STAFF REVIEW of SYNTHETIK: Ultimate (Xbox One)

Tuesday, February 2, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

SYNTHETIK: Ultimate Box art I’m a fan of roguelikes when done right, and enjoy twin stick shooters even more so, so every time a new one releases I’m intrigued and need to check them out. The latest in the genre is SYNTHETIK: Ultimate from Flow Fire Games. SYNTHETIK: Ultimate is incredibly challenging, quick paced, confusing, yet rewarding all at the same time. SYNTHETIK originally released for PC a few years ago, but has since been improving the game and adding content, eventually announcing the Ultimate edition along with coming to consoles, so here we are.

Set in a future where you’re doing what you can to survive from a robot uprising, you’re going to need to put your twin stick shooter skills to the test if you want any chance in surviving, though thankfully there’s plenty of options to toggle on or off to customize your experience. Primarily played like your typical top down shooter, there’s some unique mechanics that really make SYNTHETIK: Ultimate stand out amongst the crowd, for better and worse.

Instead of being quick paced like most twin stick shooters, SYNTHETIK: Ultimate instead wants you to take a slower pace, as you’re going to have to be cautious and deliberate where and when you decide to reload your guns when your clips run out of ammunition. For those that can master this reload mechanic, you’ll do well, but struggle with it and you’re going to have a very difficult time.

So if you’ve played the core SYNTHETIK game previously on PC, you’re probably wondering what’s new in this Ultimate version other than it being available on console as well. This major update brought some new story elements, new rare enemy squads, new music, new shop items, balance changes and more. It was a pretty major update, so it made sense that the console release happened afterwards, making SYNTHETIK: Ultimate the best game it can be.

The world has utilized some extremely advanced AI to further technology, but after a few short years this backfired when the robots started an uprising against mankind. These machines started building more machines, which is now causing humanity to be hunted down and eradicated. This is where you come in, to prevent a Skynet situation from occurring before it’s too late to be completely stopped. Now, normally in games like these you play them for their gameplay, not necessarily its narrative, and SYNTHETIK: Ultimate is no different. Basically, you’re going to be shooting bad guys and robots nonstop with a huge arsenal of guns, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Played in a top down view, SYNTHETIK: Ultimate plays much like any other twin stick shooter for the most part, with the Left Stick being for movement and the Right for aiming. Some things are a little different than your typical game though, as your reticule will expand or shrink, depending on your movement speed and motion. Standing still you’ll be quite accurate, though try to run and gun and the reticule will be quite large, causing you to miss many shots, so you’ll need to find that ‘sweet spot’ for movement speed for each gun to be as efficient as possible as you don’t have unlimited ammunition like most other games.

First you’ll choose from one of eight classes to play as: Breacher, Sniper, Engineer, Assassin, Raider, Riot Guard, Heavy Gunner or Demolisher, each with their own specializations, play styles, weapons, perks and more. Each class has their own individual levels and persist through each death. Some classes seem to be better and more unique than others, but there’s many different ways to play based on your preferences. Do you prefer to be up and close and sneak, taking out enemies with melee? Do you want to snipe from afar? How about using explosives with a not so subtle approach or turrets to do the job for you? SYNTHETIK: Ultimate encourages experimentation, as it’ll take a few games of each class to really find which one you like best.

Your overall goal is to reach the top of the Citadel so that you can save humanity, but it won’t be easy to do so, and you’re going to die, a lot and repeatedly. Thankfully you’ll have access to an arsenal that continually grows as you progress, as your unlocks will persist through each death even though you’ll have to start over each time. Each class also has access to special abilities that play into their strengths and specific playstyle, so there’s a little more substance here than most simple twin stick shooters. It’s all about finding what class, items and equipment work best for your preferred playstyle and preferences.

