Guest Post: Durandal on DESYNC

Ed Note: This is our first guest post here, from Durandal, about DESYNC, originally posted to the shmup system11 forums. It was written on June 3rd of 2018, and the game has been patched a few times since, so not all the details are correct for the modern version, which has slightly easier to understand language and tutorials, but it should still give a good overview of the game. If you would like to submit a guest post, join the discord and pitch it to me. I do not earn any money from this site and I will credit you as you would prefer to be credited.

I recently tried my hand at a lesser known FPS called DESYNC: a poly-neon arena shooter about killing with skill á la Bulletstorm. It’s so obscure, only me and a handful of other people know how you’re really supposed to play this game. In fact, this post might very well be the most informative source of information about DESYNC on the whole Internet.

The story here is ???. The goal here is to reach the end and progress through the zones in order to ???. The gist here is that you should kill enemies in as many special ways as possible, called Attack Sequences. Juggle ’em mid-air with rockets. Send ’em flying into a spike trap. Dash into enemies as you kill ’em. Parry ’em and return the favor. Shoot a shuriken and blast ’em right into your shuriken. Kill ’em from above, behind, or beneath. Freeze an enemy mid-air and blast ’em. Kill ’em without even looking at ’em. That kind of thing. Which is right up my alley, as I have been clamoring for more shooters like these. Yet despite being advertised heavily around killing like a badass, most people only seem to S+M1.

Should you browse through the reviews of this game, for the most part you will find the lamenting of scrubs, and occasionally the moans of masochists. However, neither seems to understand how you’re really supposed to play the game, or at the very least made an serious attempt to do so. Which is unfair, given that there is indeed a deep scoring layer underneath DESYNC which is only given a passing mention by reviewers, even though the scoring is the meat of the game. Here’s this blog post of a guy who worked as a tester on the game grilling GGGManlives for his objectively quite bad review on DESYNC (I’ll shamelessly shill here to plug Celia Wagar’s blog here, he’s got a lot of interesting posts about game design, and was even asked to be a tester/part ideas guy for DESYNC, whose contributions to the game he listed here). On the other hand, it’s largely understandable why very little people actually get the game. It’s because the game is unnecessarily cryptic and obtuse with explaining its mechanics.

I say “unnecessarily”, because the abstract and cryptic nature of the presentation and learning curve does not serve any real purpose. Essential information being obscured can contribute towards setting a certain atmosphere, such as the dark and unforgiving pits in Demon’s Souls. I could dig things being cryptic in a game like that. But DESYNC has very little atmosphere to speak of. You fight neon robot-ish things in abstract dark poly-neon arenas with no tangible logic or purpose behind them or your rampaging through them. There is no story or backstory to tie things together, not even a simple handwave explanation of saving the world or something. After beating the game, the game just boots you to a THANK YOU FOR PLAYING screen as the credits roll. No ending or anything like that to make it worth your while. The dark synthwave soundtrack isn’t particularly evocative of any emotion outside the boss battles. To put it simply, shit’s way too abstract to even put a face on things. It’s hard to get immersed in a world like this. There’s some obvious cyberspace thematic going on, but it’s entirely style over substance, outside the gameplay anyways.

Information given is done through multiple text pop-ups, which might be overwhelming at first as you’re made aware of several mechanics at once without having the time to really figure out what does what exactly. After surviving the first level you will be transported towards the Link Network, which acts as your hub between missions. There you can pick your loadout by accessing the several terminals. The terminals are unlocked as you progress to prevent you from getting immediately overwhelmed, which is pleasant. You can look up the tutorial message on one of the terminals, though if you want to know what exactly each terminal does, you have to click the box with the shuriken icon next to the screen of each terminal to bring up the readme. Not a question mark, not even a line of text that says “HELP”, but a fucking shuriken. Who in their right mind thinks shuriken == help?

The user experience in DESYNC is just bad. There’s nothing suggesting you have to press RMB to interact with terminals. Having to manually walk over toward separate terminals to mess with different parts of your loadouts instead of having everything consolidated in a single easy-to-navigate menu is unnecessarily cumbersome. Having to step into an elevator each time to get from the loadout floor to the floor where you can select the next zone or vice versa is unnecessarily cumbersome. It’s not even obvious that the central structure is an elevator to begin with, nor would you guess by stepping inside it because it is an elevator which triggers if you stand still on its platform for a second or two. You do have a button which instantly transports you from the loadout floor to the level selection floor, but it’s only unlocked after beating the final boss, and to make matters worse the button is only available from the Link Network entrance. So if you pass the entrance towards the loadout floor, the door will close permanently behind you, leaving you no way to even reach that button again unless you manually re-enter the Link Network with the menu. Some of this shit could be excused through the narrative, such as different NPCs offering different services, but DESYNC got none of that. There’s no reason why all the terminals and menus can’t be consolidated other than “the hub looks cool”, and even then it doesn’t look that cool unless you really get off to flat untextured polygons.

It’s got the kind of depth which really begs for some detailed exposition for just even the basics, because this is a game heavily reliant on multiple mechanics which you most likely want to understand in order to not die. There’s a lot of interlinking systems in place which can make your life a lot easier if you know how they work, but the tutorial messages explaining them aren’t always clear either. You sometimes get shit like “PRESS [Q] TO PERFORM THE PRIMARY SIDEARM ABILITY. PRESS [Q] TO PERFORM THE SECONDARY SIDEARM ABILITY.” Uhuh, I totally get it now. In reality you need to tap/hold to perform one or the other, but the game is too proud of its crypticness to even clarify a simple difference in inputs.

If I get a pop-up telling me “DESYNCING ENEMIES ENACTS DESYNC TIME, CREATES SHARD FRAGMENTS, AND MULTIPLIES THE SCORE OF THE PERFORMED ATTACK SEQUENCE BY 4X“, does that mean I only get shard fragments when I enter Desync Time if I’m not in it to begin with? Do I only get a score multiplier on the Attack Sequence which triggered Desync Time, or does the multiplier apply to all ASs performed during Desync Time? It’s just not clear enough, and when you do want to get serious about scoring you don’t want to operate on vague assumptions. Fun fact, this tidbit about the 4X multiplier is not found in the tutorial tip about Desync Time in the Guidance section of the User Terminal. It’s a piece of information hidden away in the message you get when encountering a Synced enemy for the first time, right alongside all the other spam messages you get when you unlock any new gear. just what

I had to ask the developer directly on the official DESYNC Discord just to get any clarification on how Desync Time works. Apparently you do just get a 4X bonus on any sequences performed during Desync Time. Which could have been more easily made clear to the player if the score values which appear under the sequences you just executed had ‘* 4’ appended at the end of them them to get the message across your score is being multiplied. You can’t even tell whether your score is getting multiplied by looking at how the score counter increases. The score counter only updates at the end of each encounter, but remains completely static during. I have never seen that before, and I can’t fathom why you wouldn’t want your score counter to be constantly updated in a game like this.

The weapon upgrade terminal in particular is more vague than necessary. There you can upgrade damage, speed, fire rate, and… retention? Nobody is going to know what ‘retention’ is at first. From hints you can gather that weapons “degrade” and need to be “repaired”, but anyone with some experience in video games is going to assume that this implies some kind of weapon durability/degradation system is in place. It doesn’t hurt to be more intuitive with your terminology. The shuriken will explain what each stat does, anyways. Here you can upgrade each stat via shards you can craft and insert into weapons, however stat increments are displayed through non-descript blocks. Whether one block implies an increment of 5% or 10%, who knows? At this terminal you can also switch out weapons, but annoyingly your weapon order behaves like a stack in this terminal, so removing a weapon in slot 2 automatically moves the weapons in slot 3 and 4 up by one, so you need to remove all weapons if you want to assign weapons to slots in a way you’re comfortable with, which is again unnecessarily cumbersome.

At the end of each zone you will see a result screen which tallies all your encounter results and adds some bonuses on top. Some of these categories are rather vague, and even after having played this game to death I can only make a guess as to how these actually rank me. You get points for RUSHTIME for having your Attack Rush gauge be filled up for as long as possible… I think? ITEM PICKUP gives you more points if you pick up spare health drops and ammo you don’t really need… I think? ENEMY STAGGER should be self-explanatory, but I have no clue as to how you’re ranked in this category. Do I get the most points if I stagger every enemy at least once or something? SIDEARM PICKUP should be straightforward on the other hand. ATTACK VARIETY is just vague because I don’t know by what standard this category judges me, though I always seem to max it out without even trying. DAMAGE RECOVERY gives you a score penalty for taking damage, but how it exactly determines the score penalty is again everyone’s best guess. And to this day I still have no idea how the STREAM VALUE even works.

