Hideous amalgams of nanomachines roam the post-apocalyptic world of first-person shooter Synced – but you won’t be facing them alone.
The upcoming co-op FPS sees your character forming an unwilling bond with one of those creatures – known as Nanos – and turning it loose on its brethren. Along with your pet Nano and up to two other players, you’ll be chasing down bosses across five distinct environments, each with three stages, to put them down and loot their remains.
There’s a touch of Astral Chain to the combat with your paired companion Nano. When inactive, they appear as a metallic sleeve on the Runner’s arm, which peels itself away when you call it out. Ordering it around is intuitive if a little limited: a tap of the trigger, while the reticule is over an enemy, initiates its attack while aiming elsewhere in the environment orders it to execute its unique ability.
I was able to park the tanky Guardian Nano I had equipped in a doorway with its shield extended, providing a little protection against enemies flanking us. In another loop, I used the ranged Seer Nano to effectively keep track of a flying enemy as it buzzed around. It quickly becomes second nature to redeploy your Nano around the battlefield, and it’s a fun mechanic that sets Synced apart from other third-person shooters.
That’s for the best, as the gunplay itself feels basic and stripped-back. Nothing about it is offensive to the sensibilities in any way – the moment-to-moment run-and-gun of Synced feels completely fine, but aside from a dash forward executed by tapping the jump button twice, it all feels a little simplistic.
That pared-back feeling is exacerbated by a lack of weight to the impact of your bullets. For the most part, enemies hardly react to getting hit unless it’s in their glowing weak spots, and some of the larger enemies barely flinch from a shotgun blast at point-blank range. The Pyroclast boss, in particular, feels like an especially unreactive bullet sponge, and even with the explosive canisters peppered throughout the environments, some of the Tyrant bosses take a lot of damage to put down.
Synchronicity and synergy
That’s all mitigated a little by the upgrades your Runner can receive. True to the roguelike nature of the title, resources earned through combat can be spent in-level on upgrades to both weapons and Nanos. As with any well-designed roguelike, many of these synergise, and by the end of one run, I was popping enemies with afflictions that chained between nearby enemies.
There’s a chaotic, pop-punk feel to the combat once you’re fully upgraded, even if it could do with being more visceral. These mods are drawn from the same pool as the permanent upgrades a player can apply to their Runner, meaning you effectively get to try out those upgrades before buying.
Aside from the Nanos, Synced’s strongest selling point is the variety of load-outs available to the player. Between the Runner, the Nano they equip, the guns and the mods unlocked throughout each level, there’s a huge array of options. That roguelike nature ensures that no two runs are ever likely to be exactly the same – and when you factor in the other two players in your team, that variety increases exponentially.
The game is explicitly designed for three-player co-op, as was emphasised repeatedly during the hands-on, though solo and PVP modes are available. Considering that’s the core experience, it’s a shame that there aren’t more implementations of the co-op beyond reviving one another and dropping weapons and ammo for each other. Zipping around the map together is always enjoyable, however, and there’s strategy to be had in choosing complimentary upgrades as you progress through each zone’s three stages towards the boss.
That might all sound overwhelming, with the game combining so many ideas into a single whole. However, Next Studios have included a comprehensive tutorial featuring the Runner Deadcut, and the menus are also easy to parse once you’ve spent some time in them. A VR training and challenge mode and firing range within the central hub also ensure that the player can try out various permutations of their character before finding a group online.
The story’s premise will be familiar to anyone with a passing interest in science fiction: a corporate-created nanomachine plague has swept the world and forced humanity into hiding in The Meridian, a safe haven from which Runners strike out in search of resources. Those resources also act as your currency, to be invested in the characters and their weapons. The game is launching as a free-to-play experience, with the usual array of battle pass and in-game currency purchases, which add visual changes to weapons and new skins for the Nanos.
Despite that well-worn set-up, however, the team is taking pains to ensure that the world of Synced is fleshed out and rich in detail. Logs can be found throughout the levels, and each of the featured Runners has its own unique story. They’re also aware that the post-apocalyptic setting can be somewhat one-note, so are taking a “haunted house” approach in which humour and pathos are peppered throughout.
Upon release, only the first chapter of the main narrative will be included, with a second to come later in the year. The team is nailing its colours to the mast for future story developments: they confirmed to me that the first three seasons – each with a narrative element – are locked in, with up to five years’ worth of story content planned.
Hopefully, it gets there. There’s a lot of promise inherent to the companion Nano concept, and while aspects of the game do feel generic, they’re also well-executed for the most part. By focusing on the dual differentiators of the Nanos and the roguelike aspects, the team at Next Studios are carving out an interesting niche within the third-person shooter space.
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Chris is a freelance tech and gaming journalist, with bylines in a variety of titles about internet culture, gaming and tabletop. He's the founder and co-host of the Media Voices podcast, and he will be an asset to any Rocket League team you're putting together.