The developer nDreams returns to the charge with Synapse. If the name of the studio speaks to you, it may be because it has worked on a few VR productions, including a certain Fracked which was ultimately unexciting despite its qualities. That said, and in addition to an upcoming release of Powerwash Simulator VR, nDreams recently gave us a new game, in a completely different register. Here, the developers are touching the Rogue-lite genre for the first time, while maintaining the FPS aspect that the studio has mastered relatively well. And in the end, the team did rather well, since Synapse turns out to be curiously very convincing on a lot of points, with a few exceptions.
Test conditions: We completed Synapse and its three full runs to complete the story mode in about 8 hours. The title was tested on the PlayStation VR2.
Deep in the memory of Colonel Peter Conrad
Long before the mental festivities begin, the title sends our protagonist to an island. Our hero, under the orders of agent Clara Sorensen, has a simple objective: to enter the head of Colonel Peter Conrad. This individual, having betrayed Bureau V, your employer, seeks to trigger a biological attack and only he knows the code to defuse everything. It will therefore be up to you to use a machine to get into his head, and thus save the world by finding this famous code.
It had to be done, and Synapse here has a super interesting narration at first glance. However, the more you advance in the game, and the more the plot, although it has some twists that we do not necessarily see coming, becomes predictable while leaving us hungry. In addition, it remains really redundant to have to do three complete runs until we see the real end of the game. This conclusion leaves us unsatisfied, and the characters are not so well exploited as that. A few snippets of memories sometimes come back to the past of certain protagonists, but this is hardly captivating.
The pill will nevertheless go much better with the artistic direction. Although the beginning of the adventure puts us in front of a generic aesthetic, Synapse pulls out the big game, once in the head of Colonel Peter Conrad. We find here an almost black and white dressing, with rare colored hues that make complete sense. The software thus immerses us in a dreamlike atmosphere that throws it. The production of nDreams succeeds brilliantly in immersing us in this kind of mental purgatory, which really makes coffee and almost makes us forget its flaws in narration.
A real mental challenge that repeats itself a little too much
Without detour, Synapse undeniably has a gameplay with small onions. In a traditional FPS view, the baby of nDreams offers us a clever mix of firearm combat and telekinesis, usable via our other hand by mimicking gestures. Concretely, the gameplay offers a relatively welcome variety, while giving us a severe feeling of power as we progress on this rogue-lite.
On the other hand, handling the FPS/rogue-lite also works wonders. The guns handle extremely well, reloading them is intuitive since you quickly mimic the gesture, and aiming in this VR title is very precise. That said, some hiccups are to be noted at times. Nevertheless, Synapse is well calibrated even in traditional movements, relatively flexible. We also greatly appreciated the realism of the range of each of the weapons, respected and making practically no frills, well helped by the adaptive triggers of the PSVR Sense and its ultra convincing vibrations.
Furthermore, the gunfights are very readable, never messy and nevertheless remain particularly enjoyable with each new area that your hero will have to clean. Moreover, your opponents will force you to adopt a small strategic side to overcome them, because it will often be very useful to target their weak points, in order to eliminate them more quickly. Let it be said, nDreams has know-how in the design of an FPS in VR, and everything that the studio undertakes in the gameplay, walks on the fire of god.
However, regarding its overall structure, Synapse still turns out to be a bit disappointing. In a fairly basic rogue-lite genre, meaning that you will be forced to finish the game in one go without dying to appreciate the end, the software is unfortunately not very varied in its level-design, and its bestiary. In total, know that you will only have a maximum of four types of enemies to fight, and only four different weapons – pistol, submachine gun, grenade launcher and shotgun -.
Suffice to say that it is starving. The layout of the nine areas to go also hardly changes, although we are offered a minimum of procedural management at the starting point. This is where the shoe pinches because the repetitiveness will quickly be felt, which does not alleviate the fact that it is mandatory to complete the adventure three times to obtain the true ending…
On the other hand, we will reassure ourselves as best we can with a not unpleasant verticality on its level-design, even if the gameplay loop turns in circles. In short, you will have to eliminate the number of enemies indicated on the area and once that is done, you can go to the next one and so on, until you reach the subconscious as the final level. Suffice to say that this is hardly exciting, and the redundancy quickly takes over the fun, which is very unfortunate because the gameplay is very well calibrated.
Effective rogue-lite upgrade mechanics
Obviously rogue lite obliges, Synapse has a very coherent system of permanent and non-definitive improvements. For the first point, this upgrade mechanism can only be done by making revelations. These will generally ask you to kill such a number of enemies with certain weapons, or even perform specific actions. Once done, you can collect these revelations, then use the points obtained on a skill tree split into three parts with survivor, strategist and assassin. This will give you the possibility of having new weapons to recover via an idol, to have more rebellion points to use during your runs, or even more health, even to resurrect once or twice if you die.
By dying and doing runs, this well-crafted improvement system allows your character to become more and more powerful and by addition, to dispose of your opponents almost easily. Everything is therefore very efficient in its design, and the upgrade will be almost essential, knowing that the enemies are generally adorned with a life bar and a higher or lower power level over the course of your run, indicating their level of danger.
This is where the various temporary improvements of our protagonist come in. In addition to a few fountains of life, rebellion points or even altars giving you the possibility of choosing between a weapon or an upgrade of your telekinesis, other improvements arrive during your unique course. As indicated above, these are temporary, and can be recovered on the map, but also once the area has been emptied.
You will generally have the choice between two improvements at each end of the zone, the latter giving you the possibility of doing more damage if you explode a barrel in front of the enemies, or even turn your opponents against themselves if you manipulate them for a few seconds with your telekinesis. Let it be said, this temporary improvement system, coupled with the little ones next to the map that can restore your health and help you, complement the permanent upgrades in a very nice way, giving a balanced result all the time. long, without ever being frustrating.
Graphics and sound design, the almost jackpot
On the technical side, Synapse does the job. In its black and white aesthetic adorned with a few colors, the result in terms of textures is more than suitable for the PSVR2. We are of course far from rendering the Horizon Call of the Mountain but for a production this time AA, nDreams has the gift of providing us with visually striking sets, while offering some backgrounds that make a small effect. There will sometimes be enough to regret a few bugs that do the trick, but overall the title is well optimized, fluid, and offers really honest overall modeling.
The note will end in a more bitter way on its sound design. With certainly music with an electro tendency which emerge from it and which stick perfectly to the skin of this mental title, Synapse is inconclusive about his voice acting. The VO is of an unnamed platitude, with characters who, unfortunately, are only slightly concerned by what is happening… Too bad, the potential is nevertheless there on this aspect…