In SYNTHETIK: Ultimate you play as an android prototype that contains a human consciousness, fighting against the Machine Legion that has set out to destroy humanity. Not exactly the most original plot, but the gameplay is what matters, so let’s just get right into that.
SYNTHETIK is a challenging rogue-lite that uses a slightly angled top-down perspective. The goal of the game is to climb a tower, defeating the machines that guard it, and ultimately climb to the top and stop Armageddon. There are four floors, each with its own boss fight. All of these floors are then followed up by a final, final boss fight.
There are eight character classes to choose from and just an obscene amount of weapons available to use. Each character starts out with a pistol, but there are sub-machine guns, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, machine guns, launchers, and even special guns that fire unique rounds. As you play there are also special abilities you can acquire, and you even have a drone companion that can be upgraded to help out in combat as well.
The sheer number of ability, item, and weapon combinations available in SYNTHETIK: Ultimate would be impossible to go through in a single review. The point being, there are plenty of options for players who have a preference for a certain playstyle. Once an item is used it is possible to select an option in the menus that increases its spawn chance, and you can use a separate toggle that will increase its ammo as well. There is a limit to how many weapons you can do this for, but it is a nice feature if you have weapons that you favor.
But while on the topic, an area where SYNTHETIK falls short is its menu optimization. SYNTHETIK: Ultimate was initially released on PC and it shows. The menus are very spread out and there is no easy way to navigate them. Another pain point in the menus is the fact that no settings are saved between boot ups. If you adjust volume, controller stick dead zone, aim assist or any other settings they will need to be changed every time you restart the game. Coupled with the fact that the menus aren’t very user-friendly, things are just more tedious than they need to be. These are just some quality of life complaints, but they do make a difference.
But back to the actual gameplay. As stated earlier, the goal is to climb up the tower, defeating enemies along the way, and SYNTHETIK has a bit of a unique combat system. I made it a point to mention that the top-down camera is slightly angled because it is actually possible to get headshots, which is something you won’t see in similar games. This is another feature that I’m sure works better with mouse aiming compared to controller aiming. But a positive way to look at it is that it adds to the challenge.
The gunplay is also unique. For starters, guns don’t automatically reload when out of ammo, and not only that but you have to eject the clip before reloading. First, you need to press LB, then RT, and there is an active reload mechanic where you hit RT again in a brief window of time – think Gears of War if you need a comparison. But perhaps the most shocking feature of all is that reloading while there is still ammo in your clip actually gets rid of the remaining ammo.
That’s right: you will need to fight every gamer instinct that games like Halo and Call of Duty have drilled into you since you first played a shooter. No more taking two shots and then reloading just to be safe. I actually enjoy this feature a lot; it introduces a level of strategy that most games just blatantly ignore, and it adds another level of difficulty to an already challenging game.
I know I’ve been talking up the difficulty a lot so far, but SYNTHETIK doesn’t have to be a super punishing game. There are modifiers that are active by default that set the difficulty of the game to 100%. This percentage increases the experience gain of your playthrough, and there are enough modifiers to bring the total percent above 200%. And as someone who has played almost exclusively at 200%, it is challenging.
These modifiers also add in player bonuses, so they aren’t all bad. For example, there is a “Lightning Start” modifier that makes the first floor harder by adding 25% to the difficulty score modifier, while increasing headshot damage by 15%. These modifiers can also be turned off to make things easier, so it’s possible to ease in to the more difficult settings.
The last thing I want to mention, and perhaps the biggest disappointment in all of SYNTHETIK: Ultimate, is its lack of any co-op or multiplayer. There is a co-op mode on PC but unfortunately this hasn’t made the move to Xbox.
For the sake of fairness, there are no claims that there is multiplayer on console so normally I wouldn’t feel the need to mention it here. However, some of the character abilities are designed to be used with allies and the in-game descriptions for these characters still mention this. This would lead any reasonable person to assume that there is a co-op mode, and learning that there isn’t one after reading in-game text that references it is upsetting to say the least.
Despite this, SYNTHETIK: Ultimate on Xbox is a great rogue-lite for gamers looking for a solo challenge. There are plenty of quirks to overcome and if you’re not a fan, or are new to the genre, SYNTHETIK: Ultimate probably won’t be the right fit for you. But if you’re patient, enjoy unforgiving gameplay, and love having tons of weapon and ability variety, then this is the game for you.