Back in 1982, Larry DeMar and Eugene Jarvis made a game called Robotron, a coin-op arcade game where the player zaps endless waves of machines bent on the annihilation of mankind. I bring this up because Synthetik, recently released by Flow Fire Games, feels like the spiritual successor to Robotron as a top-down action roguelike. On the surface, you’ll spend much of your time blasting, and being blasted by, many many robots. But under the simple running and gunning are layers of weapons, power-ups, difficulty adjustments, and a fine sheen of polish.
Synthetik revolves around you, an android programmed with human consciousness. You will be duking it out against legions of robots to get to the top of the Kaida Corporation and stop the activation of the Heart of Armageddon, and thus, the destruction of humanity. If you’d prefer, you face the robots hordes with a friend in co-op mode. But like so many roguelikes before it, Synthetik gives you one life and you’ll more than likely lose it with the amount of enemies and ordinance thrown your way.
And yet, I would say Synthetik is also one of the more accessible and player friendly roguelikes out there. Because while the overall challenge is rather high, Synthetik allows players to pick and choose a series of curses—modifiers to make the next playthrough more or less difficult. For example, you can forgo Synthetik’s active reload system (ejecting spent magazines and reloading), and turn down the base difficulty. Or you can make your robot opponents stronger, faster, hit harder, and put penalties on your own firearms and movement. More curses translate to rarer weapons but with potent power-ups to compensate, along with more experience for permanent upgrades to your android’s class type. It’s a very welcome addition to a genre where the word challenging is often confused for punishing.
Combat is a combination of shooting and movement, and weapons in Synthetik come in a variety of pistols, shotguns, machine guns, rocket, and grenade launchers to start. Aiming is a big part of combat, as the circle around your target reticle expands when you move, or fire wildly, reducing your accuracy. Standing still for those precious few seconds and letting off a few measured bursts of fire means more accurate shots and the possibility of a critical hit.
Synthetik prizes actual tactics over rampant chaos; more stop and think and less spray and pray. Not saying that you won’t be dashing between cover while teams of bots try to flank you on one side while mortar blasting you on the other, but often success in a skirmish can be won with a measured hand, knowing the right weapons to use, and maybe a little bit of patience to coax a few bots into firing range.
Power-ups also enter the fray, with random charged lightning blasts on enemies, deployed sentry guns, and missiles launching with your next shot. And these are just a few of the starting power-ups; climbing to new levels bring new power-ups that can completely change your strategy of play. In one instance, a cautious and careful playthough changed into a more aggressive strategy from a power-up that gains health with fresh enemy kills, but slowly drains health during downtime.
One last aspect of Synthetik worth a mention is the sound quality. Namely, how everything from ejecting a magazine, to reloading, fixing a gun jam, to shooting your library of armaments sounds punchy and powerful during gameplay. Sound quality like the kind found in Synthetik can turn a good game into a great experience, by pulling the player deep into its cacophony of satisfying sound effects. Reloading sounds crisp, shots crack and boom at the right volume, and a protracted firefight lends a fast tempo to compliment Synthetik’s already suitable techno soundtrack.
Synthetik is a rare kind of game and an even rarer kind of roguelike. The title prides itself on challenging gameplay, but lets the player adjust just how challenging. The slightly slower tactics, mixed with strong sound effects, make every engagement exciting and enjoyable. Weapon variety and scattered power-ups will also make sure I’ll be coming back to this title for quite some time.
A copy of this game was provided to us for review purposes.