Most levels will start the same way, placing you in a rectangular map where you’ll need to find the exit to head to the next area, but you won’t know where the exit is, and the map is filled with enemies that will shoot you on sight. Throughout each level you’ll find items, upgrades, equipment and a wide variety of weaponry if you take the time to explore. This is a roguelike though, so keep in mind that every time you play, the map, enemies, item placements and even bosses will all be completely randomized with each run after a death. After a handful of stages you’ll take on a boss that will give you some great rewards if you can destroy them, though I absolutely detest the conveyor level and would rather stop playing when this one appears (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you get to it).

Now, for a game that’s all about running and gunning, you have a wide variety of weapons you can equip you find along the way. You’re actually cable to carry three weapons, but the problem is tapping the ‘Y’ button switches only between two of them. You need to use the D-Pad if you want to swap to the third which is a bit cumbersome and hard to remember when things become chaotic in the heat of battle and you realize your out of ammo. I’m not sure if this was an issue on the PC version or if it’s solely a controller mapping oversight. Factor in you have lots of abilities and equipment you can also use on the fly, and you’ll constantly have to manage and monitor what you have available at any given point.

Something unexpected that I really appreciated though was the modifications you could make to tailor the gameplay to how you want. Do you actually prefer a much harder challenge? Then turn up the difficulty by toggling certain options that make the game much harder, but will reward you better as well. Or if you’re like me and simply want to try and survive, you can turn down the difficulties but have less rewards as well, it’s up to you.

I mentioned above that SYNTHETIK: Ultimate does something that makes itself stand out amongst others in the genre, and that’s because you’re going to have to not only utilize an active reload like Gears of War if you want the quickest reloads, but you also need to eject each magazine before a reload. That’s right, you need to press one button to eject your clip, then another to reload and again if you want the quickest active reload. At first I couldn’t really understand why this was a deliberate mechanic, but I eventually came to understand that it forces you to not blindly shoot and waste ammo, because reloading takes time and you can become overwhelmed quite quickly if you’re not strategic when you decide to reload. Do I like the mechanic? Not particularly, but I understand its purpose. Since you can eject a magazine at any time, this also means you can waste a lot of ammo if you eject and reload before the clip is empty.

Not only do you have to deal with the reload mechanics, but your weapons can also randomly overheat or jam, causing you to take more time to fix it in the heat of battle. Of course this is completely random, but it seemed to always happen to me at the most inopportune moments, sometimes resulting in a death.

SYNTHETIK: Ultimate has that old school aesthetic, blending 3D and 2D together, resulting in a game that looks retro yet modern at the same time with its smooth animations. Damage numbers can fill the screen when you’re shooting lots of enemies at once, and you can at times get lost in the chaos that fills the screen in the later stages. The camera angle can also make it a little awkward at times to figure out when an enemy is hiding behind an object or not, but you’ll start to figure it out after a handful of runs. Weapons sound great and impactful but I really enjoyed the EDM music that seemed completely appropriate for overthrowing a robotic threat to mankind.

You’ll want to play quickly like other twin stick shooters out of habit, but need to take a more slower and purposeful approach as you handle your inventory and active reloads. You’re going to die quite often and be challenged with its long grind, but it can be rewarding if you sink the time into it. Roguelikes are a dime a dozen, but SYNTHETIK: Ultimate does differentiate itself in a number of ways, though I found I would have stuck with it much longer if online co-op was an option on the console version.

If you like extremely difficult rougelikes then you might want to take a look at SYNTHETIK: Ultimate. It’s not hard just for the sake of it, but you need to be very deliberate and methodical in your approach to every level, as it’s quite easy to become overwhelmed. It’s also going to take many hours to put in the work to become proficient, but there is a decent reward at the end of the tunnel for those that make the commitment to learn all of its intricacies. While I wouldn’t suggest it for the casual fan, it does make for a unique one, even if it’s frustrating at times.

** SYNTHETIK: Ultimate was reviewed on an Xbox Series X **

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 6.5 / 10
Visuals: 6.5 / 10
Sound: 6.5 / 10


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