Making a free-to-play game is often a gamble. In an ideal F2P title, fun mechanics keep players invested and spending time in a game, which eventually leads to the purchase of cosmetic or otherwise non-essential items with real money, which keeps the game profitable and running. There’s a careful balancing act that has to be played between good mechanics, non-intrusive monetization, and a repetitive gameplay loop that leads to long hours invested into the game without a clear or easily obtainable endgame, which could dwindle the player base. The unfortunate reality is that many F2P titles don’t strike the balance well, leading to a market oversaturated with grind-heavy games and titles that focus on aggressive monetization over gameplay.
Enter SYNCED, a new free-to-play cooperative shooter that seems to lean more heavily on its mechanics than anything else. This game manages to combine a hodgepodge of different mechanics and genres to deliver a game that is, at its best, fun and, at its worst, interesting to play. While there are plenty of positives about SYNCED, this mixed bag of a game is far from without criticism, but with no entry cost, you might just have to form your own opinion of this game firsthand.
SYNCED is a PVE/PVP shooter set in an original sci-fi universe where nanomachines have reanimated the dead and taken over the world. With a team of up to three other players, you delve into the ruins of the world’s former leading tech giant to gather secrets from the lost world. You’re armed with a collection of firearms, a few special abilities, and a nanomachine of your own as you explore the graveyard of the world that was and blast anything that lives within.
While that might sound like the setup to an extraction shooter, the game is more of a Borderlands-style level clear with a boss fight at the end. You don’t actually collect much of anything in the ruins; you mostly just fight clusters of nano-zombies and then clear out one really big one at the end of the level. Though the setup of the game is a bit misleading, it’s still a fun gameplay loop, and the variety of bosses is nothing to shake a stick at.
SYNCED combines roguelike elements with its classic shooter gameplay. During each level, you can upgrade your weapons or collect perks that enhance your combat abilities by slaying nano foes and spending their dropped currency at kiosks. These perks are both a big highlight and the main source of balance issues for the game.
See, roguelike perks are fun and even more fun when they’re obviously powerful. However, they need to be balanced with scarcity to make up for the edge they give you in combat. On the average SYNCED level, I had enough currency to buy four or five perks, with shop refreshes, after one or two groups of enemies. When you get to abilities that cause explosions on enemy kills and massive damage boosts on shots, the balance of power tends to tip way in your favor. This is especially true when you add character abilities and your own bots to the mix.
In SYNCED, you have the ability to summon one of four (if I recall correctly) bots that fight on your behalf. The game likes to set this up like you’re controlling enemies that you defeat in battle, like some kind of grimdark Pokemon, but the truth is that you equip one before a level, and you can’t access it until you defeat a “Prime Nano,” which is sort of an enemy existing between minion and mini-boss. Unlocking your bot in a level allows you to summon them in combat and also offers you an additional movement ability, which is pretty fun to use on its own.
Throwing your own nanobot into the mix of combat is super fun and is one of several SYNCED mechanics that I have no problems with. The bots you can take into battle vary from a hulking menace, a swift shooter, a shielded tank, and a support totem. The game is super liberal with the cooldowns on using your bots, too, so you can throw them out pretty much as often as you want. Each character has their own name for the bots, which is a cool little touch.
Another thing SYNCED does really well is the shooting. Firing weapons feels very satisfying, with great sounds, great reactions from enemies, and very nice animations when you aim down sights. Good gunplay is super important to a game like this, and SYNCED definitely has it; tearing Nanos apart with a single sniper shot feels really good, and so did ripping apart hordes of enemies with a machine gun, each one exploding with satisfying mechanical sounds.
One area where the game could improve is reload times. You’ll be reloading a lot, and it takes a good few seconds, which feels pretty bad in combat. It definitely feels slower than anyone in that moment would actually take. Honestly, something akin to the faster reloads in games like Apex Legends would feel at home here. I guess that should just push you to upgrade your guns to the higher magazine sizes to save from reloading often.
The audio in SYNCED is mixed oddly, which is more of a nitpick than a real criticism. You can hardly hear the music, which is super quiet even at 100%. It leads to the game feeling kind of empty and lifeless, devoid of that high-octane soundtrack it clearly deserves. I hope this is something the developers fix soon because it could go a long way for the vibe of the game.
As far as microtransactions go, the game has plenty, with a day-one battle pass and lots of skin for both playable characters and your bots. These range from entire outfit changes to recolors, with the bots only having the latter available at the moment. I don’t have much of an opinion on microtransactions, but I know many players are going to be interested in how this F2P title monetizes itself.
SYNCED boasts open, nonlinear maps, but the game shines in closed confined spaces. Any level that takes place inside felt better to play, making the hordes of Nanos feel more threatening and cutting down on the time between fights when compared to being outdoors. A big problem with the game is how slow it starts out, with the opening forced tutorial being kind of a drag to get through and the first two levels being pretty boring and easy to just breeze through. By the third level, however, the game starts to pick up, and that whole section really exemplifies the strongest points of the game.
My biggest complaint about SYNCED, unfortunately, is in the presentation. Nanos are really cool, with a unique stylized look that I haven’t seen elsewhere, though it vaguely reminds me of Neon Genesis Evangelion or the enemies in Sonic Frontiers. The human characters, however, fall flat, both in presentation and writing. Besides the inclusion of the Nanos, the game’s setting and characters feel awfully safe, reminiscent of many other sci-fi or near-future games on the market, almost as if they copied a template. You could have told me this game was DLC for The Division 2, and I would have believed you.
None of the characters had particularly interesting personalities or designs, though I will say some of the premium skins were pretty cool. The sort of realistic, grounded approach in the human characters clashes pretty hard with the strange, alien nature of the Nanos. In an apocalypse where nanomachines hunt the human race, I want to see battle-hardened, near-crazed survivors making armor out of roadsigns or otherwise dressing like society no longer exists and life is a constant war. Instead, everyone looks like they’re at a fashion shoot, wearing comfortable jackets, hoodies, and perfectly intact jeans.
The world has ended; get a little creative with it! I can assure you that if I was in this setting, I would show up looking like a cross between a JRPG protagonist and Immortan Joe.
The characters, unfortunately, all felt like tropes or traditional, safe archetypes. Nobody was particularly exciting or felt like someone I hadn’t seen before. In fact, I could think of a handful of other characters that fit the bill for each character introduced in the game. This is kind of a problem in a game like this, where your attachment to the characters is what makes you want to grind them out and unlock everything. Only six are available at launch, and I didn’t feel pressed to unlock any of the three premium ones.
As I’ve mentioned, the setting is quite safe and somewhat generic, yet it isn’t horrendous or offensively bad. There is minimal writing or character interaction, which in this case is a bit of a plus, so you can just focus on killing Nanos and unlocking new weapons. The potential is there to really expand on the world, and I hope to see some characters with intense styles and unique personalities coming out not too long after the game’s launch.
The Final Word
SYNCED prioritizes gameplay above all, offering various mechanics that, while needing some balance, are undeniably fun. While characters are sparse and not the most interesting at launch, the game has plenty of room to grow and could see some real winners coming out in the future. For the low, low price of free, SYNCED is definitely a game worth checking out for yourself.
Try Hard Guides was provided with a PC review copy of this game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website! SYNCED is available on Steam and PlayStation.