Thursday, July 13, 2023

Synapse (PSVR2)


Synapse is the first PSVR2 game to dent my face and drain my controller batteries.

Fracked, one of the last great PSVR1 games, was one of the most natural-feeling games on the platform, with free movement, solid shooting, and a grab mechanic that worked for both climbing surfaces and grabbing cover.

So it’s no surprise that Synapse, from Fracked developer nDreams, takes that naturalistic control to the PSVR2 in a game without quite the narrative straightforwardness of Fracked, but with new gameplay loops that are pure addiction.

Your right hand is a gun. Your left hand is telekinesis. Grab objects and enemies with the left hand, fling them around. Shoot stuff with the right hand. Make it through the levels without dying. That’s all there is to it, but it all feels so good the sheer joy of it brings you back again and again.

Structurally, Synapse is a roguish game with persistent progression and in-run perks. Level geometry isn’t random, although which level geometry you get is, from a small pool. Starting locations, perk locations, and enemies are randomized. Enemy types are limited - there are basically two during the first two levels, another introduced on level 3, and another introduced on levels 4+ although there may be more past level 7, which is as far as I’ve gotten currently.

It could be (and has been) argued that Synapse gets a bit samey after a while, which is generally a thing in the roguish genre. You’re using your tactics and skill to the best of your ability, trying to keep from losing too much health because health replenishment is stingy, seeing how far you can get, and trying to get to the end. Which you technically have to do three times to “beat” the game’s “story”, which is storming the psyche of a military terrorist of some kind. The story is dribbled out in bits I don’t really care about, but there’s apparently a connection between Military Terrorist and Your Boss? Doesn’t matter.

What matters is how good it feels to play. VR games generally shoot for It Feels Like I’m Doing This, with varying degrees of success. In Synapse, it feels like you’re reaching across the level, grabbing a dude who’s shooting at you, pulling him toward you with your telekinesis, and shooting him in the face. You never quite lose sight of the fact that you have controllers in your hands, but you come pretty close. And that’s a huge amount of fun.

It doesn’t hurt that the game is gorgeous, high contrast, and high frame rate, which is grate for my garbage eyes and any possibility of motion sickness. I’ve played this a bunch, running around levels at high speed for an hour at a time, and except for a bit of pressure from the visor on my face, minimal discomfort overall.

I would LOVE to see Fracked get remade for PSVR2. I never finished it, partly because of the lack of decent tracking and partly because of the difficulty level. But man, the pure smoothness of Synapse applied to the linear narrative and specific level design and color palette of Fracked? I’d be all over that. Assuming I ever finish Synapse.

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