Synapse Review

Synapse Header

Washing up on the shore of Colonel Peter Conrad’s mind palace – it might not be called that here, but I’ve seen Inception too many times – you’ll immediately be stunned by the otherworldly nature of the world you’re in. Rocky crags rise up out of the lapping ocean, waterfalls move upwards, and everything is defined by the monochromatic palette of whites, blacks and greys. It’s a setting that’s so visually distinct that you barely need any time to grasp exactly why your presence here is so important. As a showcase for PSVR 2‘s power and fidelity, Synapse is an immediate winner.

Synapse places the world’s fate on your shoulders, and thankfully you’re a highly trained agent with real-world skills. Those skills include, though are not confined to, carefully sending bullets to their desired recipient. If you like, you’re a lethal postal worker, but not one that works for Evri. Heading inside Colonel Conrad‘s mind has granted you access to a series of unnatural skills, putting the power of telekinesis in your hands. Your left hand if we’re being specific.

This telekinetic power utilises the PSVR 2’s remarkably accurate eye tracking, and all you have to do is look at your desired target and use your left hand to lift, fling or yeet your target across the level. Crates can be dumped on enemy heads, exploding barrels can be crushed with your outstretched hand, and once you’ve upgraded your abilities far enough, you can return grenades to their sender. Alternatively, you could just chuck the sender in the ocean.

While you’re here to do good, I found myself erring ever closer to the dark side, repeatedly smashing crates into soldiers, slapping people aside, and revelling in the mess caused by exploding barrels in the midst of an enemy group. Synapse definitely works best when you’re role playing as more of a Sith than Jedi, giving you all the tools needed to dismantle, dismay and discombobulate your opponents. However, it doesn’t all come at once.

Synapse PSVR2 Screenshot

Synapse is set up as a VR roguelite, with repeated journeys into the colonel‘s mind gaining you experience in the form of Defiance which you can then spend on the upgrade tree. There’s a welcome push and pull between how you play the game and the growth of your skills, with progress matched to various objectives such as killing ten enemies with thrown items, or while you hold onto a piece of cover, altering or dictating how you approach the next run. It gives you the opportunity to experiment and explore Synapse’s combat system, and you find yourself developing new techniques and leaning on old favourites at the same time.

As you progress you gain various abilities and boons that are guaranteed to make future runs easier, starting with the appearance of weapon and health caches and growing from there. By the time you reach the top of each of the three tiers of skills you’ve become a ridiculously powerful assassin, despatching waves of enemies with ease. This being a roguelike, there’s further random elements to improve your chances of success, and here they take the form of Mind Hacks.

These are additional skills that you can choose when you’ve successfully completed a zone, and include lethal assistance like damage that spreads out to nearby enemies when you shoot one, to each kill granting you extra health. You start to learn which of these suits your play style each time you reset, and you will be hoping to see some of them early on to give you the best chance possible.

Synapse combat in PSVR 2

Combat is brilliantly fun, but that comes with one clear caveat. In my playtime, and in the earlier preview demo I played, the accuracy of the guns in Synapse is not where I want it to be. Confusingly there’s even a laser sight which should make things easy, but in my testing I generally had to fire off a shot or two to gauge my accuracy and then adjust from there. This could be my setup, but it’s not something I’ve noticed when playing Horizon Call of the Mountain or C-Smash VRS.

It could of course be a design choice, intended to prevent you from fully relying on the different armaments and pushing you to use your telekinetic powers instead, but there were times that it was frustrating, particularly when the fiction is telling you that you’re a highly trained operative. Then again, maybe your aim is only as mushy as the brain you’re occupying. It ultimately didn’t diminish the amount of fun here, and it’s something that can hopefully be tweaked in an update.

Synapse isn’t the longest game either, though each run can take upwards of 45 minutes. Fortunately, you can save mid-way through a run on your journey to the Colonel’s subconscious, and I find that overall VR benefits from shorter experiences. And what an experience it is. I love the setting and the frantic telekinetic gameplay, and alongside Horizon this is going to be a game that I’ll use to show off my PSVR 2 to the uninitiated.

Synapse is a phenomenal VR game, bringing striking visuals, meaningful progression and true power fantasy together to craft a game that’s begging for one more go. It stands as an immediate must-buy for PSVR2 owners.
  • Evocative setting
  • Brilliant adaptation of telekinesis
  • Plenty of replay value
  • Aiming isn't as accurate as you'd hope
Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.