A lot of this was intentional. Here’s what the developers had to say:

We’ve wanted everything in Desync to be somewhat abstract, hidden behind a layer of understanding that can only come through interacting with and even caring about the game’s systems. This is most clearly reflected in the art-style, but also in the terminology we use in the game. For example, in the attack sequence readouts, the descriptions of actions required aren’t overly descriptive. Instead of “Use X gun to X manipulate an enemy into X trap”, we’d use “X gun X manipulate, X trap”. For a glimpse into our thoughts on this, it’s true that we only begrudgingly use human language at all. Had the game been simpler we’d create an alien language of glyphs, animations and icons to describe actions in the game.

Desync has been built upon the idea of supplying simplicity/minimalism inside a shell of complexity. Without sounding too overwrought, a linchpin of all of Desync’s design is creating synesthesia through an overabundance of mechanics that each, individually, are simple to grasp, but when combined and made necessary, demand all of your attention.

Of course, positioning players to be able to absorb that complexity quickly requires explanation/demonstration, which is where the aforementioned begrudging-ness arrives. For example, in Quake your shots against enemies have a random chance of staggering/interrupting them, and that random chance increases if they’re mid attack or shot in the back. Quake, though, is about survival, so that mechanic although probably felt by most players, doesn’t need explaining. In Desync, defeating enemies increases your base speed / dash recovery with attack rush, enemies can be staggered, launched, shunted, overkilled and desynced. Desync isn’t just about surviving though, at it’s heart it’s a score-based shooter.

These mechanics are essential to getting high scores and extracting the most out of the game. Watching players struggle to learn these concepts (especially under duress) has been difficult. Watching the “ah-ha” moments when someone figures out something important that instantly change how they experience the game, they’re worth the pain. Players then own those mechanics more closely than if they were just explained to them, instantly understanding where and how to apply it.

The impasse then was this; Is it a major failure point if players give up / assess the game before understanding this depth? We’ve seen it happen with a couple of playtesters already. After a brief demonstration of some fundamentals they’ll be energized to play again, but it took explanation. Other players have cherished having an obscure game to discover over many hours.

In today’s world of huge backlogs and a thousand distractions a minute, releasing a mechanically obscure game could be seen as a mistake. In Desync, our compromise is inserting various hint-systems that should hopefully tease players into getting better at the game. Outside of youtube videos or streams (Or the brilliant replay systems from Devil Daggers and Superhot), we have an Outsider in the game that sends players various hints and notes. And of course we also have the descriptive leaderboards, which’ll show how the top echelon of players have performed and some hints at how they performed it.

Ultimately, I believe this direction in terms of imparting (barely any) information to the player was a mistake. Gauging by the reviews of this game all over the internet, most people didn’t even get it or even acknowledged the depth, even if they did kinda like it. Even I was thoroughly confused in my first hours of playing this game. Many new players found themselves shitter shattered by many elements in the game which could be seen as unfair, such as not having enough ammo or health, or enemies which perform seemingly bullshit attacks such as leaping attacks which home in at you, or enemies which *teleports behind you*. You do have the means to deal with all enemy types without taking damage, it’s just not made very clear. You can dash to avoid enemy melee attacks, as dashing has i-frames on melee attacks. But it doesn’t on projectile attacks, which might confuse newer players into thinking dashing isn’t all that useful.

It’s such a problem that only under 20% of the people who owned the game got past the first boss, which is often cited as one of major casual filters in the game and being artificially difficult. Most people don’t really expect first-person shooters to be heavy on mechanics, like one would fighting games or shmups, so a lot of people just S+M1 because that’s what they’re used to. So because of this, you end up with a weird cryptic-ass game which didn’t even manage to achieve cult status.

DESYNC doesn’t even quite have the YouTube presence where skillful gameplay videos are shared and looked at in awe, such as the world record run videos of Devil Daggers which even got picked up by IGN or PCGamer. It’s not as minimalistic and reliant on a basic skill set as Devil Daggers was for its crypticness to even work. If DESYNC actually showed you how the game worked through video tutorials or had an actual replay system in place, I think most people would have a better idea of grasping how the game plays at higher levels. Not a text pop-up explaining to you that this thing exists, but a preview video showing you how you’re really supposed to play the game.

In hindsight, I did eventually learn the game through its vague hints and whatever information I could find from third-party sources. For the most part. And standing here, I realize, this game isn’t that complicated. I’ve played shmups more complex and convoluted. Even so, this pursuit for abstraction for the sake of abstraction with no narrative purpose is both detrimental to newer and more determined players. The way some of these elements are presented could work, but a lot of the others (hub world, tutorials, deeper mechanical information) are just lousy.

You could ask the developer directly on Discord for clarification, but you should never have to do this in the first place. Fuck, at least give me a .pdf guide or something. I know that the challenge curve and obfuscated nature of the game is what is supposed to make learning this game more satisfying, but instead you end up with a game which gets high on its own abstraction, where form no longer serves a practical purpose and style triumphs substance. Maybe some people would look at some no-lifer who spent weeks getting good at a videogame, and think to themselves that they want to be that guy. Yet you can barely find any high-level gameplay videos of DESYNC on YouTube or anywhere else. I found only one with around 130 views, and another I uploaded recently myself. Competitively speaking there’s not much going on here, because this game doesn’t hold a lot of interest, and a lot of scoring mechanics are vague to even dedicated players, to the point where you have to ask whether anyone knows how you’re really supposed to play the game.

I’m one to speak, because I currently hold the world record for all the nine main zones of the game.

Ed Note: These scores are outdated, having since been beaten, but still impressive

As I beat the final zone on my first playthrough, I somehow managed to place fifth on the global leaderboards. I wasn’t really trying to score high, and I still had the helper options enabled which incurred a scoring penalty on my total score. Yet despite my casual attempt, I somehow managed to place fifth, stepping past 374 other players who completed this level. I only figured out a particularly effective weapon combo or two, but I didn’t really use the sidearms or the traps to their full extent, and my attempt was fraught with several deaths. If that’s all it took for me to become fifth, what’s to stop me from reaching the world record? What’s to stop me from becoming God?

And so, in the span of two days and under fifteen or so hours of gameplay time, I nabbed all the #1 positions for the main zones. I didn’t really give the Aberration zones and Zone Defenders a shot though. Some zones I half-assed yet managed to get the #1 position of, but for others the difference in score between the #1 and #2 position is simply ridiculous. When you stand on the top of the hill, you can’t help but get all existential after conquering it with ease. Did I pull it off because I’m that good, or because everyone else is that bad? The advantage I feel I hold has more to do with knowledge than skill. Does nobody else know about these scoring strategies I figured out on my own? Do most people even know how you’re really supposed to play the game, or did they play this game like Serious Sam? Suppose that if information about the deeper mechanics was made more clear and/or widely available, would the top spots be more intensely fought over? Or did nobody seriously try to score high? I just don’t know.

As a result, getting the #1 spots didn’t feel like a tremendous achievement. I can’t fully blame the developer for this, nor can I really blame others for not trying hard enough. But it makes that existential dread creep up again, slowly transmuting into a lack of faith in humanity (for not knowing how to play DESYNC).

But suppose you do cut through the impenetrable abstraction of DESYNC, what kind of game will await you? I am Durandal, and I will be your guide…

Like I said, this game is similar to Bulletstorm in that you have to kill with skill. Kill enemies in special ways, and you will execute Attack Sequences. The harder the AS is to execute, the more points you get. Everytime you perform a new Attack Sequence, the game will briefly pause to highlight the AS you just performed and how to do it again. Killing enemies through ASs also has them drop a single repair node, which can be used to restore ammunition. On top of that, Attack Sequences deal more damage and stagger on enemies when inflicted.

Killing enemies fills up your Attack Rush gauge. Filling up the Attack Rush gauge increases your movement speed and decreases your dash cooldown. Killing enemies with ASs will fill up the Attack Rush gauge even faster, whereas getting hit decreases it faster. Your default movement speed is rather slow, so this does increase the incentive of trying to perform more ASs. Overkilling enemies (dealing so much damage at once that enemies fucking gib) will drop health cubes. The bigger the enemy, the more health cubes will drop. I appreciate it when health drops aren’t tied to chance like they tend to be in most other games.

There’s about sixty ASs in the game, with many tied to unique conditions to be triggered. And many can be chained together for more points. For example, the simplest combo I found earlier on is to shoot an enemy with the alternate fire of the Tristol which is a guaranteed stagger on weaker enemies, and finishing them off with a Terrablaster shot to the head while dashing forwards. This way you get: Switcher (stagger opponent with one weapon and finish it off with another), Aggressor (dash into enemy as you kill him), Oblitherator (stagger enemy and overkill it), and Mercy (finish off staggered enemy with a headshot). Gets you like 2500 pts. Enemies of a higher class can be sent flying with a frontal Terrablaster blast, so you could launch into a trap of choice for an additional AS.

