DESYNC is the latest in the neo-80’s inspired shooters with an emphasis on being incredibly difficult, but it unfortunately misses more than it hits.
Developer: The Foregone Syndicate
MonsterVine was supplied with a PC code for review
If I were to describe DESYNC it’d be Hotline Miami meets Bulletstorm, but the game unfortunately doesn’t quite reach the lofty inspirations it’s clearly pulling from. Distilled down to its basics, DESYNC is a game for leaderboard junkies looking for their next fix. You can definitely play the game and ignore the score aspect, but I really can’t fathom why anyone would want to with this sort of game.
The game is split up into various levels that each house four to five arenas that simply task you with defeating each wave of enemies and netting the highest score possible. This is where the Bulletstorm comparison comes into play, with your points being acquired by defeating enemies in various unique ways. Like Bulletstorm’s “Skillshot” system, DESYNC has “Attack Sequences” that reward points for performing increasingly more difficult sequences. A simple sequence, for example, would be getting them killed by a swinging axe trap, while a more difficult sequence would involve blasting an enemy in the air with the rocket launcher then switching to your shotgun and shooting them while they’re still airborne. Almost every sequence involves killing an enemy with one of your weapons or knocking them into an environmental trap which leads to you performing the same sort of sequences over and over again, letting repetition sink in. Bulletstorm at the very least had a bit more nuance, but DESYNC has none of that. The game doesn’t even allow you to at the very least view your discovered sequences when playing; you have to unlock them through discovery then read what it was you just did back at hub area and basically memorize it. A simple list menu in the pause screen would suffice and I’m not sure why it isn’t included.
The Hotline Miami part of the game slaps you fairly quickly in the face with its pounding synth soundtrack and masochistic difficulty. Each arena features various waves of enemies that you have to deal with along with avoiding whatever traps may be strewn around the area. The game is very quick to alert you of its difficulty by immediately introducing a regular enemy who can run faster than you, jump further than you, and swing its sword incredibly quickly while in movement. There are also some definite Quake vibes the game is trying to pull off that don’t succeed since the your character just moves, jumps, and slides far too slowly for the kind of game you’re in. As you’re desperately running from enemies trained by Usain fucking Bolt, you’re also having to slow down to look around for any incoming enemies spawning in and add to that dodge whatever spike walls or pits there are. Too many times I’d find myself circle strafing from a crowd chasing me only to be stopped by an enemy who just spawned in and jumped right on me since I was focusing on Atilla’s goddamn horde. It’s just a lot to juggle in a game that not only doesn’t let you move fast enough to take into account all that’s happening, but doesn’t feel like it’s earned its difficulty. The levels themselves are also incredibly tight spaces that asks you to knock enemies into these traps that are placed in super awkward spots that make leading enemies into them particularly difficult. I’m not asking for the game to be dumbed down, I’m just asking for a balanced difficulty curve and better level design. When the game works, it works exceptionally well as you’re chaining together combos and making fools of the enemies, but too many times these frustrating aspects of the game peeks its ugly head out.
When you’re not working your way through a level, you’ll be spending a bit of time in your home base. You can walk around this area and access various terminals where you’ll view your in-game stats and customize your loadouts. Playing through the game will reward you with shards that you can then use to purchase upgrades for your weapons in a sort of crafting system. Buying a damage upgrade will give you a damage token that you can slot into a current weapon to give a bump to your damage output, but will take away from your speed. Each token you craft has its pros and cons so maybe you want your shotgun to spit bullets out a bit faster at the cost of the damage it deals. It’s a neat idea, but I would’ve preferred a simpler system or none at all since there’s nothing much to it.
Other terminals allow you to set your core and sidearm which are temporary power-ups you can activate while playing. Cores are abilities that are triggered by killing enemies to fill up the core meter and grant bonuses like health or increased enemy stagger. Performing attack sequences will fill your sidearm meter which will then drop your equipped sidearm into the area; a crossbow that freezes enemies is one you’ll unlock and you can acquire additional abilities for it by performing certain feats with each sidearm.
The final terminal in the hub allows you to apply desyncs to synced enemies. A synced enemy is one that has an colored armor on top of it that will give it a specific bonus, like red armored enemies gaining a damage boost. At this terminal, you’ll then assign attack sequences to these specific colored enemies and performing the sequences you assigned to that specific synced enemy type will provide you with a big score boost and some additional health/ammo. It’s an interesting idea, but it doesn’t exactly make me change the way I play since I’m just assigning the sequences I can pull off easiest to whichever sync type. Like the crafting system, it feels more like another mechanic that’s there for the sake of being there.
As you play the game you’ll also unlock more difficult versions of previous levels called Aberration stages. These levels ramp up an already ramped up game to ludicrous degrees and replaces your current setup with a unique one like dual pistols, which control awfully by the way. Mutators are also introduced periodically throughout a stage to help keep you on your toes. What’s perhaps one of my biggest gripes with the game is how it utterly fails to explain how anything works. It’s one thing for your game to be vague in a Dark Souls sort of way, but this just comes off as poor communication. For example, in the weapon upgrade terminal “speed” is an attribute but the game doesn’t explain what it means exactly by that; is it my movement speed that’s being affected or the speed of the bullet? Eventually you’ll figure out most of this stuff, but I shouldn’t have to sit there confused at a terminal and then have to hop into a level to figure out what it was that the game meant.
The Final Word
If you’re able to stomach DESYNC’s almost sadistic difficulty, you might find something of worth here, otherwise look elsewhere for something better.
– MonsterVine Review Score: 2.5 out of 5 – Mediocre