Platforms PC
Developer The Foregone Syndicate
Publisher Adult Swim Games
Release Date February 28, 2017

Review code provided

Desync is a neon drenched first-person shooter that emphasises creativity and fast-paced action. If there’s a premise or story to this game, I have yet to find it. Desync is instead about jacking into a Tron-like series of levels, pushing your FPS skills to the test against scores of bad guys and trying not to die in the process, all while killing enemies in as creative a way as possible.

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Desync is very much “old school” in a variety of ways. Its core gameplay is fast, furious and unforgiving, recalling classic FPS genre staples such as Doom and Quake. Each level of Desync is a series of rooms filled with bad guys, pitfalls and traps. It follows in the same vein as those older games by brutally hammering home the lesson that once you stop moving you die. Where Desync takes a left turn away from those classic games is in its creativity.

The game doesn’t just encourage you to eliminate your enemies in more and more inventive ways, it practically demands it. Blasting bad guys into spike traps, out of midair, down holes and more see the game hand out bigger and bigger scores. It also sees the game at its best – it’s a great feeling to unleash strings of moves together as enemies fly all over levels, exploding into pieces as they make deadly contact with all the traps dotted around the levels. The amazing soundtrack helps, which hums along in the background before exploding to the foreground once the bullets start flying.

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The mixture of your varied arsenal of standard FPS weapons, each with an alternate fire to help you mix up your tactics, and these well designed, multi-layered levels unlock a lot of opportunities to get inventive with your kills. Unfortunately, for all the traps and hazards littering these arenas, you’ll probably be spending more of your time running backwards and circle strafing than actually putting them to use.

Most of the enemies you encounter in Desync have one overriding goal – charge you down and smash your face in no matter the cost. As you progress through the game and the enemies become faster you’ll have a hard time putting any sort of distance between you and them, making it very difficult to actually set up an opportunity to do anything other than shoot them until they’re dead.

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They’ll also become more numerous, which yields the same problem. Lining up to blast one into a nearby spike trap will see you needing to retreat from the other two, rather than pressing any sort of attack. This is compounded by the fact that the game pauses every time you discover a new combo move to highlight what you just did, murdering the flow of the otherwise fast-paced combat by constantly stopping and starting.

The combat in Desync is solid. When it’s firing on all cylinders it can make you feel like a neon-powered God of carnage. But for every time you pull of an insane combo that makes you feel bad that no-one was around to see it, there are stretches of play that see you running backwards, shooting at enemies more in vain hope than with any sense of purpose. In those second instances combat is still slick and well designed, but it feels bland, and these instances can occur with some frequency.

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The game’s level of challenge also has a habit of working against it. In the beginning it’s refreshing – perfectly fitting the tone of the game. Desync isn’t shy about kicking your teeth in and sending you scrambling back to the beginning of its arenas for seconds. Enemies are quite varied, with the game throwing you a new enemy type with a whole new moveset to adapt to quite frequently. In its early stages it pushes your split second reactions to their limits and despite being tough, its difficulty curve feels very natural.

As the difficulty increases and the number of deaths goes up, Desync runs into a problem of repetition. Combat sees you fighting off waves of enemies. Each time you die you’ll be sent right back to the beginning of the room, meaning you’ll need to beat all of the waves in order to progress. While this isn’t a problem in and of itself. The issue stems from the game spawning the exact same enemies in the exact same locations every time you bite the dust. If you’re having trouble clearing a specific area then the game can start to feel like a grind to get through.

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The game also lacks much explanation of how things work, promoting immersion and experimentation through a lack of hand holding. Rather than feature a menu system the game features a hub, with all of the level selections, upgrade systems and loadout selections taking the form of terminals you interact with. It’s a novel system, but also a confusing one.

Even selecting a level for the first time can be a challenge, and Desync doesn’t really help itself by refusing to tell you how all of this basic stuff works. The same goes for its upgrades and special abilities. While some of its upgrade mechanics are obvious, spending shards to upgrade the stats of your various weapons, for example, others are maddeningly obfuscated. Once you’ve found the correct terminals (and collected them from the various levels in the game), you’re able to equip special abilities to aid you in combat.

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Some of them are fairly straightforward, such as the ability to heal yourself. Others are less so, and it can be difficult to tell what they even do. Again, it’s a nice idea to promote learning through experimentation, but when the line between life and death is a split second, it’s not worth taking a finger off the WASD keys to try out an ability when you have no idea what it’ll actually do.

Summary

 

Desync is a game that makes a strong first impression – its soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal, coupled really well with a strong and impressive art style. Its early encounters ride the line between challenging and unfair really well. The core gameplay loop of entering a new arena and dispatching enemies using the environment feels great, especially when you’re pulling off combos and the game is in full flow. But it’s a feeling that doesn’t last forever.

While the difficulty never tips into unfair, the harder the game gets and the more you need to repeat sections, the more cracks begin to show. Desync spawns the same enemies in the same locations, and because their AI doesn’t have a particularly large amount of variety in their attacks, a sense of deja vu can set in as you begin to feel like you’re stuck on repeat. It’s not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, and hardcore first-person shooter fans can find a lot to love here, but it can turn into a bit of a slog the further into the game you progress.

6v2


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