A lot of the ASs revolve around using environmental hazards and your weapon firing modes to their full extent, on top of quick positioning which you can pull off by staggering enemies and dashing behind them. Basic ones include Nether (kill from below), Justicar (kill from above), Xaero (kill from behind), Evader (avoid attack and deal damage), Unseen (kill enemy without looking at it), Multiplex (kill enemy in quick succession), Augur (kill enemy as soon as it is spawned), but a lot of ASs are weapon specific. A personal favourite combo of mine against a group of enemies is to parry an attack with the shield which staggers all nearby enemies, launch them into the air with the shield dash, freeze them mid-air with the Freeze core, and then finish them off with a single Osmoflux combo shot. This nets you Refusal (parry enemy attack with shield), Basher (hit enemy with shield charge after blocking attack), Cored (kill enemy affected by Core), Riposte (damage enemy after blocking attack with shield), Delayer (kill enemy lingering mid-air), Cooldown (kill frozen enemy mid-air), Osmosis (Osmoflux explosion damage), Singleton (enemy killed and overkilled in a single hit), Joust (enemy killed after launched mid-air with shield charge), Multiplex, Coolant (kill frozen enemy), Nether and Aggressor. Nets you 20000+15000*X points, depending on how many enemies were killed. This one triggers so many ASs that the game briefly slows down as all the pop-ups and sound effects pile up in a single orgasmic blast. This system really does encourage you to use the most of what you have and to play dangerously for points, and for ammo/speed buffs. Not just using a particular weapon combo, but also the way you position yourself and use traps to your advantage is important.

Since most ASs revolve around killing or dealing damage, you can’t “milk” enemies for sequences indefinitely. On top of that, you won’t get any extra points if you execute the same AS on an enemy more than once, so variety is encouraged. After each encounter you’ll also get additional score bonuses for killing as many enemies as possible in quick succession, overkilling as many enemies as possible in quick succession, performing as many sequences as possible in quick succession, and desyncing as many enemies as possible in quick succession. On top of that, you also get bonuses for being as accurate as possible and finishing encounters as quickly as possible. Being fast and accurate also makes and breaks your score.

Kills, Overkills, ASs and Desyncs also fill up their respective bars at the top left of your HUD. Each bar is segmented in three, and for each segment that is filled, you get more points per kill/overkill/AS/desync which increases the values at the end of the result screen after each encounter. These persist and drain continuously between encounters, so even your overall performance in a level affects your score. But when you die, these bars are reset, and so are your Sidearm/Core gauges, so you want to play through a level in one sitting for the most score, and finish it as fast as possible on top of performing as many ASs as possible. Each encounter has its own score/time/accuracy criteria for an S-rank, which you can achieve by meeting all of them, and for each criteria you meet you’ll get an additional bonus. Only completion time provides a variable bonus which can exceed others depending on how quick you were, and finishing encounters especially quickly on top of meeting all the other criteria will net you an S+ rank.

The one thing which bothers me the most is the weight reconnects have on your score, which is not as clear as it should be. Ideally, each time you reconnect (die) you should receive a score penalty at the final stage clear screen, rather than a smaller bonus. The obvious takeaway being here that clear without dying == more points. While the above paragraph does incorporate that already, it’s not very obvious. What’s also not very obvious is the reconnect criteria after clearing an encounter. You can only fulfill the reconnect criteria by clearing the encounter without ever dying (and thus gain a S+ rank if you fulfilled everything else), but you get a +1000 bonus for it no matter what. What would have been more clear is if the reconnect criteria said NO RECONNECTS +1000 if you never died and RECONNECTS: 2 +0 if you did die, kind of like in MGR. I don’t understand why you gotta be so freaking vague about shit as simple as this.

Sometimes Synced enemies will spawn, which are denoted by a colored aura and a special buff. Red enemies will deal more damage and have more HP, yellow enemies move and attack faster, purple enemies slow time around them, and cyan enemies have more health on top of being unstaggerable. These buffs can be removed by DESYNCing the enemy. In the Link Network, you can assign unlocked ASs to a certain Sync type. So you can assign Aggressor to Sync: Strength (Red), and performing that particular AS on a red enemy will Desync them. Desyncing an enemy removes their buff and inflicts massive damage, but it also activates Desync Time, during which time slows around you and any AS you perform during will have its value multiplied by 4X. You can assign up to three ASs to each Sync type, but the selected AS cannot be assigned to more than one Sync type at once, forcing you to consider which AS would be the easiest perform on the given Sync type, and preventing you from having easy-to-perform ASs on every given Sync type. Basically, you gotta shake it up.

Desyncing enemies also nets you fragments, which can be used to upgrade your weapons at the upgrade terminal. Fragments can be combined to craft shards, which can upgrade one of your weapon’s four attributes. For example, you can craft a shard which upgrades your weapon with three damage increments, but each shard also provides an equal negative nerf, so shards are stuff like +3 damage but -3 rate of fire. Each weapon can only hold three shards, so you can’t craft weapons to be ultimate baddie-killers. Upgrading involves making an inevitable trade-off. You could spec into projectile speed, but rate of fire. As each weapons handles differently, what stats you benefit from the most depends on how you want to use the weapon and how you want to play, giving you the tools to Decide The Way You Want To Play. Normally I’d bitch about RPG-lite systems in first-person shooters the way they are normally implemented, but here it’s actually balanced well enough to be a valid addition to the game.

But something nobody really likes is randomness for crafting results, as the negative attribute when crafting a shard is picked at total random. You can select what attribute to affect positively, but what attribute gets affected negatively is entirely random. And most of the time you only want a particular attribute to get downgraded, so this involves crafting the same shard over and over until you get what you want. Grinding for fragments to create more shards isn’t that common place, but it’s still a needless annoyance. Also needlessly annoying is the UI. There’s a limited amount of shard space, so crafting too much means you have to manually discard all shard you don’t really need. Stat increments are displayed as abstract white blocks, so you can’t really form a real image in your mind how much your gun will improve if a stat is upgraded with a single block. It would have been more useful to see actual numbers. For example, maybe I want my guns to not deal too much damage on a heavy enemy so I can execute enough ASs on the enemy before killing it. Having enemy HP values for comparison’s sake would also be useful.

You unlock upgrades and new abilities as you play the game, but most of the progression is completely linear, some tied to minor challenges like “USE THIS X TIMES”. I’m not of a fan of upgrade-based progression in general, but as this game is meant to be replayed I guess gating off some content makes sense. And besides, this game is already pretty vague. Overwhelming new players even more with all these tools and abilities at once probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

Performing ASs both fills up your Core and Sidearm Gauge. When your Core Gauge is filled, you can activate your Core, a special ability of which you can pick from 9 in the Link Network. This can be stuff like restoring health, ammo, increasing attack speed or damage, or freezing everything around you. Stronger Cores have higher activation costs. An odd peculiarity is that you receive a score penalty on the stage result screen for using Cores, equal to their cost. However, there are special ASs such as Cored worth 1000pts when killing enemies affected by Cores, whose gains outweigh the penalty anyways. Cores such as the health and ammo restore end up being rather useless score-wise because of this, making temporary buffs such as the attack speed or stagger increase much more viable. Even if the purpose behind this penalty is to push players into using the status inflict or buff Cores, this feels like a rather counter-intuitive way of doing so, since the latter are already more lucrative in terms of score to begin with. If the score penalty was put in place because Cores are considered to be handicaps, than that’s a major oversight in terms of how profitable Cores actually can be when used right.

Sidearms are special weapons which spawn in the arena once the Sidearm Gauge is filled by performing ASs. These can be used in combination with your primary weapons, and allow for more AS variety. You get the Aegis, a shield which allows you to block incoming attacks and shots, but also to parry attacks and to charge enemies. Enemy attacks can be parried for a Refusal, and immediately followed up by a Basher worth 2500pts, on top of another Riposte worth 1000pts (damage an enemy after blocking his attack) and a potential Joust. The Pulsar allows you to push or pull lighter enemies in the air for increased crowd control, but also to stagger any enemy type with one shot. The Pulsar doesn’t consume much Sidearm energy per shot, so you can push/pull about 4 enemies for an additional Antisocial/Pull Apart worth 2500pts. Its alternate attack can auto-desync one synced enemy with the press of a button, which can be useful at times when you have a group of enemies perfectly set up for a combo and then desyncing a distant enemy so you can get your bonus points without fumbling up your chance or trying to desync a synced enemy.

