When it comes to shooters, you’d think it’d be hard to get a word in edgeways – but when you breach the world of multiplayer titles that encourage teamwork and organisation, that’s when you’re really going shoulder-to-shoulder.
We’re inundated with shooters, and hell, we’d be silly to pretend that we haven’t been since the mid ‘00s. Even today as the upper echelon is dominated by Call of Duty at the end-of-year box office, games like Exoprimal and Rainbow Six: Extraction make a valiant attempt to shift the formula into their own camps, developing their own corners of gameplay and, if all goes well, garnering an audience of dedicated players that will stick around for seasons to come.
Next to step up to this plate and make an attempt to command attention in the industry is Synced, a brand new IP that puts a narrative twist on familiar architecture and hopes to plough a hole clean through free-to-play charts.
The game from the little-known NExT Studios is certainly a bold one, and there’s no denying they’re stepping into a no man’s land of sorts, but it seems damn sure of itself. And it looks like they’re ready for their players to join them.
Grander than nano
When first getting our hands on Synced, it became immediately clear that its concept has been in the works for some time. The story of Synced follows a post-apocalyptic world brought to its knees by the takeover of nanotech, spreading across all that we hold dear and bringing to life mindless monsters made of ever-evolving materials.
You play as a rebel, tasked with breaching the epicentre of the worldwide epidemic and putting a stop to it for good. A simple concept with complicated execution, the world feels truly at odds with nanotech, as branches, roadblocks and pillars form out of the ground that feel as though they’d been there for a lifetime, a disease that has rooted itself in the very genetic makeup of the planet.
The environments of Synced are fascinating, and whether they be mere mid-western streets or the dingy sewers where bio-nanites have made their home, the locales never cease to breed curiosity.
This must pale in comparison, of course, to the game’s gunplay that ought to take the spotlight – and thankfully, it really does. Controls are tight and fluid, with a familiar stiffness that allows for over-the-shoulder accuracy in spite of your semi-automatic weapons’ bullet bloom. The controls and movement of Synced are fluid on both a controller and a keyboard, and there’s every chance that players are going to find some incredible tactical abilities buried in its nuances.
Most compelling about the game, though, is its mechanics based on the big nano baddies. Players are given the chance to sync with damaged Prime nanos, recruiting them to your team and allowing you to command them on the battlefield.
Better yet, if you don’t have an active application, you can recall them to your person and wear them on your arm, giving you passive combat abilities that provide fun and worthy backup in whatever situation you’re in, even in the tightest of corners.
But it’s the infrequency of these tight corners that could be the final weight that Synced needs to pinch off to truly soar.
Syncing like a lead balloon?
Though gunplay remains tight and co-op gameplay is fun enough when you’re all working as a team, there seems to be one thing that Synced is missing – and that’s any kind of difficulty.
Our preview of the title was kicked off with a level 50 account (the max level right now) and perhaps that had something to do with the gameplay itself – but even when working without upgrades and synced Prime Nanos, foes are in fair number, but are much too easy to tear through.
The endgame bosses themselves come to be a challenge even for three characters, which is refreshing given how easy it is to get there, but it poses a reflection of some incredibly wonky balancing. Unlocking new mods and weapon upgrades throughout the map is interesting, but when your bullets tear through nanos the moment they leave the chamber, it’s hard to feel as though they’re making a difference.
Plus, the build we got our hands on didn’t seem to come with any music, a problem that did a great deal to harvest any excitement from the process of taking down baddies, who could be a touch too faceless for them to resonate with players.
Player engagement could be a problem in a fairly inundated market of free-to-play shooters while modes end abruptly and your successes aren’t celebrated beyond a mound of XP, but there’s a good chance that it could sink its hooks into fans of the likes of Rainbow Six Extraction. There are gaps to fill here, but what we can see when we take a step back is promising.
Final Thoughts: Sync or swim
Synced predominantly succeeds in what it seeks to do, but it’s still to be seen whether that is what gamers seek to play. This style of game becoming popular on the free-to-play market would make it the first of its kind, and if it can maintain its interest with seasonal content, then it has the potential to take over the industry.
But, with its current format and non-linear levels to take on with potentially limited replayability meeting successful players on the other side, they’re contending with very short attention spans – and with very dense lore to boot.
It’s going to be interesting to see the trajectory of Synced, but once these minor qualms are tidied up by more development, there is great promise in its concepts and execution. Only time will tell if it will stick, but one thing’s for sure – to see a game of this scale and ambition from a studio that many haven’t seen before is as inspirational as it is exciting.
Synced could be a win for small teams – but it needs to be a win for NExT Studios first.