Desync looks beautiful. It’s a super-hard, twitch-oriented FPS inspired by classic arena shooters of yore, but it’s the chrome-hued 1980s sci-fi inspired art style that stands out the most. Developed by Melbourne indie studio The Foregone Syndicate, Desync focuses on fast movement and precision aiming, while its instant respawn rhythm captures the compulsive spirit of Super Meat Boy or Lovely Planet.
I played part of one ‘zone’ at PAX Australia yesterday. Armed with a shotgun and pistol, it’s important to switch rapidly between the two while fending off waves of fluoroscent green gnats and silver polygonal knights. The former are like facehuggers – get too close and they stick to the screen, requiring a vigorous wriggle of the mouse to shake away. Meanwhile, knights are best taken out with the shotgun, preferably up close. Managing the scarce shotgun ammunition, administering rare health buffs and hitting the shift key to dodge enemies is a lot to parse at once, but that’s where the appeal of Desync lay: it’s relentless.
It’s tempting to draw parallels with Hotline Miami: both come coated in a psychedelic 1980s patina (though the studio says they were inspired more by Fract OSC), and both feature encounters that require dozens of attempts to master. While it doesn’t have multiplayer, Desync features leaderboards that track progress and performance on a very granular level: mobility, accuracy, the variety of your attacks and situational awareness are all (somehow) monitored and tallied, and then listed on a scorecard after each encounter.
"We track everything you do – mouse movement, different events," said lead designer Travis Avery. "If I shoot a rocket at an enemy's feet he'll launch into the air, and that's one event. Then if I kill him in the air, that's another.
"Tracking everything you do in the game threads into a style system which tells you how you played, how aggressive you were, and all that goes into a leaderboard," he continued. This means you can also track the playstyles of your friends – if they beat your score you'll be able to figure out exactly how they did it, and how that differs to your own.
Meanwhile, sidearms can be modded, and the game features a list of combos that are unlocked as they’re performed. One required me to finish off an enemy midair, while another involved shaking off a facehugger and then murdering it while it tumbled to the ground. There are also killstreaks and overkills which reward health buffs, but it’s difficult to keep track of what the hell is going on in Desync. It’s punishingly fast. It releases some time next year through Adult Swim Games.