If you’re interested in big-budget score-based shootering, Epic re-released Bulletstorm this year. Remember Bulletstorm, which was like The Club, but with marketing? The re-release even has a new set of challenges to flex the gameplay a little. Knock yourself out. But if you’d rather emphasize “score-based” over “big budget” and “marketing”, Desync is your better bet.
This combo-based first person shooter sports a sexy Tron cyberspace aesthetic and a notable lack of references to dick-tits and sucking cocks and holy piss shit. It’s a challenging game, to put it mildly. It takes a while to get into the unlockables that let you flex the gameplay. It takes even longer to master the combos that are the key to progressing. You will not be cruising through Desync the way you cruise through other shooters. You will attempt higher scores, and experiment with different loadouts, and even grind. You will restart from the same checkpoint over and over. And over. And over. There’s a lot of meat here. Some might even say gristle. Like a Tony Hawk game, the content is partly the skill curve.
It bounced pretty hard off me because I didn’t really want to play the same arena over and over again trying to get better at setting up combos. But I keep going back because it reminds me of what I liked about The Club: being scored for how well I can master the specific micro-challenge of any given set-up. Two guys over there, one up here, three more down the hall. How do I get the most points from shooting these six guys? The Club was to Doom what Olympic gymnastics is to kids tussling on the lawn. Similarly, Desync holds up cards when you clear a level. 8. 8. 9. 8. 6. What? 6? No way. I’mma try that level again. Unfortunately, the scoring system is a bit opaque, which is an odd design choice considering everything else is so above board. The developer thinks it’s fun to let people figure that out themselves (he actually said that on the Steam forums).
You have to learn some pretty complex mechanics for linking special kills to specific moves. If you don’t roll that around in your brain until you figure it out, you’re going to get stuck on some awfully hard fights. You set this up yourself using any of the combo kills you’ve unlocked. Which ones have you unlocked? Oh, you’ll be plenty clear on that. Time slows to a languidly admiring slo-mo when you score a new combo. The name and score flashes onscreen. Bullet time achievement drama! Now it’s added to the list available at the terminal before you start a level. Now you can connect it to specific types of super enemies. The moves are exactly what you’d expect, and you’ll discover them just by playing. Kill an enemy from behind. Kill an enemy from below. Dodge an attack. Get a headshot. Playing Desync means building up this list. Assign certain moves to certain mini-bosses. Now you want to attack the red strength-boosted guys from behind because that’s a connection you set up. The yellow speed boosted guys take headshots.
It’s a cool system that encourages you to learn and repeat certain types of attacks, but all references to it vanish once you start a level. It’s like playing a fighting game without being able to call up a pause screen to check whether it’s down-up-left or up-down-left. Am I supposed to take notes before playing? I guess so. If you didn’t pay close attention to the terminal where you set it all up before a mission, too bad. Four colors of enemies, multiple moves each, now remember that during the frantic shootering.
The weapons and off-hand abilities are easier to master, with lots of flexibility for upgrades and set-up. Limited ammo forces you to vary which weapons you use, which is fine by me considering each weapon has two modes, and so far none of them feel redundant. And the Tron visuals really are sexy. This could just be a glib shooter and I’d still play it. The levels have cruel traps like bladed pendulums and thrusting spikes, which I’m more likely to back into than set up for a kill. Running backwards and shooting, which is mostly how you play Desync as you’re learning to be more proactive, can be dangerous.
The fundamental fact about Desync is a paradox. Its difficulty level is an obstacle and a draw. When I’m playing Desync, it takes me about thirty minutes to decide “this is too hard, fuck it”. And when I’m not playing Desync, it takes me about a week to decide “hmm, I should give Desync another try”. I would just slide through the usual shooter and forget it a week later. For instance, what was the name of that one Epic published, the one with all the swearing about dick-tits and sucking cocks and holy piss shit? What was that game called? For better and worse, that’s not going to happen with Desync.