PAX East: Desync Wants You to See the ‘Failure Within Yourself’

I will never get tired of chromatic aberration.

If you’re not familiar with the effect, it’s that color separation effect you see in games like Alien: IsolationCrysis 3Singularity and Dying Light. Games usually use it to signify that you got hurt, so your vision blurs and you get some heavy RGB color separation. It’s an effect that I fully recognize is totally overused in games today, but honestly, I like it too much to care.

That’s one of the many reasons Desync won me over at PAX East.

Desync is a classic first-person shooter in the vein of Serious Sam or DOOM with an ’80s TRON aesthetic. It looks like a broken arcade machine, with the flat, neon colors bleeding into each other, scanlines and other blurry effects. Desync is ripped from the era when your character ran at 60 miles per hour, enemies were fast and ferocious, and you needed to jack up your mouse sensitivity as high as it could go to deal with the onslaught. But Desync isn’t just rehashing old vibes with an older look; Desync pulls some interesting lessons from newer games like Bulletstorm and yes, maybe even a little Dark Souls.

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“The name of the game here is going to be attack sequences,” publisher Adult Swim’s representative Megan Fausti told me. “Attack sequences” in Desync refer to special moves you can discover in the game, and that’s where you can really feel the Bulletstorm influence. These sequences could be something like popping an enemy into the air with an explosive, then shooting it while it’s in the air. You’re going to want to play creatively to discover these attack sequences, and you’ll be rewarded for doing so. “Each time you successfully execute an attack sequence, your stats increase incrementally.”

You can also “overkill” enemies by dumping way too much damage into them at once, which the game encouraged me to do by dashing forward and shotgunning an enemy at point-blank range before it could react. When you overkill an enemy, there’s a neat effect where it splits into pieces, and you can often get health back by doing so. The game is always keeping tally of kills, overkills and attack sequences through “streaks” that will net you more points.

The game has a really old-school feel to the movement and weapons, so even though they look pretty funky, your arsenal is going to consistent of the usual fare for a classic shooter, like a powerful shotgun, a satisfying crossbow and a rocket launcher with the perfect amount of splash damage (read: too much). You can always tell which games are nailing the feel of a classic FPS by which ones let you rocket jump, and by that standard, Desync is a success.

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Probably the most interesting thing about Desync to me during my short time with it was how the enemies felt ripped out of Dark Souls 3. They’re techno-knights with swords and shields or massive hammers. Like a Dark Souls game, the strategy became to dodge around to the side to avoid their shield and attack them in the back. With most classic shooters, you’d simply circle strafe to execute that strategy, and while that’s certainly possible here, Desync has a specific dodge mechanic that lets you narrowly avoid enemy attacks by lunging out of the way. It’s entirely possible that I’ve just been playing too much Dark Souls 3 lately and it’s bled into my general consciousness, but the enemies in Desync felt like they required the same level of alertness, precision and patience that enemies in Dark Souls do, and I often dispatched them in the same way, too.

Similarly, Desync is going after the hardcore crowd of players that gravitate toward games that are extremely challenging, but fair: “the beautiful thing about Desync is, with some other games that are super difficult, you find yourself being like, ‘Oh, the game isn’t being fair; this makes me so angry,’ but with this, you always feel like it’s a failure within yourself. You’re like, ‘I’m not good enough and I need to get better,'” Fausti said.

Players who like classic shooters are going to want to keep Desync on their radar. It was fast, fun, frenetic and really tough in all the right ways. There’s no other way to say it: Desync looked rad. Look for it to come out this year on PC.