The Toxburst is a crossbow which fires poison darts for poisoning things, which you can use to stack poison on enemies for more ASs, or to combine poison with freezing and petrification for yet another AS. The Toxburst can also fire a three-arrow crossbow spread, and a shotgun burst of poison darts which instantly overpoisons an enemy which takes the full brunt and causes it to leave behind a toxin cloud which can poison enemies walking through it. I didn’t find this one to be particularly useful. The Colocross is identical, except it shoots ice bolts. The most noticeable difference is that its burst fires in a much wider spread and is much more suited to crowd control.

Sidearms spawning into the arena rather than being automatically granted to you does provide you enough incentive to move throughout the arena rather than sticking in one spot or hiding in a corner. The Sidearm gauge also slowly depletes over time once you pick-up a Sidearm, so picking up one and not immediately using it can become a wasted opportunity. You also get a end-level score bonus which increases for each Sidearm you pick up. The more the better.

There’s two spawn points for Sidearms in each arena, but the spawning point is picked at random. Some arenas are too large for comfort so having a sidearm spawn all the way over fucking there wastes a lot of time walking towards it and away from the action, which is especially annoying considering you get ranked on completion time, and makes getting the best time bonus more RNG dependent if you’re trying to incorporate Sidearms into your streaks as well. You could shrink the general arena size so you won’t be too far from any given spawn point, but then there would be no point to having multiple spawn points if they’re already very close to eachother. IMO the best solution here would be to pick the spawn point with the highest amount of enemies in its proximity (with stronger enemies having more weight). This way you won’t have to move away from the action to get your Sidearm, and it provides another challenge by having you move past a group of enemies to get to your Sidearm.

There’s seven weapons in the game, of which you can carry four. The Tristol is your fallback pistol weapon. Its primary fire shoots bolts which can kill weaker enemies quickly, and its alternate fire fires a STAGGERSHOT which fires a powerful shot that staggers most weaker enemies, and is useful for comboing with other weapons. As it is your fallback weapon, the Tristol is the only weapon which regenerates ammo. On top of that, the Tristol can also perform the Energizer AS (finish off enemies with a Tristol shot) which will cause enemies to drop two repair nodes instead of the usual one, which makes sense given its role.

The Terrablaster is a shotgun which fires blasts powerful at point-blank, and a spinning shuriken for its alternate fire. The primary fire is straightforward, literally so when combining it with stuff like Aggressor or Mercy. The alternate fire appears useless at first, because the shuriken it fires only travels a fixed length before pausing mid-air, and doesn’t deal a lot of damage either. It’s main purpose is not to deal damage either. Instead, you can send enemies flying with the primary fire into the shuriken fired with the alternate fire, which overkills the poor sucker in question and nets you the Entrapment AS. Launch it into the floor, and it functions like a giant saw for anything walking over it. It’s especially useful against staggering Shieldbears. If you imagine that the final nail in a combo is to send an enemy flying into a trap, then the Terrablaster alternate fire allows you to place them wherever you want, however it’s small and its fixed launch range requires some skill to place properly. The only reason I don’t really use this too much is because the point values for the ASs unique to this weapon are rather unbalanced and don’t make it worth using for scoreplay, as most Terrablaster ASs are Intermediate-class (1000pts).

The Diameteor is a rocket launcher with a straightforward rocket for the primary fire and a heavy rocket for the alternate fire with a higher damage and AoE. That might sound stupid, but it makes sense for the ASs unique to the Diameteor. Most of the Diameteor ASs are centered around launching opponents into the air by shooting rockets at their feet. So you fire the primary rocket to launch them in the air, and fire the secondary missile to finish them off for sure, including anything standing nearby. The secondary is also useful for just killing things in one simple shot, if you don’t want to bother with the ASs for whatever reason, but it also has a slower travel time. So you get Dismantler for launching an enemy with a rocket and then hitting it with any kind of rocket mid-air, Decimator for launching an enemy with a rocket and then hitting it mid-air with a heavy rocket, and Dismayer for doing the same thing but from a long distance. Each worth 2500pts. Only medium-class enemies are jugglable, because light enemies die in one rocket anyways and heavy enemies can’t be launched. I think this is a good thing as it prevents rocket-juggling to be a catch-all strategy for every single enemy in the game.

Only problem I have here is that Decimator doesn’t trigger Dismantler on execution as well. Technically they’re both the same thing with different rockets, but Decimator is considerably more difficult to pull off than Dismantler considering the heavy rocket has a much slower travel time, yet they’re both worth equally, which I don’t think is right as the difficulty involved in pulling off the ASs in question doesn’t quite reflect the point values. On the other hand, Dismayer does trigger on top of Decimator/Dismantler, as rocket juggling enemies from a long-distance is undoubtedly much more difficult to do. So to balance things out, I think performing Decimator should trigger Dismantler simultaneously.

The Polyhedron has a standard plasma assault rifle firing mode for its primary fire, and it shoots a plasma orb for its alternate fire which much like the Terrablaster shuriken travels a fixed distance. This plasma orb functions like the Tristol Staggershot when directly hitting enemies, but the main purpose behind it is to fire the plasma orb and then shoot the orb with your primary fire in order to make it explode for a lot of damage, UT Shock Combo-style. So you can shoot the orb in the air and then blow it up with the primary fire to blow up a group of enemies from their center. It helps that the primary fire projectiles slightly home in towards the orb to help you hit it. Damaging enemies with the Shock Combo earns you Shocker, worth 2500pts. The constant barrage of the primary fire is suitable for overkilling already fallen enemies, which even nets you Overcharged worth 1000pts if you do. Unfortunately the plasma orb is rather useless on its own, like I said, it’s the same as a Tristol Staggershot, but with less versatility.

Also unfortunate is that the Polyhedron is rather prone to ruining your accuracy rating for the post-encounter rankings. After each encounter you’re ranked for your accuracy percentage (how many shots you’ve landed), which normally isn’t that hard to pull off since most weapons are single-shot or wide-AOE affairs. However, a fast-firing assault-rifle type weapon is more likely to miss than the other weapons, especially when you’re trying to shoot a plasma orb and aren’t directly aiming at any enemy. It calls to question whether ranking players on their accuracy is even necessary, because most enemies in DESYNC aren’t that hard to hit to begin with. Grading for accuracy makes sense in something like a sniping simulator game, where landing a shot can be a tricky deal of its own. Meanwhile you won’t have trouble hitting most enemies in DESYNC unless you are physically disabled or playing with a controller. You won’t be going out of your way to be 100% accurate in DESYNC, only the Polyhedron is rather prone to messing up your potential S+ rank by reducing your likelihood of meeting the accuracy quota.

The Wavescythe is a rather powerful weapon. It’s primary fire is rather useless, it’s basically a shotgun attack with a larger horizontal spread than a vertical one, though the damage on each pellet isn’t all that great to make it worth using. The alternate fire does the same thing however, but it is much more powerful. It sends a scythewave (hue) which deals loads of damage, can stagger heavy-class enemies, and penetrates through enemies. Scything staggers enemies nets you Deliverance on top of Switcher probably, and scything multiple enemies at once nets you Divider on top of Multiplex. Staggering enemies with the Tristol and then dashing behind them to blast them with the scythewave is one of the combos I used the most early on. The scythewave does drain a lot of ammo to balance things out, though I don’t think the primary fire of the Scythewave really has its own niche besides its Penetrator AS, when the scythewave does almost everything it does better.

The Osmoflux is probably the weapon you’re going to be using the most for score. Its primary fire launches a stake which can launch light/medium enemies and send them flying into traps or into the wall, for which there’s the Bouncer AS which triggers if you shoot a stake into an enemy to launch them into a wall and then shoot them with another stake as they bounce off. The alternate fire launches a slow-moving bouncing orb which staggers everything in the vicinity when it bounces off the ground, quite useful for setting up ASs which rely on enemy staggers. The most useful thing about the orb is to shoot a stake into the orb, which sends it flying into a straight line which will detonate upon anything it hits, dealing massive damage. Any enemy suffering damage from the Osmoflux explosion nets you the Osmosis AS, worth a whopping 2500pts. Alternatively, you can send an enemy flying with the stake into the orb, which triggers the explosion as well. It blows up light/medium enemies in one shot, and staggers heavy enemies. The kicker? It’s very easy to perform once you get the hang of it.

