Nothing turns the alternator of mid-life assessment more than realising you’re no longer at the top of your game-game. Nerves withering like sun-dried kelp. Reaction time raising smirks and eyebrows in the Galapagos paddock. The abyss, it looms.
But then along comes the invigorating cordite suppository known as SYNTHETIK.
Sometimes, you just need a little help to feel the old magic.
Three-quarter view, android protagonist, shoot everything, find exit. That’s Synthetik in a nutshell. It’s a twin-stick shooter with a few neat twists, and for the asking price, you’re getting a lean concept with a decent draught of cool customisation to keep you logging in to defrost your dreary day.
Arcade sensibilities mesh with roguelite trendiness; you roam about handcrafted maps on a single life, dispatching all manner of robotic enemies as one of four combat classes. Each class has a variety of discrete loadout and action choices, but once you’re out in the techno-industrial killzones, it’s whatever you can scrounge from the field – crate, kiosk or other.
Gunplay feels outrageously good, with hefty rapports and big hits. Borrowing from Human Fridge Simulator 2006, Synthetik has an active reload system with an emphasis on ejecting mags to build a sort of syncopation into the firefights. Helldivers‘ pitch-shifting as the magazine empties also makes an appearance, so there’s already a nice pedigree of influences. The reload system might take some getting used to, but it is its own reward.
Synthetik’s other main feature is its dash mechanic. You are, after all, a combat android. Though the main character has a slightly malleable normal speed, the dash aspect whips the player around in whatever desired direction. This leads to some very stylish gunfights, where you’ll be spitting acid-soaked buckshot into a couple of angry bots, before whipping past them to unload a few rhino-stoppers into the back of the Boston Dynamics SHIELDMAN*.
*SHIELDMAN may or may not be real.
The movement initially felt somewhat paltry, particularly against Best Isometric Twin-Stick Shooter of All-Time (Geometry Wars 2 fans, don’t @ me), but what this game lacks in movement heft, it makes up for in speed and combat dynamism. Dash, boom, ker-chik.
At a glance, Synthetik may look like any number of cliched 80s VHS-punk games that have become A Thing since Hotline Miami. But I’d argue Synthetik features a slightly more subtle aesthetic; a cleanliness reserved for the likes of 3dfx box art. A little more noise, but the game touts a sharper, crisper motif that many might not expect. Synthetik is Neill Blomkamp’s Crusader: No Remorse.
Synthetik’s viewpoint, kinetic vibrancy and clean audio-visuals make for a good old time. A really good old time. So while coming to terms with providing a slow-moving meal for the kids online in Halo 2, or calmly accepting my fate as a missile magnet in Angels Fall First, Synthetik lets me feel like a computer-driven dervish of steel and kevlar. And for that, it gets the thumbs up. Double thumbs, even. Has co-op.