Last week, I discovered a game that I feel morally obligated to talk about: one of those little gems buried in the depths of Steam. This is Synthetik, a roguelike shooter from a top-down perspective that became popular in English-speaking countries when content creator SsethTzeentach dedicated a video to it, coining the (quite apt) nickname “ultraviolence Edition”. The first installment, surnamed Legion Rising, went on sale in 2018 and currently accumulates a 95% positive reviews; although you also have an expansion standalone called Synthetik: Arena (free-to-play) and even a sequel that was released last November in early access format.
I must admit that at first glance, it has nothing special. You play a soldier out to destroy all the rogue robots that have turned the corporation that made them upside down, and as you make your way through the burning aluminum, you get new weapons with random attributes. If the RNG god grants you his blessing, you survive long enough to face increasingly tough threats. Where the Flow Fire Games game really makes a difference is in two different aspects, but related to each other: the handling of weapons on the one hand, and the power fantasy for another. Combining both, Synthetik has made me feel a bit like Judge Dredd; as far as brutality is concerned, at least.
We are used to all shooters obeying the same pattern, right? If you’re playing, say, Battlefield, your gun might have a 31-round magazine and another 300 in supply; 331 in all. You shoot 16, press the R key and now you have 320 bullets left, distributed at a rate of 31 in the magazine and 289 in the backpack. Synthetik prefers a more realistic approach—I love when games do that, like Ready or Not or Escape From Tarkov—where that reloading mechanic is resolved by pressing one key to eject your current magazine, losing all remaining bullets in the process, and another to put in a new magazine.
Curious to say the least, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg: it also has the Gears of War reload QTE, a nozzle overheating mechanic, another for jammed bullets, and even the accuracy drops a lot as you move. “Well, what a bore” you’ll say. I don’t blame you, I would think the same if I was presented with a shooter listing the impediments that it puts you to shoot. But it is that in Synthetik all that works wonderfully because the weapons are absolutely brutal, and in a very literal way, each shot hits like a bomb. The game does a very interesting thing, which is not to settle for transmitting that in numbers, but in sensations. You feel like maxing out DPS is worth it.
When shooting, the screen shakes violently as you hear a thunderous “k-chankIf you hit the metal of one of the enemy bots, you see the damage resolution on the screen marked in bold, considerably larger if it was a critical hit. The graphics are nothing to write home about, but cool enough to to make your opponents short or explode while you focus on putting more bullets in. In fact, it’s so gross that all those nuances we were talking about (positioning, recharging, temperature) end up being a kind of countermeasure to prevent you from destroying everything in your path. A bit like a chained beast. Of course, that goes both ways.
They even give you your identity card, as we would say here. Even if shooting and reloading were a simpler task than it really is, you couldn’t move around happily because the opponents respond with a firepower just as lethal as yours; not to mention the fact that as a good roguelike, the difficulty grows as your character becomes more powerful. Advance a few levels while climbing the red alert level on the android side it’s quite an achievement, and it’s also just the kind of game that makes things very clear to you when you lose. He tramples on you, but you know it’s your fault, so you go back to the attack.
The music and sound effects resonate to that moniker of ultraviolence
Synthetik is quite an experience that I recommend to anyone who is curious. I love that good handling of weapons, and I also welcome the progression: opening a stash with the certainty that anything that comes out of it is going to pack a punch — take note, lootersplease—it’s little short of a blessing. It seems incredible that such a small game that has happened unnoticed by the public mainstream for so long for four years you still have activity on your global text chat every few seconds, but it is nothing less than reality. That said, if you want to start playing, you might be wondering what the best option is.
Personally, I’d say Synthetik: Arena. It is not as highly valued as its peers, but it is an free-to-play loaded with content and with all the good things about the action that made the first one great. It does not have microtransactions, but just a couple of optional DLCs for just five euros each and of which only the premium pack is “necessary” to stay and play it for a long time. Then you have Synthetik 2, which as I said above, is in early access. That one has a visible budget injection that takes its technical section to a higher plane compared to the original, but it is still not as satisfactory in terms of weapons and classes.