You can launch the orb with a stake as soon as the orb is launched before it even hits the ground once you get the timing down. And if you spec the Osmoflux into Retention, ammo won’t be too much of a problem either. The idea that the Osmoflux combo attack AS is worth 2500pts and on equal grounds with rocket juggling, parrying attacks with the Aegis, or even something like killing frozen enemies mid-air which requires a hard-to-replicate set of circumstances, is absolutely ridiculous and makes this weapon incredibly unbalanced for scoreplay (you can see in the video of my personal gameplay I linked above just how easy it is to pull off consistently). Osmosis absolutely belongs into the Intermediate AS category of 1000pts, whereas Bouncer deserves to be bumped up to Advanced. Now, you could introduce separate Advanced ASs for staking an enemy into the orb instead of directly launcing a stake-propelled orb into an enemy, and an AS for mid-air enemies getting killed by a combo attack explosion, that way difficulty of execution would be balanced out more with the point value.

The last weapon is the Diffuserrail, which is a straightforward railgun weapon. It’s primary fire shoots a straight powerful penetrative hitscan beam which kills light/medium enemies in a single shot, and can be specced into damage to OHKO heavy enemies as well. The ASs it has revolves around killing enemies from far away (Extent), killing multiple enemies with a single rail (Penetrator), and just killing things in one hit (Singleton). It consumes like 90% of your ammo bar on a single shot, so you only have two shots before you need to reload (weapons in DESYNC can be fired for one last time if the ammo remaining is lower than the actual firing cost of the shot in question). Its alternate fire is a burst of three minor rail shots, which consumes less energy, and also deals less damage. The alternate fire isn’t all that useful, beyond the Diffused AS which is very easy to proc (just hit an enemy with all three shots in a burst) for 500pts, making for an easy Desync. It does deal high stagger, but guess what deals high stagger too? The Osmoflux combo or the Wavescythe scythewave.

One rather annoying attribute of the Diffuserrail is how its high ammo cost works badly with the reload system. For each weapon you can have three repair nodes max, and pressing the reload button “repairs” 50% of your currently selected weapon’s ammo. Now, if you start off with 100% ammo for the Diffuserrail, firing a single primary shots costs 90% and will leave you with 10%. As you can fire weapons as long as there’s some ammo remaining, you can also fire a second time with the remaining 10%. But if you have around 10%, and repair your weapon so it gets 60%, firing a single shot will reduce it to 0%. Whether it was 10% or 60%, the end result is that you have one shot remaining. Now if you shot the weapon while it was 10% and THEN repair the weapon for it to get up to 50%, then you would have another shot, whereas with the former scenarion you would have effectively wasted a repair node. If you play with auto-repair on (if a weapon gets depleted, a single repair node will be consumed to repair 20% instead of the 50% you would get from reloading normally), it would be one of the more ammo-efficient ways to use this weapon even though it isn’t for most other weapons. This could be fixed by giving the Diffuserrail a special exception to repair 100% with a single node instead of the usual 50%, though I don’t believe exceptions should ever occur in minor mechanics like these unless there’s a good reason, which brings me to the reload system itself.

The reload system is supposed to be something like Active Reloading in Gears of War, where if you time your reload right, you get a bonus. So if you reload manually in DESYNC, you will get more ammo than if you would if you were to auto-reload, which automatically restores 20% if you deplete all your ammo for your weapon if you still have a repair node remaining. The “risk-reward” here being watching your ammo counter closely enough so you can reload manually and prevent the auto-reload. But you can disable auto-reload in the options. If auto-reload is disabled, then there’s no risk to speak of. If you find yourself you depleted all your ammo, you’ll most likely briefly wonder why your gun isn’t shooting if you can’t immediately tell by the lowered out-of-ammo gun pose. Basically, all this mechanic is good for is having the player pay attention to his ammo count. But that leaves me with several issues.

First and foremost, why even bother with the repair node stuff and not just triple the ammo count of each weapon so you automatically gain ammo upon picking up repair nodes? There’s no reload times, you press a button and you instantly gain 50% ammo. Without auto-reload, this mechanic offers no depth or anything interesting to the gameplay at all. It’s just a different reloading system for the sake of being different. It doesn’t even have the basic timing minigame which has some penalty to it if you mess up and bonuses if you don’t.

And even if it did synergize well with the gameplay the reloading system still suffers a major UI problem. Namely, repair nodes are depicted as white blocks next to the ammo bars of your weapons, at the very bottom right of your screen. However, the ammo bars are white themselves as well, making repair nodes and the status of your ammo hard to differentiate at a glance. Because these HUD elements are so far away from the center, you most likely won’t have a good idea of your ammo status without taking your eyes off the action. This could have been better solved by displaying minor ammo bars around the crosshair HL2-style, on top of representing near the crosshair how many repair nodes you have left. As it is I found myself pressing R after firing my weapon without being sure whether I had any repair nodes left or not.

Another major gripe I have with this system is that the weapon type of each ammo drop is completely random. Meaning when you start off a level, sometimes you’ll get more ammo for a weapon you barely use while getting none for a weapon you really want to use for scoring. At first this mechanic was pointless, but now it’s just detrimental. The RNG isn’t that major, but it can still screw you over for a handful of runs where you don’t get ammo for the weapons you primarily rely on. Why don’t ammo drops for the Tristol have less of a priority than for other weapons? The ammo for the Tristol regenerates and it is a fallback weapon to boot you can’t switch out, you don’t need THAT much ammo for it to the point where it potentially takes away from other weapons.

A better solution would have been for the ammo type of each drop to cycle through a fixed sequence, where the weapon in slot 2 gets the next drop, then the one in 3, then in 4, with the last being the Tristol (which you can’t equip) which has no priority for extra ammo because of aforementioned reasons, and then back to 2. At least this way you can ensure that each weapon gets an equal amount of ammunition whereas the weapon order can be manipulated to prioritize drops for the slot 2 weapon which you might want to use more often in the first encounter of a zone. Alternatively, you ammo would keep dropping for the slot 2 weapon until the maximum of repair nodes has been reached, after which ammo will start dropping for the weapon and slot 3, and so on. Giving players more of an opportunity to devise unique strategies and playstyles partly based around this mechanic seems like something more prone to creating depth than praying to RNGesus.

Concerning weapon/AS balance as a whole, the Terrablaster lies at a weak position because of its low-ranked ASs, on top of having too much functional overlap with both modes of the Wavescythe. The Diffuserrail could have been more useful if the point bonus of Multiplex and Penetrator increased for each additional enemy killed in a single shot or quick succession, so you get more points per Penetrator triggered if you nail 5 enemies in one shot instead of 3. The Diameteor could use the aforementioned Decimator+Dismantler buff to be more viable. The Osmoflux’ combo attack is too overpowered through the ease with which it can be performed, which should be balanced by nerfing Osmosis from Advanced to Intermediate or nerfing the damage/ammo efficiency of the attack itself. The rest is okay for the most part.

There’s a large focus on environmental traps, which you can then launch enemies into for bonus points. However, doing so only earns you the 500/1000pts ASs, and compared to the 2500pts ASs you can get by overkilling enemies on the spot, these environmental kills aren’t really worth it. You could finnick around trying to get an enemy to move where you want him to so you can blast him into a trap for 1000pts, or immediately Osmoflux combo it for an instant 2500pts. That is not even a contest. I feel like all trap ASs should be 2500pts because they represent the end of a combo, which you ideally could tack on at the end of whatever osmojoust or rocket jugglin’ combo you’re doing, provided that it becomes harder to actually overkill an enemy, so enemies won’t get overkilled the moment you try to launch them into a trap after performing your ASs of choice. Else environmental traps are just kind of useless because the easier-to-perform ASs are also more lucrative amongst other things. I feel it’s a bit to easy to overkill enemies and thus remain at full health most of the time as well, so increasing the damage required for the corpse of an enemy to be overkilled sounds like a good start.

The level design here is very much arena-based. It’s a style that suits the mechanics, since you gain ammo and health through killing enemies, so there’s no point in item placement or exploration for that matter. Each level is segmented into four or five encounters, each with its own arena. Usually these are on the smaller side, with most of them featuring some kind of trap or hazard to launch enemies into, like giant swinging axes, spike traps, acid pits, venus traps, that kind of thing. Alternatively, there’s also explosive orbs you can detonate for easy kills or poison orbs which leaves a poison cloud after being triggered, and can also net you another AS for killing poisoned enemies if you manage to have them walk through the gas cloud.

There is some good layout variety and mix of enemy spawns/environmental hazards, though some which try to be more vertical don’t really work because your jump is incredibly pitiful. You can barely use it to jump over obstacles, though you can jump over the smaller enemies. This becomes a problem when a stationary-type of enemy spawns on a high-up lane which you can’t reliably snipe or jump onto, so you need to walk all the way around in order to get to that enemy because of a poor layout. DESYNC is a very down-to-earth game, in that you’re almost never expected to jump. Save for a handful cases, I don’t know why you would go out of your way to jump or why it was even included for reasons other than “being able to jump should be a given in every FPS” …only to barely utilize jumping at all. Having a high jump would have been useful to trigger Justicar more reliably at the very least, or to jump over projectiles since you can’t dash through them.

