Exiting Desync after playing for a couple of hours is quite an experience. For a few minutes afterwards everything else looks dull and washed out as your eyes struggle to adjust to reality again. This first person shooter from The Foregone Syndicate is not the first to arrive awash in neon aesthetics, but it is definitely one that has fully committed to this style. From the minute you boot up the game to the point when you inevitably rage-quit after getting decimated for the umpteenth time, it is an all out assault on your senses. Some players will relish in the intensity and challenge, but we have a feeling that many are also going to walk away feeling very frustrated.
Usually first person shooters fall into two camps. There are those that are multi-player oriented and have a short single player story campaign tacked on and those where the story mode got all the attention and the multi-player feels like an afterthought. Desync on the other hand presents players with a single player only experience, but without any story. Instead, you are thrown headlong into a digital otherworld where death comes swiftly and frequently. If you are used to coasting through games on tourist mode (Easy difficulty setting) then Desync is going to be a bit of a sucker punch. The game is utterly uncompromising and even the earliest enemies can make mincemeat out of you if you are not careful. According to the developers Desync was designed to truly test the limits of your FPS abilities, which is definitely true. Unfortunately, it also turns into a test of your patience at times, especially when you are still struggling to come to grips with the various quirks of the game.
Although Desync is a first person shooter, it is not a mindless blaster and employing the usual run and gun tactics will probably get you killed very quickly. Enemies are not only quite fast, but brutal as well, while ammo and health are very limited. This means that you have to make each and every shot count. Levels are also made up of a series of rooms, which you have to clear one by one in order to progress. These rooms are typically quite small and littered with traps, such as wall spikes and pits, which further adds to your woes. The traps are very useful for creatively disposing of enemies, but more often than not, it will be you who end up skewered by a spike as you back-peddle desperately while trying to evade a giant hammer-wielding foe. If you do get killed, it is back to the start of the room again to try again, which also impacts your score.
Instead of spraying bullets in the general direction of your enemies, it is essential that you perform attack sequences. These are special moves that deal extra damage to foes and reward you with bonus effects. These moves can be as simple as knocking an enemy into a trap or stunning them and then killing them before they can recover to more advance moves, such as launching an enemy into the air before landing the kill shot. Mastering these attack sequences are the key to doing well in the game along with Overkills, which is bursting enemies into pieces by doing large amounts of damage to them. Since Overkilled enemies drop health, it is vital that you crush your foes whenever possible to reap the rewards.
Unfortunately, until you master these techniques, it will probably be you that end up getting crushed most of the time. Desync doesn’t have any difficulty settings, so you either have to get good or end up feeling very frustrated. It doesn’t help that the game is quite confusing at first as you have to deal with things like cores and shards, which could have been explained a little better. Enemies also have a tendency to spawn behind you with little warning, which means some levels require memorization if you want any hope of completing it with a high rank. Because you are confined to small, trap-filled rooms, the levels can also start to feel very cramped, especially if you are more of a defensive than an offensive player. However, if you are truly skilled and want an even bigger challenge you can take on levels in an inverted form with the so called Dark Zones, which is played without your custom weapons and gear.
Visually Desync is a bit of a mixed bag. While we love the neon look of the game, there is no denying that at times it does feel like you are playing on a malfunctioning CGA monitor. The scanlines and visual glitches are intentional and part of the style of the game, but definitely impacts visibility. This is also one of the few games where the epilepsy warning at the start is fully justified. The game does have a field of view slider, which helped us a lot, but playing for extended periods does put a serious strain on your eyes. The audio is a perfect match for the glowing visuals and is just as loud and aggressive. It is not an exaggeration to say that a few times the great music was the only thing that prevented us from rage-quiting after a particularly brutal defeat. Sound effects are a little underwhelming in comparison, but the music is so good that we recommend getting the soundtrack. The controls are standard first person shooter fare, but involves a couple more key presses to master certain skills, such as dodging or making use of your secondary weapons. The controls can also feel a little sluggish until you manage to figure out how to dodge consistently and jumping could use a little more work as well.
At the end of the day your enjoyment of Desync will depend very much on your tolerance for frustration and ability to adapt. It is really a game that requires your full concentration and you can’t let your guard down for a minute. While this is very demanding, it is much better than strolling down endless gray corridors or sitting back and watching a scripted event every five minutes. About the only time you can take a breather in Desync is when you walk around the “Link Network” where you can initialize upgrades and select your sidearms. It is also here where you can imbue your attack sequences with “Desyncs” in order to counter enemies that are synced and thus more dangerous.
Although the game doesn’t feature any story and progress is linear, you can return to previous levels and attempt them again for better ratings. Each level also has its own leaderboards, but some type of multi-player mode would really have boosted the replay value considerably. While we had a lot of fun with Desync, there were also times of extreme frustration. Sometimes you can feel like you have hit a wall when encountering a “Zone Defender” or particularly challenging room, but it is worth pushing through. It is really a pity that there isn’t a demo available of Desync as it is really one of those love it or hate it type of games and until you’ve actually sat down and played it, it can be difficult to know which side of the fence you are going to be on. If you feel like first person shooters have been getting too forgiving lately then you’ll definitely want to play Desync to really test your skills.