With a “the robots have taken over” Terminator-ish plot, Synthetik: Ultimate is the latest twin-stick roguelite to hit consoles and PC. Although it has a few elements to slightly separate itself from the other titles in this crowded genre it ultimately winds up feeling a little artificial.
Using both analog sticks to move and shoot will feel right at home but what makes this experience much more tedious than it needs to be is the reloading mechanic. When all ammo has been spent, the player needs to hit a button to eject the cartridge, tap another button to initialize the reloading animation, then tap that same button in the sweet spot Gears of War-style. This might bring an added sense of realism to the gameplay but I found it to be annoying and drastically slows the pace of play. It is easy to get caught in a panic when cyborgs are attacking in packs, forcing accidental stumbles and eventually death in which the player restarts from the scratch. I couldn’t help but think how much faster paced and more fun it would be to not have to tediously reload ever few seconds. Some weapons, like a shotgun for example, will only be able to house a few shots which means the player could very well tap more reloading buttons then actual shots.
This console release has been ported directly from the PC version with no changes to the UI. Instead of simply hitting “A” when highlighting that option from the menu, the player controls a virtual mouse using the analog stick which is never accurate and is the slowest moving mouse pointer ever. The menu screen is cluttered with boxes and difficult to read text too, making the experience more tedious than it should be. Stages might feature an occasional new coat of paint but every level is basically start at one side of the stage and make it to the another while shooting anything that moves. For a game that is designed to be different each time, it is rather samey.
The coolest feature comes from the numerous character classes available right from the start. Each one features unique pros and cons, different loadouts, special abilities, and each plays quite differently. Since there are so many, players are easily encouraged to try then all especially since death will come so frequently. This is a rogue title after all. The other cool feature is the number of guns that become available through natural play. While not as crazy or varied as Borderlands, there is usually a weapon cache around every other corner. A large variety of weapons comes with a downside; you never really know how it is going to perform without a trial period. By the time you realize your previous gun was better, it might be too late to swap back.
Eventually the player will unlock modifiers. To be clear, these are modifiers, not straight level gains. This push and pull system will change the approach to combat, not necessarily make it easier. For example, hitting an enemy might cause a bleeding effect but reloads will take even longer, or reloading can happen automatically but at the cost of gaining experience points. Like the class system, these buffs and debuffs encourage experimentation and can change the approach with each play through.
Synthetik: Ultimate is a good example of a mindless game where you just want to shoot some stuff after a long day without thinking too much. There is no question this is not the best twin-stick shooter nor is it the best roguelike but dedicated fans might appreciate its unique highlights just as long as you can suffer though the attention hogging reload system.
Also available on PC, Switch, and PS4.