I don’t think jumping is an absolute necessity, but in that case all arena layouts should be designed to be easily traversable without jumping. Some arenas are a bit too big and not entirely overseeable. Meaning that sometimes the geometry obscures your view, so when you’re just about done mopping up most enemies, it might turn out that you forgot to kill one, so you have to go looking around for the last one only to find it stuck under a fucking bridge (enemies will kill themselves automatically if too much time passes, actually, which is a courtesy I can appreciate). There’s also a particularly bad arena in the fourth encounter in Helix which is as dense as a Quake map with arrow traps everywhere, but most of your time you just end up wasting time looking for enemies or moving towards them, because the arena layout is so convoluted that you can’t see shit around you, and most enemies only spawn on the first floor instead of the ground so you need to walk all the way up, and do so again if you manage to slip and tumble. Constraining melee enemies to a single narrow path from their spawn point to the player isn’t as interesting as enemies swarming all around you is. Play this arena and you will understand why more open and flatter arenas are preferable for this style of game.

The environmental traps are also rather annoying to the player. The simplest reason being, I can’t really pay attention to them while I’m dodging other enemies. You’ll be too busy dashing here and there only to accidentally run into a spike trap. Maybe this is just a personal thing, but I cannot make room for factoring on environmental hazards and whatnot on top of having to deal with all the enemies. But after looking more closely at what caused these environmental-hazard kills, most of them were outside my field of vision before I was killed, placed alongside the outer rims of the arena. As you are constantly dashing about, you’ll find yourself likely to accidentally bump yourself into a trap and take some damage. If the traps were placed around the center of the arena where you’d be likely to be looking at both the enemy and traps simultaneously, then this wouldn’t have been such a problem. The arrow traps are the most tolerable, because after stepping on a pressure plate which triggers a nearby arrow trap you have at least enough time and space to dodge the arrow.

That only leaves acid pits. Fucking acid pits. I can’t believe how many times I died to acid pits. At the very final encounter of the game, the arena is this collection of narrow pathways with no safety railings hovering over an acid pit. If you dash too far, you die instantly. If you slip off the edge, you die instantly. The final arena itself proved to be more lethal than the actual enemy spawns themselves, which are already one of the hardest in the game. You don’t quite move around with pinpoint precision in DESYNC, so slippage is a serious danger combined with enemies which require rapid dashing about on top of narrow gangways. On top of THAT, some enemies can also inflict knockback and knock you back into the pits, and some enemies can pull you and coincidentally end up pulling you into an acid pit, which makes them feel like even greater bullshit. Then you’ve got the acid streams from above, so if you even get near the edge of some platforms where acid is falling, you are also instantly dead. Enemy pathfinding doesn’t take acid into account, so you might find yourself surprised to have Deliquesce (have enemy die by acid) be triggered out of nowhere because an enemy walked right into a very irresponsibly placed pool of acid, robbing you of some potential points.

I absolutely hate acid pits because it forces you to be very careful with your dashing and is a massive impedement on your movement. You’re more often likely to die to acid as a result of an accident where you never even took the acid in account (you don’t look down at your feet much in DESYNC, looking up at flying enemies in these kind of arenas while moving is very likely to get you killed), because pseudo-first-person-platforming where the punishment is instant death is so much fun. With it comes the frustration that it’s not even the enemies which were the main cause of your death, but instead it was the decision of the arena designer to use acid pits. The one thing I’d gladly see entirely removed from the game. Some of these arenas are just plain dickish with their layouts and these little gaps or inlays which make it more likely for you to slip and tumble into fucking acid again. Just try the first arena of Meridian and count how many times you end up falling into the lava.

Another thing I’ll hammer on for as long as need be for these arena shooter games: positional audio design. An absolute necessity, but even then DESYNC doesn’t deliver here. If you’re going to spawn enemies all around the player outside his field of vision, then being able to hear what’s going on around you and discern enemy positions and actions through sound should be a possibility in order to keep things more fair and prevent the player from feeling like he got hit by something he was never aware of. In DESYNC, this isn’t as much of a problem as it was in DooM2016 for example, because the enemies in DESYNC aren’t as reliant on projectile attacks and prefer to move in a straight line instead of running circles around you, though it still wouldn’t hurt. The audio mixing isn’t the most coherent of all things for that matter. While enemies do emit sounds for footsteps and attacks, it’s not particularly audible if the music is playing, nor can you really tell the direction from where the sound came from. The sound design of impacts and status sounds (such as getting hit or being out of ammo) OTOH is clear, effective, and distinctive. Though it might have been more useful for new players if you heard a very ominous sound from behind if a Glitchzerker teleported behind you.

On the flipside, the enemy bestiary is actually quite nice. There’s a good mix of rusher/fodder/flying/nuisance/heavy/area denial type of enemies. Your basic Fodderbots will try to poke you with a stick, Fodderbot L2 learned how to fire a random spread of projectiles, and Fodderbot L3 fires homing projectiles. Hammerlunger are big fast melee dudes who can leap mid-air and have a hitscan melee attack, basically meaning they automatically hit you as soon as you are in their melee range, which actually works wonders in a first-person shooter for reasons I’ll soon list. Boloknights are big dudes carrying around a greatsword who can deflect your projectiles and strike swordwaves at you. Ruindussers can shoot projectiles at you which they can also lead. Shieldbears are also big dudes who carry around big shields capable of blocking most attacks. There’s facehuggers which lay down mines and automatically attach to your face when they come close enough and can be intuitively shaken off by jiggling your mouse around. Glitchzerkers are heavy enemies who can *teleports behind you*, which isn’t that bullshit as it seems once you get the hang of it. Xenogryppers can fly in the air and strike you down from above or pull you in with a grappling hook for a deadly hug. Hadrucanruses can spam projectiles in every direction, and you have flying enemies who can charge up an unavoidable attack if you don’t stagger/kill them or break line of sight.

I like how Glitchzerker don’t even leave your behind safe. In this game you need to be aware from attacks coming from all possible angles. Bruteforcing doesn’t quite work against Shieldbears/Boloknights as a different approach is required here because of their ability to block/deflect. Xenogryppers will screw you over if you don’t deal with them in time, and so will most flying enemies. The spider nuisance enemies aren’t completely anal nuisances, but just enough of a nuisance that you’re better off avoiding them and that they do contribute to the challenge when paired with larger enemies. One thing I do find unfortunate is that the heavier enemies could be utilized more often, and in more varied and different enemy pairings.

Hitscan melee attacks sound like bullshit, but with a dash/dodge move they’re actually quite brilliant. First-person shooters often suffered from this problem where the only thing you could do against a melee rusher is S+M1 or break line of sight, and for the enemy to be of any kind of threat it would have to be faster than the player. Eventually the enemy would catch up and there’s nothing you can really do about it other than let yourself get hit or kill the enemy before it gets close. The latter works in some cases, but if the enemy in question has a lot of health or the level doesn’t have a lot of space to dodge around in, then that is not very feasible. Hitstun could help alleviate this (and DESYNC indeed allows you to stagger enemies in the middle of their attack), but in this case it would be ideal if hitstun isn’t reliant on RNG. Some games try to circumvent this by having the enemy stop moving the moment it attacks, but that allows S+M1 to be the most dominant strategy again.

So what DESYNC does is give the player a dash move which allows you to i-frame through enemy melee attacks. It’s not the most original thing, but it works. This is best seen with the Hammerlunger. If it gets nearby it will raise its hammer to indicate it’s about the attack, and when it gets right up your face it will attack near-immediately. The timing for dash-evading a melee attack isn’t very lenient, nor is the i-frame property of your dash ever explained, hence why most players aren’t very aware of this. But instead of relentlessly pummeling you afterwards, the Hammerlungers actually give you some breathing space by standing still AFTER they attack. Whenever a Hammerlunger attacks, it will always perform a two-hit combo. The first one is the hitscan attack, and for the second one it will stand still, charge up, attack again, and only then move again, giving you enough space and time to reposition. Using this method you can allow enemies to move faster than the player in order to catch up and attack with a guaranteed hit, while not overwhelming the player at the same time.

