Synapse Review: Roguelite Mind Blocks Prevent Greatness | Digital Trends

A player lifts an enemy with telekinesis in Synapse

“Synapse is a flashy PlayStation VR2-exclusive roguelite that gets too repetitive for its own good.”


  • Stunning graphics

  • Telekinetic powers

  • Intriguing story


  • Lack of variety in content

  • Linear roguelite structure

I’ve never reviewed a game in VR before, so Synapse it was quite a shocking experience. I had to critically evaluate it while totally immersed in a virtual space, not just while playing and watching it on a flat screen. It was unfamiliar but exciting revision territory that made me adjust my critical skills in a different environment as I grappled with the unknown. And in a way, that really brought me closer Synapseprotagonist of, who dives into the mind of a rogue agent and must fight his way out.

Synapse – Showcase Trailer | PS VR2 games

It’s all tied into a political espionage sci-fi thriller inspired by the likes of Start and Metal Gear (developer nDreams even got Solid Snake actor David Hayter to voice one of the characters) and structured like a roguelite. Synapse it makes a great first impression as a visually stunning and entertaining VR first-person shooter, the kind of exclusive that PlayStation VR2 desperately needs more to move forward. In the mind of a rogue agent, I battled a bunch of mind contract enemies with a variety of weapons and hilarious powers through strictly designed black and white levels, getting a little more powerful after each level with mind hacking skills and some ‘ more powerful after every run with Insight updates.

The more I played, though, the more cracks and flaws showed up Synapse the roguelite design has started to show, as it can never stray far enough from its main hooks. Reviewing a game in VR for the first time, I had to recontextualize the skills I learned while playing console games; unfortunately, nDreams wasn’t quite able to do the same when mapping its strong VR shooter design philosophies to a roguelite.

Don’t mind me

Synapse he put me in the body of a secret agent who works for an organization called Bureau V and left me on a remote island to eliminate Colonel Peter Conrad. Conrad is a former FBI agent who defected and is presumably planning a terrorist attack, and the only way for me to find out where the attack is taking place is to dig into Conrad’s mind, which is where most of the Synapse takes place. At first, the game tells players very little about the outside world, but the stakes and tension were still very palpable as I existed in this universe in VR.

Things quickly became otherworldly once I dove into Conrad’s mind. Color was drained from the world and everything went black and white, making it clear that I was exploring the dark recesses of Conrad’s mind and that I wasn’t wanted there. This aesthetic gives Synapse a gorgeous, instantly recognizable visual identity and AAA feel that I wish I’d already seen more of from PlayStation VR2. It’s not entirely devoid of color, however, as some bright blues, pinks, and purples are tied to the main game power of Synapse: telekinesis.

A player throws a box with telekinesis

Synapse it gives me loads of weapons to play with in VR, from pistols to shotguns to a grenade launcher. These kill Mental Construct enemies well, as aiming feels precise. What makes Synapse stand out, however, are his telekinesis powers which allow players to collect items – and eventually enemies – scattered throughout each of the nine levels.

I can move mind block cubes to cover myself or hit enemies, move around and blow up exploding barrels, and eventually pick up certain enemies and throw them around at will. There was a childish amusement when I’d pick up an enemy and repeatedly slam them to the ground or throw them through the air, a sensation only enhanced by being in VR. (I highly recommend getting the upgrades that allow you to pick up enemies and grenades ASAP.)

The actual action of the game made me constantly think about Star Wars…

While this is trying to mimic more of Nolan and Kojima’s spy thrillers, the actual action of the game had me constantly thinking about Star Wars as I used what was essentially the Force to throw enemies around or fire the my gun from the hip like Han Solo. As a relative newcomer to VR, moments like these are close to my heart and, at first, Synapse I had loads of them as I got used to weapons and telekinesis, expanded from skills with the Insight upgrade, and discovered new Mind Hack skills while running.

