Desync is a game that wants to be a lot things. It wants to have the skill-based score system from Bulletstorm. It wants to have fast paced run-and-gun movement of older shooters like Quake or Unreal Tournament, while having an aesthetic akin to early-'90s cyberpunk CGI. It does have all these things, but unfortunately none of them come together in a way that makes Desync stronger.

The way Desync presented itself was the first of my issues. All the menu text is beset with fake scan lines and fake screen glitching which makes it hard to read or even focus on for extended periods of time. Desync doesn’t even have traditional menus beyond the settings. Unlike most games where you’re presented with a list of levels to choose from, Desync chooses to have you in a hub with various interactive computers. In order to choose a level to play there’s a massive rotating orb that you must click, drag, and spin around to find the level you want.

The Foregone Syndicate

If it sounds convoluted, it is and it doesn’t end there. You can upgrade your offensive and defensive skills and equip sidearms, but again, it’s all with these interactive computers that could’ve just been as easily done with a list menu. This wouldn’t be so bad if Desync wasn’t so steeped in it’s own aesthetic because even some of the sentences and phrasing are hard to parse. It uses phrases like “sequences” and “syncs” so often that they begin to lose all meaning.

Combat in Desync is nothing spectacular, but shooting, dodging, and jumping all feel smooth. The problem comes when you unlock sidearms. The whole game is controlled with keyboard and mouse, so movement is bound to WASD while sidearm actions are bound to Q and E. The actions can be rebound, but that means you’d have to stop moving at some point to use them, and you’re never going to want to stop moving. Enemies come fast and furious, and once they’re on top of you it’s very difficult to get away.

The Foregone Syndicate

It doesn’t help that unless you get a direct hit on them, they all feel like bullet sponges. That’s especially true of the bigger enemies, which are not only stronger than the smaller grunts, but also way faster in both movement and attack speed. At one point I was being chased by five knight-looking enemies that could swing faster than I could shoot, run faster than I could, jump way higher and farther, and could kill me in the matter of two attacks.

Desync is extremely hard, often to the point of being unfair. It touts how unpredictable enemy patterns are but it’s not even about that. Enemies are far too strong for this fast-paced style of game. Having to circle around a room while running backwards, shooting, and looking back to make sure there were no other enemies closing, and also being on the lookout for traps is requires far too much from a player. The traps are supposed to be used for the aforementioned sequences. Attack sequences are what this game refers to as special moves or combos, such as shooting them into spikes or obliterating them in one shot. In theory, you’re supposed to be able to shoot enemies into them, but again, the game moves so fast that attempting to line up a shot to pull it off proved to be annoying. I found myself running into more traps myself versus the enemies.

The Foregone Syndicate

The heavy synth soundtrack, while decent at first, quickly becomes droning and repetitive with how often you’ll die. Desync doesn’t cycle through tracks, but instead assigns one to each level. After two minutes of the same thumping bass, I was ready to hear anything else. Again, the aesthetic, while intriguing at first, is ultimately uninteresting. Level design just feels like the same purple rooms over and over again with enemies who don’t look much like anything beyond jagged edges. Even the weapon designs look like jumbles of polygons.

I wanted Desync to be good. I’m fan of games that actually test your reflexes and mettle but so much of this title just feels unfair. It controls well enough and when you’re actually able to get a combo going, it’s fun. Ultimately, those moments are too few and far between. Maybe with some improvements or toning down the difficulty and enemy speed, I’ll return to Desync. For now I’ll just to stick with games that do everything Desync tries to do with better results, like Bulletstorm or Doom.

This review was completed using a download code of Desync provided by the publisher for PC.