I do wish all enemies in the game had hitscan melee attacks. It’s easier and more intuitive to gauge dash and parry timing by gauging the distance between the enemy and you, than by some vague attack animation, especially in a first-person shooter where movement and positioning is essential as opposed to your usual character action game where you can see everything around you and effectively respond to everything around you. Some enemies like the Dualagger, Ruindusser or Boloknight primarily attack with projectile attacks, but have a melee attack if the player gets close. However, it is somewhat annoying that their melee attacks aren’t hitscan and that they don’t immediately melee attack when you get in range. I can understand them having to finish their ranged attack first before being able to perform a melee attack, but even after finishing their attacks, Dualaggers and Ruindussers are prone to do nothing for a little while until they finally decide to melee attack, which can be annoying to deal with if you’re trying to bait out Evader or Refusal. Meanwhile the Shieldbear moves around slowly, has a ranged projectile attack and a hitscan melee attack, and is a fun enemy to fight once you get the hang of him. It’d be more consistent if most enemies attacked through hitscan. You already got your leaping attacks and *teleports behind you* to spice up melee combat as well.

Personally I would have also let the dash give you i-frame on dashing through projectiles for consistency’s and fairness sake. But the developer wanted to use dashing more as a means of positioning rather than a catch-all dodge move, which is sensible in its own way. Problem is, some projectile attacks become very hard to dodge consistently as a result. The attacks from enemies like Ruindussers and Fodderbot L2/L3’s arent that hard to evade if you focus on them, but usually things are too chaotic for you to take in account every single projectile. Particularly homing projectiles seem to come out of nowhere, and homing projectiles aren’t as immediately noticeable here like say, those giant green meteors from Serious Sam, nor do they seem that different from other projectiles. You don’t even get a lock-on warning that a homing projectile is on to you like you do in Descent, which would be useful here, or at least some kind of sound to tell a homing projectile is homing in. Being able to dash through enemy projectiles in this case would do a lot to increase general survivability. Now if all the projectiles were fired at ground level, then jumping over projectile could have been a valid method of avoiding attacks.

The Hadrucanrus is probably the worst example of this and IMO the worst enemy in the game. It’s a slow artillery-type enemy which can fire an easy to dodge arcing explosive projectile, but its projectile spread attack is probably the worst. There’s usually not enough time for the player to dash out of the way the moment he sees the attack animation initiate, as for the attack the Hadrucanrus will fire twelve or so projectiles all around him. You can try to stand between the gaps in the projectile spread, but because of how hard it is to accurately gauge the player hitbox of a first-person game in relation to the paths of enemy projectiles, you’ll more often than not end up getting hit anyways, though if you aren’t a long distance away from a Hadrucanrus, successfully evading this attack feels incredibly random. Had your dash also granted you invincibility for dashing through projectiles, then this wouldn’t have been as much of a problem. Interestingly, the Hadrucanrus does have a melee attack which you can parry for Refusal. The problem is that even if you are right in the Hadrucanrus’ face, whether he will decide to melee attack or perform a long-ranged projectile attack even if you are standing right in front of it, is also largely determined by chance, so you’re better off not bothering at all in the interest of time and your health.

There’s a bunch of other enemies, but I didn’t list them because they were too functionally identical to other more efficient-at-killing the player enemies. I’m going to list them now.
Aside from the Hammerlunger there’s a bunch of other melee enemies whose deal I’m not entirely sure of. Their role is identical, but they do not really do anything new or serve a different role. I don’t see a functional difference between Macheteslashers and Hammerlungers at all other than Macheteslashers having a useless lunge with a pitiful range instead of a leaping attack. Twinreapers also aren’t much different other than that instead of a leaping attack they can kind of joust forward which knocks you back if you get hit, which is also kind of useless. Dualaggers can throw their daggers at you like boomerangs, but you have to try real hard to get hit by them. Their melee attack isn’t hitscan, nor will they try to rush you, so parrying them can be bit of a pain because the timing of their attack animation has to be learned the hard way. Twinreapers are again the same as Hammerlungers, except they can enter this mode where they boost forwards and knock back the player if you get hit, which is again not a huge deal compared to the sudden burst of speed of the Hammerlunger’s leaping attack. There’s also Scarjammers, big dudes who prefer to hitscanpunch you, but can sometimes also fire projectiles from their hands. For some reason they like to not move a lot, and their ranged attacks are utilized rather poorly because you can see it coming from a mile away. Funnily enough, this enemy type is also barely used in the game.

Maybe the activation range for the Macheteslasher could be increased so you’d have to anticipate a fast lunging attack from a greater distance. Maybe instead of skidding forwards, Twinreapers could just gain a temporary speed boost. Maybe the Dualagger boomerangs could have a slight homing property on the player. Maybe the Scarjammer could move and shoot projectiles at the same time Skaarj-style while closing in for a punch so you can’t just stand there and anticipate a parry (I swear, Unreal and DooM2016 the only FPSes where enemies don’t always stop before firing a projectile attack) but have to keep shuffling about.

The game is quite short. There’s only 3 zones per world, including 1 boss zone and 3 optional aberration zones. There also being three worlds in total. I don’t consider this a huge problem considering the main draw is being the score attack. Aberration zones are also more unique in this regard. Abberration zones are just remixed versions of the existing normal zones, but played in reverse with altered trap placement and enemy spawns. Aberration zone give you a preset loadout which you have to make do with. On top of that, Aberration zones also provide Mutators after each encounter to mix things up (in case you didn’t notice, the developer is a big UT fan). Mutators can include things such as being able to dual-wield weapons, not being able to dash, dying in one hit, every enemy is synced, everything moves 2x faster, enemies can only be damaged mid-air, et cetera. These can be both buffs or debuffs, and they go a long way to provide a unique side-challenge for those who are looking for something different. Some can be a right pain in the ass too, like the one where you can only damage enemies by juggling them in the air with the double rocket launchers, but it’s nothing impossible.

Then there’s also three Defender Zones, each being a boss fight basically. In these you’re pitted against a big neon warrior in a large flat arena with a heap of attacks up their sleeve. The mode of gameplay also changes here, since you can’t execute ASs against one giant single enemy over the course of one large fight (even though it would be doable). Instead you kind of dash around and shoot at the big bulletsponge repeatedly. Yeeeeeugh. The dominant strategy for all boss fights is to get the Diffuserrail, spec it for Damage, equip the Repair Core, and then shoot the boss with the Diffuserrail as much as possible until you run out of ammo. Because the Diffuserrail is hitscan and deals tremendous amounts of damage, it is very useful against hitting enemies from a long distance away, whereas your other weapons may end up missing because of their low projectile speed once the boss decides to move around a bit. Though it’s not like bosses intentionally try to dodge your attacks.

While most of the general gameplay is centered around executing as many ASs as possible on each enemy, that can’t really apply to a fight where you only fight one giant spongy enemy. In fact, most things from normal gameplay don’t apply here. Crowd control, weapon management, Attack Sequences, Attack Rush, (De)Syncs, what are those? A better concept for a boss fight would have been to fight a group of unique player-sized enemies in an arena designed to complement their abilities, with their strategies changing the more you pick off.

Just like most boss fights in first-person shooters, weapon balance in a boss fight comes down to using the one with the highest DPS, which is the Diffuserrail. In DESYNC you do use all the weapons at your disposal, but for ammunition-related reasons, not because of the weapon’s attributes if it isn’t “high DPS”. The maximum ammo limit for each weapon is quite low, so you’ll be forced to switch around because of this. Running out of ammo for the more useful weapon will happen alot, that’s probably why the Repair Core exists so it can completely max out all your ammo with the press of a button once you’ve got it charged up (which charges up by dealing damage to bosses). It’s stupidly broken and can be considered cheesing, but the leaderboards rank boss fight scores on completion time, so the ability which gives you the ammunition to inflict some hurt in the first place is naturally going to become the most frequent pick.

Xeoron is the first Defender and if the Steam reviews are anything to look at, the real casual filter of the game. According to the Steam Achievements, less than 20% of the people who bought this game managed to beat this boss. There’s probably several reasons for that. One being that the i-frame property of dashing is not explained at all, and that it’s hard to gauge the exact moment when you have to dash/dodge when the boss primes to attack, so most people are most likely S+M1ing while getting damaged for reasons they cannot explain. Another is that you only have three weapons at this point in the game when you encounter Xeoron for the first time, namely the Tristol, Diameteor and Terrablaster. So ammo can be bit of an issue if you end up missing a lot. The boss regularly drops ammo if you damage it enough, but you need to walk all over to where the boss is so you can pick them up, because you want to place a good distance between you and the boss.

