I’ve been excited for Synapse since nDreams released its first teaser trailer almost four months ago. Everything about it looked exciting; high octane gunplay, a high-concept narrative conceit, telekinetic powers, and a deliciously monochromatic art style with small accents of color. Furthermore, it was nDreams’ first PSVR2 exclusive, and having played some of their games on Quest, I had no doubt they could pull off something quite cool.
A few weeks ago, nDreams gave us and other press outlets and YouTube channels a chance to play a demo of it, and we covered that, but it was short and did little but make us all collectively froth at the mouth and wait patiently for the final launch build. Now that it’s here, I can set your mind at ease; it’s a joy to play.
The narrative conceit behind Synapse is, as I’ve said before in my preview video, lifted straight out of Christopher Nolan’s Inception. You are a recruit tasked with saving lives by infiltrating a rogue colonel’s mind and fighting past his mental defenses to find out where he’s planted a bomb so you can thwart his plans. Consider this the Inception VR game that could’ve happened in some alternative reality where video game adaptations of movies were actually cool.
With this narrative firmly in place, the player goes through the mostly monochromatic levels of the game, fighting off tougher and tougher enemies as they drill down into the colonel’s preconscious, his conscious, and finally, his subconscious mind.
You’re equipped with a starting pistol, and some very basic telekinesis at the start, you can throw inanimate objects around the map, crush enemies with big cubes, or grab exploding barrels gently to move them around and then crush them for a very satisfying explosion.
The game also allows you to level up, both across runs and within runs. Completing certain achievements, called Revelations, awards you with Insight points that you can use to unlock permanent upgrades on a skill tree, divided into three branches; Tactician, Assassin, and Survivor.
Within each run, you get access to temporary mods called Mind Hacks, these are quite inventive; one gives your bullets a bounce, another turns your last one or two shots in a cartridge into grenades, etc.
Synapse is built around making you feel like a badass and providing you with enemies that challenge that badassery so you don’t get complacent no matter how powerful you’ve become.
There are no two ways about it; Synapse is a looker. The monochromatic art style looks fantastic on PSVR2 and is excellently infused with orange, red, pink, and purple highlights that flawlessly draw your attention to the gunplay and telekinesis. The levels themselves are well-designed, providing ample opportunities for mobility without ever feeling lost. You also have a scanner inside your left palm, that you can glance at anytime. It’ll show you where the enemies are and, once upgraded, where the health fonts are as well.
Everything about Synapse is polished, stylish, and elegant; the user interface, the levels, the icons, right down to the font choices. Everything about the game screams polish, and the art team at nDreams deserves massive kudos for what they’ve done here.
Echoes of the Mind
Not to be outshined, the audio in Synapse is superb. The audio design is excellent, from the general soundscapes and UX interactions down to the sound design of the weapons, gunfire, and explosions. Everything feels meaty and full, and if that weren’t enough, the game has landed two of the best voice talents available, with Jennifer Hale voicing your handler and David Hayter voicing the Colonel. As the game progresses, you hear memories of conversations between the two, revealing more of the narrative context, seeing what drives the Colonel, and revealing some uncomfortable history regarding your handler.
Feel the Feedback
Synapse also does a magnificent job justifying its existence as a PSVR2 exclusive, making substantial use of the PSVR’s adaptive triggers and headset haptic. Pushing the triggers gently to move an exploding barrel and then tightening your grip to blow it up is a pleasure every single time you do it. When enemies shoot at you the rumble in your headset not only alerts you to being shot but helps provide directionality, helping you pinpoint the direction of your assailant. Pulling armor off the larger enemies to make them vulnerable to your bullets is a truly immersive, satisfying experience, both empowering you and making you really feel like you’re pulling hard to take that damn armor off.
Even the PSVR’s eye tracking is put to use, making the UI interactions incredibly fluid and intuitive, as well as enhancing the accuracy of your telekinesis. Synapse is designed to take advantage of the PSVR’s unique features, and it shows.
The only real criticism of Synapse, and this can almost be considered praise, is that, as with most VR roguelikes, its longevity is questionable, and I want MORE of it..much more.
Your run through the Colonel’s mind takes place across 9 levels To their credit, nDreams have used a clever narrative device, which I won’t spoil, to provide you with enough impetus to want to finish at least three runs, since it’s only really then that the full story is revealed to you.
So, although the gameplay in Synapse loops back with greater difficulty, as most roguelikes do, the narrative itself carries forward across those three runs, making each run narratively, if not mechanically unique, and giving you a compelling reason to play through at least two more runs after you’ve finished your first. Overall, and taking that into consideration, the game should take you around 10-12 hours to complete, given that you’ll more likely than not die a few times.
We tried to ask about any plans for upcoming add-ons or DLCs, but if nDreams have any post-launch plans, they’re keeping them close to their chest, so we’ll have to wait, hope, and see.
In case the review hasn’t made it abundantly clear by now, Synapse is an incredibly well-built VR action game for PSVR2, and a ridiculously easy game to recommend to any action or shooter fans who have a PSVR2. With incredible visuals, delicious use of the PSVR2’s special features, and gameplay that makes you feel like a badass mercenary with Jedi powers, the perfect polish of the UI is just the icing on the cake.
TLDR : Summary
Synapse is an incredibly well-built VR action game for PSVR2, and a ridiculously easy game to recommend to any action or shooter fans.