weights
The active gameplay loop sometimes can become unfair. Now since you are dropped into arenas and have restricted movement space, on top of having enemies re-spawning inside the arena, it becomes more about the awareness of the player. There is no radar, nor are there any visual or audible cues as to where an enemy might be coming from, so the players always have to keep swaying around the camera in all directions to make sure they do not get ambushed.
The only underwhelming aspect of the active gameplay loop was the jump height. In a fast paced old school FPS game, the jump mechanic needs to be nailed. In DESYNC, the jump height is too small and there is no double jump feature as well, which really takes you out of the immersion when you run into a dead end which is a bit higher than half your height.
Another gripe of mine is the control scheme of two buttons, Q and E. Now lemme be clear that I have not tried reassigning the controls, though they are re-assignable and have played it how the developer set it up. The thing is both Q and E are mostly weapons/equipment like crossbows which require aiming and being a game that heavily relies on moving skillfully, it is difficult to press Q or E while also pressing the movement buttons.
(-) Visual Pricks
The presentation for most of the part is awesome, but the developers have gone for a effect that uses heavy chromatic aberration and tries to mimic the effects that were visible on old CRT TV sets, which can start becoming irritating to the eyes for some people. Personally I didn’t find it much of an issue, because the problem only occurred while trying to read text which was seldom present in the active gameplay loop.
Being a PC game, there are a few features that PC gamers will be pleased by, one of them being that the game reacts instantaneously to Alt+Tab, so you can switch between different tabs and do not need to quit every time there is some other work.
Apart from that the controls are fully reassign-able and tons of customization can be done in the Options screen, which includes a slider for wide FOV lovers. Also the download size is pretty small, approximately 1.5 GB.
As for the performance, on an i5-6500 GTX 1070 config, the game ran at 60+ fps all the time.
Point To Note: This is a review of the game before the patch that released on 21st March 2017. We will be reporting on the patched version as soon as we are able to play it.