Damage Xeoron enough, and he shifts into his second phase where he sprouts wings and a crossbow. With the crossbow he can fire a fast spread of multiple projectiles at you, which you avoid by dashing backwards? I’ve never found a way to consistently avoid his crossbow projectile attacks on the ground, you just have to get lucky to avoid them or get lucky that he never performs this attack at all. But when he’s shooting you while flying, you can stand right below him to strafe around his attacks with ease. Whenever he crashes down from the air or performs his ground pound attack, a damaging shockwave will erupt which you have to jump over. This is the only moment in the game where you’re required to jump, and as a result most people are most likely going to be hit by this attack the first time they experience it, as the job description said nothing about jumping at all. The fact that jumping is only utilized in this one boss fight for this one attack is both bullshit and wasted potential. While the natural solution to this attack (to those who have played some videogames at the very least) is to jump over it, it’s not something that immediately comes to mind since you’re never expected to jump in the game before or after that. Having one ability in the player’s moveset which is only useful for only one isolated situation is just moronic. This is not a bad attack on its own, but it is within the context of the entire game.

Even with the starting weapon loadout, Xeoron isn’t too difficult once you get the hang of him. Dash backwards when he moves in for a melee attack, jump when he’s about to do a shockwave attack, get under him when he flies into the air, and hope for the best when he shoots you after landing. Meanwhile, just keep shooting. There’s achievements for defeating each boss without taking damage, which aren’t that impossible to achieve, though in Xeoron’s case there is indeed some luck involved.

The problem is that there’s not a lot to Xeoron, or other bosses for that matter. The decision-making behind your offensive possibilities in fight is very simple: if the Diffuserrail is out of ammo or isn’t available yet, just use any other weapon until Repair Core is recharged. There’s nothing to the boss fights where it may be a better idea to use THIS weapon instead of the Diffuserrail, because the weapons are designed around use against multiple player-sized enemies at once. Defense largely comes down to backpedaling and dashing backwards when necessary (and in Xeoron’s case you have to jump every now and then). There’s no unique ranged attacks where you need to think about how to apply your dash, or how to move around a constantly shifting arena. You can parry some of Xeoron’s attacks with the Aegis for a free stagger, though you only have two shots at parrying whenever the Aegis spawns in because of how the Sidearm system works. As completing boss fights is ranked on completion time, high-ranking play comes down to how quickly you can kill the boss with the Diffuserrail. You can kill most bosses in around forty seconds this way.

The second boss is Zentore, some giant gryphon knight looking thing with a huge sword. It’s only got one attack, where it rushes you and swings his giant sword at you. The animation for this is really janky, because Zentore’s sword is so fucking big and so is the distance from which he’ll start swinging at you, to the point where it becomes really vague to ascertain what the hell the dash timing is. Most people will just spam dash backwards when he’s about to attack, which also works to some extent. This alone would make for an incredibly boring boss fight, but if you damage Zentore enough, he’ll stick his sword in the ground and become invulnerable as additional enemies spawn into the arena, during which he slowly heals himself until all additional enemies are killed. On top of that, laser beams will erupt from the sky and slowly move around the arena at random, killing you instantly if you touch them, though avoiding them isn’t that hard.

Finally some usage of multiple enemies at once for a boss fight. You want to kill them as fast as possible, because the longer you take, the more health Zentore will recover. I dig this because you can’t use Diffuserrail on every single normal enemy here, as it is tremendous overkill and will leave you out of ammo for Zentore himself once you’re done mopping up, so you have to use your other weapons like you would normally. Unfortunately the Repair Core does unbalance this by giving you loadsaammo for the Diffuserrail and the Osmoflux to gib most enemies in one shot. Each subsequent time Zentore decides to go invulnerable, the enemies spawned will be stronger, so first you get Dualaggers, and for the third time you get Shieldbears. Yet even with enemies you’d face normally throughout the game spawning in this fight, you still can’t execute any ASs.

Zentore is my favourite fight on account of its design synergizing the best with the core gameplay, though I wouldn’t really call it good or even OK, largely owing to the fact that the boss itself is way too simplistic (it has one (1) fucking attack) and the environmental hazards themselves being largely disregardable in practice, on top of the weapons not being suitable for boss fights at all. But it shows that if you want something resembling a good boss fight in a game designed around crowd control, that you want to have more than one light enemy in your boss fight.

The final boss, Ypsiliform, is a trio of flying knight things, each with a lance and shield. This sure is the coolest looking boss from a presentation standpoint, though from a gameplay perspective I would rate it inbetween Xeoron and Zentore. Ypsiliform will charge straight at you in a straight line, which is much more intuitive to anticipate and react against than gauging attack timing through wonky attack animations. It will attack you like other bosses would if you get too close, which you shouldn’t be doing. Its projectile attack is much more consistently dodgeable than Xeoron’s roll of the dice, as you can somewhat dash underneath it. On top of that it’s capable of another projectile attack where it fires a chromatic dark orb at you which also destroys part of the arena floor, Dark Fukt-style. I don’t think that’s a really good idea as it presents the same problems as acid pits do, but thankfully the affected area is small and won’t be a huge problem (which places the onus also on not being an effective attack at all).

It can raise its shield to deflect attacks, but unfortunately it’s not always raised like it is with the Shieldbear, and doubly unfortunately the Diffuserrail can penetrate through the shield anyways, so it’s not like there’s a real point to it if you try seriously. It would have been useful had the shield also been resistant against the Diffuserrail, but also if it was always raised unless Ypsiliform attacked/charged. That way you’d have to think more about how you’re going to land your shots, though the HP needs to be adequately decreased to compensate for having a smaller time window to deal any damage, in order to prevent things from feeling drawn out.

If you kill one Ypsiliform (or if a certain amount of time passes), another Ypsiliform will join the fray, and the existing Ypsiliform will get a Strength Sync. So now you have two to deal with. Take even longer, and the third one will step in too. There’s only three Ypsiliforms max you need to kill, so it doesn’t go on forever. If you use the Diffuserrail, you won’t notice this at all. With it you can kill each Ypsiliform quickly enough before another spawns, allowing you to kill each Ypsiliform one by one with ease. This one is rather baffling, this is a kind of boss fight where not being that good nets you a much harder fight, whereas having more skill and game knowledge nets you a much easier one. This seems self-explanatory, but the idea is that you should be able to kill a boss faster by performing hard-to-use and risky but powerful moves, whereas normal players will try to do it slowly but safely. Using the Diffuserrail and Repair Core barely can be considered “risky, aggressive play”. The Syncs can be taken care of with absolute ease by equipping the Pulstar and using its point ‘n click auto-desync for a free desync and Desync Time, which is absolutely silly, they even give out an achievement for it.

And after you beat Ypsiliform, you get booted right to the ending. The ending only features an abstract background and the message “THANK YOU FOR PLAYING”. Is… is that it? I don’t expect a big twist or a farewell party or anything, but not even a message saying you saved the world or something? Or that you escaped the machine? Or that you got your revenge? To this day I still don’t understand what the narrative purpose is of you doing anything in this game, why you are killing this shit, why I am even here. The frustrating thing here is that there is clearly some kind of purpose to some elements in the presentation, but there’s no cohesive whole to tie them together, or even allow room for theorizing. This is just… so barebones. I don’t feel anything. Some nerd once said: “Story in a game is like story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important”. And I do agree, for the most part. You at least want a setting and story to give some justification for why the gameplay is happening. Else it feels like a string of random crap. And DESYNC doesn’t even fall into “go figure out what’s happening yourself” territory. It could have, but it doesn’t. Maybe the journey of beating the game could be the story, but that would only work if it was properly challenging or felt like it was ramping up towards something, which it isn’t.

That’s DESYNC for you. A strange experiment concerning abstract minimalism, being intentionally hard to get because you think most people would never even try to seriously get you to begin with, and making a shooter focused on scoreplay. Not as unfair as its made out to be, not as shallow as its made out to be, but not that tight on higher levels either. There’s a trove of good ideas to do in a FPS which you can learn from, but also a trove of bad ideas. It is an interesting game to learn, but there’s only so much to learn.

After you finished the game, you can go back and try to achieve all the high-scores, that’s what the game is designed around after all.

But I already got all the high scores.

Now what?!

4 thoughts on “Guest Post: Durandal on DESYNC

  1. adrix89 July 4, 2019 / 7:05 am

    Durandal the hero DESYNC needed.
    But really what the fuck was the developer thinking.


  2. bendis September 30, 2019 / 8:29 pm

    So is this blog dead or are you planning to write more articles someday?
    The askfm is inactive as well and your twitter has too many retweets and fashion atrocities to make it worth trudging through in search of game talk.


    • Chris Wagar September 30, 2019 / 8:33 pm

      I’m focusing on other stuff. I’ll probably do YouTube eventually. I’m just not feeling it right now.


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