Sometimes the greatest video games come out of nowhere. Just take a glance at Final Fantasy pioneering the modern JRPG whilst saving a company on the verge of bankruptcy, Resident Evil becoming the first successful survival horror game or even Pong as the catalyst igniting a whole industry. In 2019 however, these events have become rarities with only games like PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds coming to mind in recent years. We have jumped across cliffs in Tomb Raider and Uncharted as well as hid ourselves behind curiously placed rocks in Gears of War and almost every other third-person shooter ever since. They are great experiences that have started to blend together in an amalgamation of similar affairs. Yet, some games still manage to surprise everyone by creating unique genre hybrids.
Enter Synced: Off Planet, a battle royale/zombie apocalypse/squad-based third-person shooter from the team at Tencent. We got to try a slice of the game behind closed doors at this year's Gamescom and left the developers very impressed.
In Synced you are placed in a squad of three players having to navigate a huge map full of 37 other players and 1500 rabid Zombies roaming around. In classic battle royale fashion, the goal of Synced is all about survival and getting your team out on top. In not so classic battle royale fashion, zombies are an essential part of the teamwork. At first glance the uninitiated will look at the game in motion and think "co-op Days Gone" but the reality is much more complex. Synced introduces the ability to take over hordes of zombies as your own personal allies. This is done by killing a select unit and accordingly "syncing" with the other undead due to an expansive hivemind. Think the season 7 and 8 relationships between a white walker and wights in Game of Thrones, just not as badly written.
Once in control of a horde, the player can give them specific orders by using the directional buttons, becoming a zombie warlord. One can't control the same horde indefinitely and after a timer runs out, they all perish. The timer permits each squad from becoming too powerful and forces you to constantly be on the move.
The build we got to try at Gamescom, started in an abandoned factory and soon took us outside to a blocked underground roadway, as in blocked by the undead. We could have either tried to sneak our way past or use the controlling powers. We went for the latter option and managed to create an all out-zombie war on the road all the while our squad was having fire rain down with machine guns and grenades. With no drops in framerate and tight shooting mechanics, the encounter was a lot of fun. The guns have a surprising weight to them and feel like actual weapons of murder and not pee shooters like in so many other third-person shooters. The cover mechanic, nonetheless, left a lot to be desired and we too often had issues with attaching ourselves to a given area. In a game based on constant movement, it didn't bother us a lot, though it would still have been more enjoyable with it not being as clunky.
As we got outside, it was to an abandoned and lush environment - like we have come to know from so many other games with a similar setting. Outside was, likewise, where we met our first enemy players, which resulted in a chaotic shootout with hundreds of zombies, hostile and friendly, and us running for cover trying to survive the encounter. So many things were happening, that it was remarkable how the game managed to perform so admirably. It was during this segment, other enemies than the classic zombies we had come to know started to appear. To our surprise, these zombies were able to be manipulated as well.
Due to the game being based so much on co-op survival we had to ask whether the developers had been considering implementing a betrayal mechanic like the one found in games like The Division. They could not give any specific details other how they were still experimenting with various modes and it was on their list of things that would be interesting to implement.
All in all, Synced: Off Planet looks to be an interesting title to follow until it finally releases. The cover system may be flawed, and the graphics have some rather grainy textures, but the core gameplay loop and interesting concept make Tencent's next title an absolute blast to play.
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