Synapse review: A new era for PSVR 2 shooters?
In the PSVR 2 exclusive Synapse, you fight with mind power and eye-tracking controls. Is this the future of VR gaming?
Synapse from Ndreams (Fracked) is on par with the Sith Lords' tricks from Star Wars. While aiming directly at an enemy with my eyes, I pull him into the air with a flick of the wrist, let him float writhing over the deadly abyss, or smash him against a rock with momentum.
It's a powerful sensation that doesn't feel too brutal, thanks to the stylish, high-contrast design. This action-packed journey into the subconscious of a supervillain shows just what PlayStation VR 2's eye tracking can do. But are these VR shootouts with kinetic tricks really motivating in the long run?
Synapse: Review in a nutshell
Synapse offers the coolest combat mechanics yet for PSVR 2's eye-tracking! In the long run, however, there is a noticeable lack of scope and variety.
Synapse will appeal to you if you ...
- like innovative combat and shooting mechanics
- have a penchant for fast-paced roguelike gameplay
- and like minimalist art design.
Synapse will not appeal to you if you ...
- are bothered by repetition
- value fine-tuned balance
- expect a classic, extensive story shooter.
Fascinatingly free combat for PSVR 2
The combat in Synapse is more free-form than in almost any other VR game. Occasionally, I lift crates into the air and send them crashing down on my opponents, elsewhere I hurl an explosive barrel at them with my telekinetic powers.
In the single-player roguelike shooter, there are many ways to live out your fantasies of power. These include upgradeable firearms like MPs and shotguns, which are used the "old-fashioned" way with VR controllers.
This is the mindset of the soldier Colonel Peter Conrad, after all. As an agent specially trained for this mission, I'm tasked with uncovering plans for a devastating attack deep in his subconscious. Twisting rock caves and memory temples are teeming with soldiers shouting repetitive commands to each other over an energetic EDM soundtrack.
Whenever possible, I focus on improving my telekinetic powers during challenges and upgrades. After a bit of tinkering, I can even find effective ways to take down the explosive enemies that come rushing at me. Or even floating tentacled astronauts making bizarre noises.
How I go about it is entirely up to me. I can move loose platforms under my feet to "drive" myself to safety, or I can climb ladders and pillars at the last second to escape a mini boss. Unfortunately, one of the unlockable telekinetic abilities turned out to be far too powerful, so I ended up using it inflationarily. A little more fine-tuning would have improved the balance considerably.
Telekinesis tricks in the VR game
Fracked's cool cover system is also back and even more sensitive. In no other VR game do I take cover as intuitively as I do here. I just press a button, grab hold of a wall or ledge, and with a flick of my arm, I'm out of cover and back to safety in no time.
The black-and-white backdrop with strong color accents is also graphically impressive, especially on the high-contrast HDR display of the PSVR 2. Even at 60 frames per second and and reprojection at 120 hertz, the result looks pleasantly sharp, clean, and fluid. Despite fast movements with the stick, I did not experience any nausea. Sensitive users can activate a vignette and fine-tune numerous comfort options.
Clear weak points in the long run are scope and variety. Unfortunately, Ndreams exploits the Roguelite principle far too much to extend the playtime to about ten hours. Again and again i rush through the same handmade levels, which I know inside out by now. At least the positions of the enemies, rewards, and temporary upgrade stations change.
Between runs, there are also numerous permanent upgrades for fine-tuning telekinetic powers, health, ammunition capacity or weapon handling. Each "run" presents me with stronger enemy hordes that adapt to my improved arsenal, but it still gets monotonous after a while.
To experience the end of the twisty spy story, it is even necessary to play through three times on different difficulty levels. Anyway, the presentation of the story seems a bit minimalistic. My contact person "The Handler" (Jennifer Hale) and the villain, Colonel Peter Conrad (David Hayter) communicate via acoustic "radio messages". The dialog seems almost like a radio play running alongside the action and is only loosely connected to it.
Conclusion: Innovative, powerful, but a little monotonous
In the beginning, Synapse turned out to be as strong as my telekinetic powers. The creative targeting of objects with my eyes became second nature to me so quickly that I wouldn't want to do without it! I also really liked the free combat system with many skill tree upgrades and the improved cover mechanics from Fracked.
However, the constant action ran out of steam after just a few hours. Eventually, there are simply not enough levels or boss fights, especially since I quickly got tired of the few enemy types. Still, it entertains way longer than the discontinued Outlier: Joy Way tried a similar Rogue-Lite last year, but without eye tracking and with much less polish.