Synced: Off-Planet full review
Chinese tech and gaming behemoth Tencent dominates much of the homegrown market, but most of its titles don't make it as far as the west - except for those it buys after the fact, like League of Legends. That makes online shooter Synced: Off-Planet - revealed for the first time at Gamescom 2019 - an interesting sign of things to come.
The PvPvE online shooter comes from Tencent's NExT Studios, and pits teams of players up against both each other and vast hordes of cybernetic zombies. I got the chance to play an early build at Nvidia's pre-Gamescom event - thanks to the fact that Synced uses Nvidia's RTX real-time ray-tracing tech - though I was only up against AI opponents, rather than real human opposition.
Here's the basic gist: for any given encounter, you and your teammates are in a race to gather resources and save survivors from roving Nanos - think cyborg zombies with purple glowing eyes and you're pretty close - before competing against other teams to secure access to the shuttle that'll escort you off-world.
I didn't get to play through the resource-gathering, survivor-finding part of the game, with the Gamescom demo instead focusing on that PvPvE segment at the end of each mission. This essentially involves getting up close to the shuttle to 'sync' with it and claim it for your team before surviving a few minutes of waves of Nano attacks while every other team on the map - up to 50 players apparently - tries to claim it for themselves too.
The Nanos are basically zombies, to be blunt - the dev team even called them that during my briefing. They're the 28 Days Later-style runners, so it's more about facing off against a giant horde than a few isolated threats, and each individual Nano will go down after one or two shots, with the exception of bigger, bulkier 'Elites'. I'd expect a few more enemy types in the final game, but there's no sign of them yet.
So why bother making them cyborg zombies at all, other than for background fluff? Well, that's because every now and then you'll get the chance to sync with a local horde, temporarily bringing them under your control. Disappointingly you don't seem to actually get any direct control of them, but instead they'll simply turn against other Nanos, or any other player characters in the area, while leaving you and your teammates alone - great for sneaking through early areas or distracting other players while you flank them for a kill.
I didn't get much of a sense of weapon variety - I tried a pistol and an assault rifle, but that was about it - and slightly floaty gunplay combined with Nanos going down after one hit meant that combat didn't have too much weight. Still, this is an early build of the game and that's exactly the sort of thing that shapes up over time. Besides, the simple joy of mowing down a horde is enough to make up for any iffy gunfeel.
There was no mention of character customisation either, but no doubt there'll be some. Whether or not that'll be tied to loot boxes also remains to be seen, but I'd be pretty surprised if it wasn't.
We also don't know when or where Synced: Off-World will be playable. It'll definitely be on PC, as that's how I played it - in a bid to show off the shadows and reflections offered by Nvidia's ray-tracing tech. But so far NExT hasn't announced console release plans, or any release window.
It's likely that a lot will change with Synced between now and release, but for an early build this shows plenty of promise. PvPvE battle royale games look set to be one of the biggest growing genres, and this should boast everything I want from them: team-based gameplay, interesting enemies, and at least one solid unique hook - in this case the ability to sync with Nano hordes.