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Synapse Review

As Seneca, the Stoic philosopher, once said, “It is the power of the mind to be unconquerable.” Synapse takes this quote to a whole new literal level, as it lets you play around with multiple psychokinetic powers to slay cognitive constructions within a man’s mind. Developer nDreams has crafted a fun FPS that takes advantage of the PSVR2’s new technology, honing in on its mind-bending setting by delivering fluid shooting mechanics as well as more unique supernatural abilities. And while it can be a little shallow and repetitive, you’ll still have a good time rampaging through this roguelite FPS.

Synapse featured image

Colonel Conrad Is No Colonel Kurtz 

You play as an operative tasked with infiltrating the mind of Conrad, a scarred ex-colonel bent on destroying the world. The opening sequence is the most narrative-heavy part as you arrive on a beach and explore an ominous facility where the baddie dwells. Throughout these early parts, a woman on the radio will communicate with you, giving information about your mission and instructions. When you get plugged into the same machine hooked up to Conrad, you are tasked with reaching the deepest recesses of his mind to uncover those world-ending plans.

The plot is serviceable but supplementary to the game’s core — the roguelite loop. That opening beach sequence was intriguing, and more narrative-driven sections could have been engaging. However, what you get are somewhat interesting glimpses into Conrad’s past through audio logs that play at the end of each level. It’s not exactly Heart of Darkness, but it is a welcome addition to the gameplay. And you get to hear some of the most recognizable voice actors in gaming — David Hayter, who you may know as Snake from Metal Gear Solid, plays Conrad, who basically does his husky Snake voice. Meanwhile, Jennifer Hale, possibly the most prolific video game actress, plays the “handler.” They give decent performances, although not good enough for the story to truly captivate you since there is little to begin with.

Synapse opening beach sequence


Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

After being strapped into the machine, you enter Conrad’s mind, a strange black-and-white land inhabited by distorted fragments of his psyche. Of course, what this really means is a bunch of gun-wielding weirdos waiting to be dominated by you…but not at first. Each level requires you to clear it of all enemies before being able to proceed. You use one hand to shoot and the other for psychokinetic powers. When you defeat enemies, you collect “Defiance,” which can be spent on your roguelite run for health, ammo, and more (although these things are replenished at the start of each level). The most important thing to collect is “Revelations,” which are in-game achievements that reward you with experience points to upgrade your stats and abilities after you finish a run. It’s a familiar but gratifying roguelite structure that ensures you’ll be stronger every couple of times you die.

So, the progression is good, but how about the gameplay itself? While there are only a few weapon types, like your standard pistol, shotgun, and SMG, the guns still feel punchy and satisfying. What’s more of a standout are the powers at your disposal. You use your less dominant hand to grab things with your mind, and this game uses eye tracking so you can select what you want to hold. This feature truly feels next-gen and makes me wish for every game to use this type of lock-on system. You can pick up these things called “Mental blocks” scattered throughout zones. They can be used as cover or as something to drop on enemies. Soon enough, you will be like Magneto, tossing grenades, barrels, and people around. What’s more, you can crush things in your hand if you press harder down on the trigger, which feels incredible. Your less dominant hand will also be used to grab surfaces to climb or for cover. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is one of the best cover systems in recent memory. You can hold onto anything and use it as protection wherever you are hanging off a ledge or just peeking over a barricade on the ground. It’s a playground of chaos.

Synapse shooting

Eyes Without A Face

As you progress through the levels, you will reach deeper into Conrad’s mind, which reveals new enemy types and environments. The game has three sections: the Preconscious, Conscious, and Subconscious. Something cool will be at the end of an area, like a sub-boss at the end of Preconscious, who is quite the intimidating behemoth. I wish the game had more stuff like this boss room because there is little variety in enemy types.

You’ve got the standard enemies that throw grenades and try to flank you. There are also “Furies,” kamikaze enemies that rush towards you and explode. What’s annoying about Furies is that you kill them, and their bodies ragdoll at your feet, so they will probably cause you damage if they get too close to you. There are also a couple of other enemy types, but I do not want to spoil them as I would like the game’s few first surprises to make an impact since there is little surprise afterward. Your enjoyment of the game will rely on how much you enjoy fighting the same handful of enemy types. Thankfully, the fluid gunplay and superpowers make up for the somewhat repetitive behavior of the enemies.

Each level has opportunities to restore your health and give you a leg up on your run. At the end of a zone, you can select something called a “Mindhack.” Similarly to Until You Fall, these are run-specific gameplay modifiers. For instance, there is one that activates slow motion, which is mind-blowing when combined with the headset feedback you get as a bullet slowly whizzes past your head. As previously mentioned, you can also buy other upgrades, but with the Defiance you collect from killing enemies. Upgrading is done by visiting shrines found randomly in the zone. A weapon shrine gives you a choice to upgrade your guns for free, and there is also a shrine that gives you health and ammo replenishments (for a price). You can find these shrines on your radar when you get “Clairvoyance,” an upgrade I’d recommend. Moreover, the radar is quite intuitive as it is a diegetic little hologram on your non-dominant hand, and it can also be used to spot enemies. These features spice up the runs just enough to make replays more enjoyable.

Synapse levelling up

Monochrome Monotony 

The graphics and setting are polarizing, at least to me, although you may have a different reaction. I love black-and-white visuals, but the environments can be dull. It seems strange that most of Conrad’s mind-space manifests itself as the island — the same place as the opening sequence where he uses the machine. The game implies surrealism and dream psychology influence, yet the visuals differ from what you would expect. The game would be better off if it were in color, like the opening sequence. However, the splashes of color that appear when you select objects or enter a portal make for good game design because they stand out from everything else. Synapse can look stunning at times with the ray-tracing and generally sharp image (despite reprojection). I also like the enemy designs, but I wish they would have dived deeper into Conrad’s traumatizing past and reflected that more in the environments and some more horrific-looking enemies. Exploring a rogue PTSD soldier’s mind sounds incredibly fascinating. It’s a shame that this concept is background furnishing to the gameplay.

Synapse graphics

Gotta Get Yourself Connected

Synapse is a fun FPS roguelite with great gunplay and satisfying progression with each run. While it may lean too heavily on its replay value and squanders its fascinating premise with little storytelling. It’s one of the most worthwhile PSVR2 shooters yet.

You can buy Synapse on PSN here

Roguelite, FPS
Release Date:
July 4, 2022
Final Rating:

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