Never one to shirk away from Sony’s more esoteric offerings, the UK-based developer and publisher was one of the mainstays of PlayStation Home, flying the flag by way of consistent content drops and the release of the enduring alternate reality game, Xi. The journey to virtual reality was perhaps innate, then, proven further by what is now a robust catalogue comprising of past and future releases across every available headset and experience.
Synapse Hands-On Preview (PSVR2) – A Playbook Of Silver Linings
Never one to rest on its laurels seemingly, nDreams has returned to the fold in stylish fashion with Synapse, which took centre stage as the standout original PSVR2 title at last month’s PlayStation Showcase, and we’ve been able to go hands-on with two levels ahead of its July 4 release.
Delving into the mind of rogue colonel Peter Conrad in an effort to retrieve top-secret intel, Synapse is ostensibly a run-based shooter with a lean focus on combining gunplay and telekinesis into one fluid motion, all in service of completing zones as quickly as possible.
The areas in which we got access to comprised of a set number of enemies, with the requisite amount of blocks and exploding barrels necessary to cause a bit of a scene naturally.
In practice, it’s by-and-large a satisfying experience – alongside your pistol, you select items in the environment via eye-tracking and can then grab with your free hand using telekinesis to throw or to bash enemies directly.
Thankfully this works seamlessly, provided there are no in-game non-enemy obstacles in your way, and the art style allows for a clear visibility of what’s happening at any given time.
A neat use of the haptics comes by way of the aforementioned exploding barrels, which allow you to press in slightly to pick them up before detonating with a full squeeze of the trigger. A later zone was furnished with elevators to manipulate, more verticality, and aggressive flanking by enemies, which ensured the delicate balance of ammunition and health remained intact.
Throughout each of these zones you’ll come across ‘Defiance’, either by some light exploration or by eliminating enemies, and this is the in-run currency which can be used at designated depots to replenish ammunition or provide a jolt of health if needed. Moreover, at the end of each zone, you’ll be greeted with a ‘Mind Hack,’ a two-choice modifier to assist in subsequent runs as you delve deeper into Conrad’s subconscious.
As a consequence of the abilities present, Synapse does promote the use of the environment above all else, and while the gunplay is well realized – you can even reload your weapon one-handed by using cover to push the magazine into the gun – all signs point towards using a combination of the toolset available to you.
And it’s just as well, really, given the game combines tried-and-tested elements of the rogue-lite sub-genre – such as singular runs where you’ll lose anything gained in-level upon death aside from any overworld challenges you’ve completed – you’re conditioned towards replays, score-chasing, and building out your permanent skillset.
Though a somewhat sparse experience to begin with, Synapse will ultimately live or die by the level of engagement it can command from the player as it ramps up the level of complexity in future levels. If the reveal trailer is any indication, the unlockable skills may go a distance to achieving a bond between the zone design and player-driven gameplay.
And if it can succeed in channelling the sort of flow state seen in the likes of Pistol Whip, then we could be looking at something accomplished but at present it’s too early to say. What is here, however, is pointing in the right direction.
Once you’ve died and have been booted back into the starting grid, you can check against the challenges list, aptly named ‘Revelations’ to see what you have completed in the last run. These challenges range from killing a certain type of enemy a specific number of times, or from a particular position such as cover.
The list itself appears to be quite vast and upon completion of each challenge, you’ll be granted with ‘Insight’ which can then be used to unlock permanent upgrades for each subsequent run.
The permanent upgrades come by way of three comprehensive skill trees – Tactician, Assassin, and Survivor – and each has a tangible effect depending on how you want to shape your playthrough. At a base level, the skill trees can assist in granting certain drops within runs but then expand to allow you to begin with a higher tier weapon, two weapons, or perhaps the added bonus of a second chance upon death.
Given the nature of that loop, however, it remains to be seen if Synapse will build upon its narrative thrust or more crucially if it will escalate within its zones alongside the robust upgrade path to keep things fresh and engaging. If it can do so, we may be looking at a game to satiate the PSVR2 masses following what has been a light post-launch phase.
Luckily we don’t have to wait long to find out.
Synapse will release on PSVR2 on July 4, 2023.