Dead Synchronicity is an adventure game in the classic style from publisher BadLand Games and developer Fictiorama Studios. Fictiorama is an indie studio comprised of three brothers, two of which are also members of the alternative rock band who performs the soundtrack. The game was released for the PC in April of last year, receiving mixed but overall positive reviews. Now the title comes to PS4 and soon the Xbox One.
The Dark Side of Adventure
Dead Synchronicity is an adventure game through and through. Fictiorama really stuck to the conventions of the old-school here for good or ill. Generally, when most people think of adventure they tend to think of the more lighthearted classics. The re-releasing or remastering of titles like Grim Fandango, Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle come to mind. More modern entries into the genre have brought darker themes to the forefront, with The Walking Dead being perhaps the most notable.
The Walking Dead features some truly horrific moments, and not the zombie kind either — the real alive humans and animals kind. It could be easily argued that some of the content in Dead Synchronicity, a game which features corpse-abuse to solve a problem, a narrative advancement through the help of a child-trafficking victim. This title’s version of the post-apocalyptic future doesn’t shy away from the dark realities of human nature when faced with, let’s say, difficult circumstances.
The particular brand of dystopian circumstance isn’t especially unique, but it provides enough of a twist to the story approach to make it an interesting one. The “great wave” is the destructive force that begins mankind’s downfall here — not a zombie outbreak or an alien EMP, though the true origin is left undiscovered at the end. (More on that later.) No — instead the cataclysmic event here either follows or is possibly shortly preceded by a different kind of medical outbreak, the “dissolved.”
The dissolved are humans infected with some sort of disease related to the wave. It involves the body slowly deteriorating, ending with a painful and violent liquification of the very-much awake and aware being. It’s gross in concept and difficult to see, even in cartoon form within the game. The extra bit of flourish on these ghoul-ified mortals is that before they reach their Raiders of the Lost Ark Nazi-face-melting state they begin to have visions. These visions and out-of-body experiences purport to give these soon-to-be human milkshakes the ability to speak with the deceased.
It’s a lot to take in. A nebulous “great wave,” which is to this point never fully explained, knocks out power and communications, causes explosions and rapid dilapidation of architecture, and creates goo people. Thrust into this hell of a world is Michael, a character waking in an awful “refugee” camp with no memory of who he is or any of the things that have happened; Michael learns, or re-learns, as we play through the game. The amnesia thing is a bit of cliché, but it helps to introduce the world.
Michael’s adventure takes shape in the form of traditional point-and-click. It’s truly traditional, meaning the ridiculous, ‘click this inventory item on anything to see if it works,’ and hunting for pixels are present and sometimes annoyances. It also means that there’s a lot of expository monologues, which feel fine to read, but can become long and somewhat monotonous when voiced.
Indeed, some of the conversational bits go on a bit too long, lengthened by adding internal monologue to the external. There’s repetition here, as if the dialogue was not written with a flow, but one line at a time. Occasionally it feels like reading a forcefully written SEO article. When the term “dead synchronicity” is introduced in the game it’s spoken aloud about a billion times in the span of a few minutes. It’s like those edited trailers where the movie ends as soon as character says the title.
Grotesque Noir with 70s Flair
Visually, Dead Synchronicity has a fairly unique look to it. In prepping research for the game I came across PCWorld’s review of the PC version. The writer there compared the style to the animation used in The Wall. It’s an apt comparison. The game has a dark, grimy, Heavy Metal with noir vibe about it. There are some quibble here and there, with some objects not standing out well enough against the background, including the main characters single-color lower torso. The more gruesome moments stand out well in a look that evoke the graphic novel style of something like 30 Days of Night. The best usage of their techniques in game are seen in the aptly named Suicide Forest area, the best pairing of their art and music.
The companion to the art-style is a selection of music I wasn’t sure worked at first. I got the feeling that someone had swapped out what should have been an ominous horror soundtrack with the music from Dirty Harry or Death Wish. Turns out that I wasn’t far from the mark as Fictiorama’s band, Kovalski, were heavily influenced by “orchestral rock and Italian Giallo” soundtracks of the 1970s. Nailed it. The score felt like a strange companion for a strange world. In the end it works well.
The truth is, if the story wasn’t as interesting as it is, and the voice acting was even a little more uneven, it might have felt like a tedious chore to play through. Instead, I mostly enjoyed the experience. The adventure game genre is one I’ve been playing since my first PC in the late 80s. I assume that, though popular again, it’s more of a niche thing. Short attention spans and inability to think of non-linear item usage won’t get players far in this game — you want me to use the acid where!? So this title probably won’t be well-received outside of genre enthusiasts.
Like so many things, the experience ends up being mixed bag, but the story setup is intriguing when paired with well-done art of the aural and visual kind. The very abrupt ending is a huge negative, however. This probably due to a marketing/funding reason. Dead Synchronicity isn’t specifically billed as an episodic game, but it should be. There is more to the story, coming in a possible “sequel” in development. We could argue semantics here, but the game is incomplete and should be billed as such. There are plenty of people that won’t realize they are possibly purchasing an unfinished story at what could be seen as a steep $19.99. For now, the only Synchronicity II we know we can get is from old albums…
Review code for PS4 provided by the publisher.