Set in the neon-drenched depths of the Undercity, the Synapse takes a poignant look at a dystopian world in which mega-corporations have replaced traditional governments. This turn-based RPG is still in the alpha demo phase, but is already laden with thoughtful political commentary and fantastic cyberpunk elements.
Synapse follows the lives of a group of Undercity residents who scavenge the junk heaps for spare parts in their subterranean world. The Undercity is entrapped beneath a megacity called the Verge, which is presumably run by the omnipotent mega-corporations.
In anticipation for the upcoming title, Transhumanoid Productions released an alpha demo to give players a taste of the story and gameplay. It also includes one fight to give the feel for the battle mechanics. After playing through the demo twice, I can say that so far, Synapse is a polished game with stunning visuals and smooth gameplay. In the snippet the studio gives you, the player scratches the surface of a wonderfully profound world that explores complex social, political, and economic issues.
At a first glance, the textures and lighting are gorgeous. Synapse does a great job of capturing the type of imagery that distinguishes the cyberpunk genre: incredible architecture and technology weathered by time and neglect. As I navigated through the streets of the Undercity, I could practically feel the dampness of the air as I stepped through puddles to complete my objectives.
According to Transhumanoid Productions, the game takes place in a “post-libertarian future where governments have been deemed irrelevant.” After interacting with characters you meet throughout the demo, it becomes evident that being born into the Undercity is a life sentence. In a world where the economically privileged have been able to control a vastly disproportionate share of power, those who lack influence have been relegated to the depths of society.
Throughout the demo, you play as Kai, the unassuming protagonist of the story. In the half hour or so it took me to complete the demo, I was able to glean enough of the information about this character and his world to become invested in the story. Kai and the other Undercity residents are the results of a system where huge corporations have been allowed to run rampant without governance. While the city itself is oppressive and claustrophobic, the characters were amicable didn’t come off as victims. The character development and voice acting were compelling, and through my interactions in the demo, I became emotionally invested in the story.
The gameplay is great so far––I didn’t run into any glitches or snags while playing through the demo. What really won me over is that the details of this game were so on point. I fell in love with the little things like the lens flare that hits the screen while moving outside and the lighting effects of the train that passes through the city. I loved that all the writing, from the script to the verbiage on the neon signs were very well done. I really enjoyed wandering around the playable area of the demo and observing how everything came together. I felt that the look and feel of the game were very immersive and refined.
The fight scene is at the very end of the demo. You and two allies engage in your first fight against two thugs you encountered earlier on in the demo. During your turn, each of your playable characters is able to attack or move to a more strategic location to approach an enemy or hide from their attacks. In just one battle, I wasn’t able to get a feel for what it was like to level up or improve my players’ skills. Still, I was able to get a sense of what it looked and felt like to engage in a fight in the game.
I liked that it wasn’t the type of turn-based system where both parties line up against each other and trade a series of attacks. I felt that the ability to move behind objects like crates had the potential to shield your players from taking the full damage of enemy attacks added a level of sophistication to battle that distinguished itself from a lot of similar games I have played in the past.
This style of combat requires more strategy than button mashing ability, which I appreciated. What you don’t get in fluid, real-time fight scenes, you get back in fantastic animations and great sound effects. The battle mechanics were very visually appealing and fit well into the overall feel of the game––simple and intuitive, but still managing to force you to think critically.
I was very impressed with this demo. I’m very much looking forward to seeing this world expand and to see a variety of NPCs with the same level of detail as the ones in the demo so far. If the finished product adheres to the themes and standards presented thus far, it will definitely be a game worth playing. I definitely recommend that any fans of the cyberpunk genre who enjoy a strategic, turn-based RPG follow Synapse through its development.