There’s a certain love out there for the idea of simpler times in gaming. Times when enemies were made out of pixels the size of skyscrapers and colours were a lot more finite. Looking back, you can’t really compare the games of yesteryear fairly to whatever we have on shelves right now, 4K behemoths which can throw HDR effects and all manner of anti-aliasing goodness at a player that really shows how massive the divide is between the visuals of the past and present.
That doesn’t mean that those games are without charm. Hell, they’re sometimes still worth a session or two, with classic shooters always being prime for quick sessions of run ‘n gun gameplay that doesn’t bog you down with a reminder to buy the season pass. DESYNC is very much a throwback to the past, a stripped down shooter where your single goal within that digital life is to kill anything that isn’t you.
The synth of the past
It’s also as brutal as it is beautiful in its aesthetics, a move that might not appeal to everyone. But it’s hard to deny that when DESYNC finds its groove, it’s a living reminder of how nostalgia is more than happy to kick your ass when given the chance. DESYNC’s entire visual setup looks like the bastard child of Tron and leftover visuals from the first Lawnmower Man film, a neon-dipped world of squares and odd shapes that really really loves its aesthetic to the point where it can become distracting at times.
Fake glitches and ye olde CRT scan-lines abound, set in a hub that ditches menus for more interactive in-game PCs where you choose where you want to spend the next couple of minutes master-blasting. It’s not a bad idea, but it does feel counter-intuitive at times, to the point where you could have done with some old-fashioned menus and trimmed off plenty of fat in the process.
But where DESYNC does shine, is in its combat. Depending on whether or not you’re up the challenge. Equal parts Bulletstorm and Quake 3 Arena in its influences, Desync is an unforgiving beast with no mercy for the weak. The key to survival here lies in playing like a boxer, dipping in with fast attacks and weaving your way out of trouble as the opposition piles onto you.
Never stop moving, never stop shooting. Desync’s arenas are harsh virtual realities, filled with all manner of traps which don’t distinguish between friend and foe. The true charm is in using these arenas to your advantage, positioning enemies into place and blasting their bullet-sponge hides into the spikes behind them. It’s that very aggression which defines DESYNC, as the more you press on and the less you run away, the bigger your bonuses for the skills you’ve assigned to your in-game sidearms.
What are you synching about?
But I need to repeat this: Desync is hard. Stupidly hard and much like life itself, unfair and ready to crush you at the drop of a hat. It’s the kind of game where you truly cannot stop moving for a moment, need to have eyes in the back of your head and have full awareness of the traps around you lest you find yourself on the business end of an axe that happens to be used for practicing proctology. And that results in a game that is going to turn a lot of people off.
But when it finds its groove, the mix of run ‘n gun ‘n trap gameplay feels tight and superb, favouring reflexes and speed in its DNA. I just wish DESYNC had a more interesting and varied soundtrack to go along with that vicious tempo of action, instead of having to hear the same couple of bars of synthesised discord played out constantly.