Developed and Published by Flow Fire Games, SYNTHETIK: Ultimate is a challenging tactical rogue-lite release. Set in a gritty and grim future ruled by machines, you need to put all your skills and reflexes to the test if you are going to survive. It would also help if you had a strong knack to fiddle with things as there is a lot of things that need configuring.
The storyline is a tad vague and standard; The machines have taken over and you are humanity’s last chance of survival. You must defeat the onslaught of machines until you get to their leaders. I would say the levels lead up to something but it is hard to piece it all together. It seems you fight through a couple of stages with waves of enemies until you get to a boss stage. I have done this a few times and I am not sure how close I was to the end before I perished. But the game expects you to perish as you keep the level you achieve into the next run.
The game looks very crisp and sharp in the detail of the characters and the enemies, but the levels themselves are not very detailed. After clearing wave after wave of enemies the levels tend to blur into the same but with different colours. The boss stages do provide a welcome change.
The gameplay is probably the most interesting thing about the game. It really stretches the venn diagram of being between interesting, complex and frustrating. There are 8 character specialisations to choose from which is a nice variety to play around with. They each have their loadouts and perks and therein lies the first element of confusion. It’s hard to know what the perks are that can be assigned and I’m not even sure what all of them do. The loadouts should be obvious as it’s just picking the right guns for how you want to play, but as this is a top-down rogue-lite game it’s hard to decide what works best. For those of you who like to fiddle with the settings, there are also difficulty modifiers. These help shape how challenging the game is by making enemies tougher or making things a bit easier by making certain things autonomous. I didn’t notice these things until my second run through as my first playthrough was a bit of a horror show as there was a lot of things not making sense.
So when you first see the action you will realise there are some new mechanics to get used to. When you have used all the bullets in your clip there is no auto-reload. In fact, there is a step before the reload. You need to eject the clip before you can reload which is a separate button, then when you reload you get the chance to hit a sweet spot which allows you to reload faster and also boosts damage. To some that will sound like a ball ache, to others it will seem like an interesting mechanic to give it a realistic edge.
Luckily the difficulty modifiers allow you to forfeit experience multipliers to automate the clip ejection and the reloading if it bugs you too much. It doesn’t end there though as you will also have to grasp the aiming mechanic. It seems it would work a lot better with a mouse but it doesn’t feel very comfortable with a controller. The different range of guns doesn’t affect the cursor as such. You can aim as far with a handgun as you can with a sniper but the bullets for the handgun are likely to go wayward. Your aim will also be compromised if you are moving too which is a common feature. Whilst you are aiming in the distance you can also hold the left trigger to free aim allowing you to see a bit further which helps, but it’s a nuisance to hold the left trigger. Luckily there is setting to keep that always enabled which helped me greatly in the game but its not on by default.
Lastly are the perks, powerups and guns. The standard in pickups for rogue-lite games but somehow this game has overcomplicated things. You can hold up to 3 guns, you can have multiple powers and a variety of perks. This could have all been avoided with a tidy inventory menu but it seems they have tried to make it so it could all be changed on the fly. You can press Y to change weapon but for some reason it only switches between 2 weapons. You have to use the D-pad up and down to try to use the 3rd gun. The powers make use of the other buttons on the controller and some of those powers are confusing. You can also pick up upgrade kits for your guns, but these sit with the powers just to make things trickier.
Those quirks aside once you have got to grips with everything the game is actually alright. The storyline isn’t up to much and the level progression could do with a being clearer but the game is fairly challenging. Rather than it being a bullet fest which many rogue-lite games end up being, you have to be tactical and shrewd with your actions. You can pick up weapons and items from boxes found on the levels. Every enemy you fell gives you credits and experience. Credits can be used to upgrade your powers or buy better weapons. The experience is used to level up the class you chose which can be carried on into the other playthroughs.
SYNTHETIK: Ultimate is a decent rogue-lite game but it has made a lot of choices that could compromise the experience based on the player. They have tried to combat this with difficulty modifiers and game customisations, but it’s not normal to have to tweak the game this much before you can play a game without being frustrated. Once you have got past that, the game is a decent challenge and there is some variety on offer. The weak storyline, the unclear level progression and inventory organisation might, unfortunately, might put many off.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.