This is the gameplay hook, visual aesthetic loop, and narrative that nDreams built the entire roguelite experience around. They all make solid first impressions and are definitely on the more refined and fun end of the VR spectrum. Unfortunately for the game’s roguelite structure, there isn’t much else going on Synapse of that.

The definition of insanity

I love a good roguelike or roguelite; some of my favorites from the last few years include Hades, kill the SpireAND Abyss. As someone who struggles to play VR for extended periods, roguelites, where racing takes an hour or less, seem like an excellent fit for the gaming medium. Synapse it’s a game that draws from those great PC and console roguelites to create a similar kind of experience in VR, but does so with mixed results.

Synapse it ends up feeling too linear and repetitive for a roguelite.

I see where Synapse pull from Hades in particular, particularly in the way it gradually spreads the story and allows players to choose exclusive skills that should make each run different from the last. Sadly, it doesn’t fare as well as its peers. Hades the story reacted to the player’s actions, dynamically tying into choices and powers gained during a run. Synapse it just cuts bits of lore that David Hayter or Jennifer Hale read to you every time you finish a level. Mind hacks and newly purchased upgrades can change the feel of a Synapse run, but the game often provided me with the same mind hacks run after run, reducing its replay value.

Synapse it ends up feeling too linear and repetitive for a roguelite. There are nine levels distributed among the preconscious, conscious and subconscious, but they almost always all appear in the same order and have the same goals. Each level’s map might be different, and there might be a boss fight in the middle of the fourth level, but the goal is always to kill 30 to 80 enemies before you can progress. The only real fails came from the different combinations of enemies I was served and the mind hacks I equipped every time I entered a level.

A player prepares to start a run in Synapse

Synapse it just wants me to do the same thing nine times in a row for a narrative payoff at the end, which isn’t the most encouraging or exciting kind of loop. Even worse, its fantastic aesthetic eventually comes back to hurt due to this linear repetition, as it gives everything a visual uniformity that causes these layers to merge further.

What makes a good roguelite?

Games like Hades AND Kill the Spire they are a joy to reproduce not only for the structure; they’re great because they find clever ways to keep things fresh. Not all encounters in those games are a fight; they’ll mix things up with a shop, random event, or something unexpected. In turn, this gives more power to me, the player, in determining what happens next in my run. Synapse it removes a lot of agency but doesn’t offer the mission variety to make up for it.

The main cycle of Synapse satisfies enough to recommend it to VR owners…

Occasionally placed pieces show the potential of telekinesis abilities, such as one level where I had to push the platform I was on forward while enemies attacked from both sides, and another where I had to pull the platforms towards me to create a path to progress. Telekinetic creativity stopped there; I would have liked to see the occasional puzzle, platforming, or narrative-focused room to shake things up during a run.

nDreams found a formula that worked Synapse and he hasn’t strayed too far from it. It’s like how I’ve been comfortable just playing console and PC games for years and felt reserved about getting a VR headset and reviewing games for a long time. Synapse’s simplicity would be fine in a more linear or shorter adventure, but it becomes a problem when the game is eight to 12 hours long and players are expected to do the same thing over and over again.

The player fires a gun in Synapse

Maybe I’m expecting a little too much from VR when compared to some of the best contemporary console roguelites. Even then, I see all the systems and ideas already inside Synapse which the game could do better with. I finally jumped in to pick up a PlayStation VR2 and explore the variety of VR experiences it offers; nDreams didn’t make that leap with Synapse to find the full potential of its addictive game systems.

PlayStation VR2 is desperate for compelling exclusives and the main loop of Synapse satisfies enough to recommend it to VR owners looking for something new to play on their $550 headset. That said, I’d recommend switching from Synapse once you’ve had your fill of its telekinetic gameplay, though that leaves the narrative hooks incomplete and the biggest twists undiscovered. This isn’t a roguelite diverse enough to be worth pursuing all the way through.

Synapse was reviewed on PlayStation VR2.

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