Synapse is a fine roguelite shooter that makes you feel like a gun-wielding Jedi, though it could benefit from greater variety. Developed by nDreams exclusively for PSVR 2, read on for our full review:
First-person shooters in VR are a challenging field to stand out in when they remain so prolific, but Synapse makes an impression immediately. Sticking mainly to black-and-white visuals with a neon aesthetic, you are tasked with breaking into the mind of Colonel Peter Conrad (David Hayter), a former black ops leader now threatening armageddon. As a nameless soldier sent to these psychedelic frontlines, you’re assisted by Handler Clara Sorensen (Jennifer Hale).
Platforms: PSVR 2
Release Date: 07/04/2023
After a brief introduction sequence, a short tutorial kicks off every new save, and Synapse feels easy to control. Moving with artificial locomotion, both hands can grip environmental objects to either climb or use them as cover. Your dominant hand is swappable but, by default, use your right controller for shooting and when the clip empties, push it back with the left hand to reload.
Dropped ammo is obtained by walking over it and pressing X lets you swap guns. There’s no option for manual reloading, but this minimal fuss setup benefits Synapse’s faster-paced action. Face your left palm upwards for a small minimap which highlights nearby enemies and your health.
Synapse features creative use of eye tracking for telekinetic (TK) abilities that are easily the game’s highlight. Choose objects by looking at them, grabbing with the left trigger to then be thrown using motion controls. Holding explosive items requires a light press but a harder squeeze detonates them, so be careful, and the Sense controllers provide nice resistance.
It’s a highly intuitive system and TK powers soon became second nature. I previously believed throwing objects sometimes felt limp but, back then, I was unaware of the ‘Open Mind’ upgrade. This lets you move objects closer or further away through face buttons and add significant force to your throws, rectifying that concern.
Once you’re ready to start, Synapse tasks you with gradually going deeper into Conrad’s mind. Split across nine levels between his preconscious, conscious and subconscious, he’s not giving you a free pass. “I can feel you… crawling around like a worm,” he tells us with such venom, as he starts conjuring up enemies known as the Fallen.
That doesn’t mean you’re completely unsupported, though. Most levels are hiding health fountains, altars for upgrading weapons and enhancing your TK, or cradles of ‘Defiance’ that act as your currency. Defiance doesn’t carry over into new runs and buys temporary upgrades or health/ammo replenishment, so there’s no point hoarding it. After defeating every Fallen, Synapse ranks your clear time and a gateway to the next level appears but not before offering an upgrade, like increased explosion damage or restoring health with Defiance.
All useful assists but even then, don’t expect to clear Synapse in your first run; this is a game focused on replayability. You won’t reach the true ending until completing three runs, and only if you increase the difficulty each time. Still, you can unlock permanent upgrades thanks to ‘Revelations’ and these award points for hitting set goals, like killing 30 Fallen or beating two levels.
Points can then be spent in one of three skill trees. ‘Tactician’ focuses on TK, offering abilities like grabbing enemies or crushing grenades. ‘Assassin’ is all about gunplay and it’s here where you unlock larger ammo reserves, higher caliber weapons like a grenade launcher and SMG, or a more powerful starting pistol. Finally, ‘Survivor’ looks to vitality for increasing your maximum health, get more healing from health fountains and even rising from the dead once or twice.
It’s a great way to customize your playthrough and Synapse opens up considerably with these new abilities. My personal favorite remains the “force grab” ability for throwing enemies with TK. Combined with Open Mind, I could pull enemies out of cover, draw them toward me and execute them with ease. Or throw them into the sea and lava, the latter being an instant kill. Judge me all you like but combat feels undeniably satisfying.
Runs usually require between 40-80 mins, which isn’t quick but if you need to stop, autosave means you can quit midway and finish that playthrough later. That said, I’d argue Synapse is better experienced across shorter sessions. As fun as it is, longer stints highlight the lacking variety for both levels and enemies and that can start feeling repetitive.
Each level uses the same stage in the same order every time. What changes is your starting location, available pathways, enemy spawn points and where the gate appears, and these never feel like major differences. Stages became familiar quickly, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I also found myself wanting more variety between Synapse’s enemies.
Synapse only uses stick-based continuous artificial locomotion for movement, which can be based around your headset, controller or body. If you get stuck anywhere and can’t get out, the pause menu includes a ‘teleport to safety’ option. You can swap your dominant hand, apply a motion vignette and turn off haptic feedback for the headset and controllers. Telekinesis targeting uses optional eye tracking or hand-based movement.
Sprinting can be set to holding the left analog stick or a toggle by pressing it again, while the camera supports smooth turning or snap turning with adjustable degrees. nDreams confirms Synapse runs at 60fps with 120Hz reprojection, though the art style means this was barely noticeable. However, this may be apparent or uncomfortable for some. For more details on reprojection, check out our PSVR 2 tech analysis.
The Fallen come in four types, starting with standard ground troopers before introducing a more explosive variant intent on charging you. Massive armored behemoths and flying units eventually join them, but I was hoping for more by the game’s end. I found myself anticipating a boss fight that never came and Synapse’s idea of a final challenge is to throw larger enemies waves at you, which is certainly challenging but not especially inspired.
These issues didn’t stop me from having a great time with Synapse and after reaching the true ending in 8 hours, I found myself wanting more. I wouldn’t call this a particularly story-driven game but strong performances from both David Hayter and Jennifer Hale kept me invested, while the stylish presentation gives Synapse a distinct identity.
Synapse Review – Final Verdict
Synapse is a strong addition to PlayStation VR2’s library that any FPS fan should buy. While gameplay would benefit from greater variety, I remain impressed by how eye tracking complements combat to make telekinesis feel highly satisfying. Reaching the end feels rewarding and when the visuals look this good, early PSVR 2 adopters won’t want to miss it.
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