Synced: Off-Planet, the new PvPvE shooter being published by multinational conglomerate Tencent, wants you to send photos of yourself to them in order to get your face in the game. That way you can truly see how you’d hold up against a cyborg uprising from the comfort of your own home.
It’s a feature reminiscent of Tony Hawk’s Underground, where you were only one email and a few hours of processing time away from seeing your blocky face performing McTwists on a New Jersey cul-de-sac. But in the age of FaceApp and the willingness of people to sign their likenesses over to such companies, this sounds like a far less appealing novelty. In Synced’s case, all you’ll need to do is send 4 photos of your various facial angles over to developer NeXT Studios. Then in the span of a week, your images will be studied in a photogrammetry studio in China, with the end result being a fully realised 3D version of your head available to download into the game, ready to go face-to-face with around 1,500 angry cyborgs.
1,500 angry cyborgs AND 47 other humans, that is, 2 of whom are your teammates. Synced is an amalgamation of numerous other games, and at first glance struggles to strive for originality. But there is some there. It isn’t quite the squad-based shooting and looting of The Division, nor is it carnage on the scale of World War Z. It isn’t committed to being a battle-royale either, choosing to focus more on survival than murder.
Each round of Synced’s main game mode lasts around 20 minutes. You start with a basic loadout of weapons – I began with a low-powered silenced pistol, for example – but then are encouraged to loot around the map and expand your arsenal. In teams of three you scour the world trying to avoid, or slaughter, the hordes of “Nanos” that populate it. No vehicles currently exist the 1.5km by 1.5km arena, making it much more challenging (and less of an option) to outrun the corrupted near-humans. More often than not your main course of action will be to gun down the horde, painting the concrete with bursts of purple synthetic blood.
While there are few games that feature hordes of hordes of androids, inevitable comparisons to several other games do occur when playing Synced. The pack mentality of the hordes spark flashes of Days Gone and World War Z into the mind. The gunplay makes you do a second take and check that you haven’t booted up The Division 2 by accident, albeit it’s more reminiscent of the less refined combat of the first game in the series.
There’s a twist on some these elements however, which genuinely introduce a layer of freshness to Synced. A much more efficient and novel way of dealing with the cyber-masses is to kill the one Nano in the group which contains the valuable “Sync Node”. Once obtained from the Nano’s corpse, the Node gives you control of nearby Nanos within a certain radius. You’re then able to command your new cyborg army to attack other Nanos, or swamp fellow players in them. These won’t tend to kill other humans however, as the hordes seem to mainly serve as ammo fodder rather than a lethal opponent. They’ll provide a significant enough distraction and nuisance though, and allow for you to flank an unsuspecting player. Having this power promises to be extra helpful during the endgame phase of each match.
Replacing the ever-decreasing circle synonymous with the battle royale genre is a pick-up point, randomly selected on the map each time. To be successfully extracted from an Earth that has quite clearly seen better days, you have to get to this point and “sync” with the “Ark Shuttle”. You must then defend the area as dozens of Nanos and other human-controlled survivors attempt to ruin your day for good. This can quickly become hectic, especially when other players enter the fray, and the phase looks to provide some of Synced’s most tense moments. Survive, and you win a one-way ticket off the doomed planet.
With the match over, you then get to start it all over again, reliving the endless strife of the last humans trying to escape an overrun planet to find a more peaceful existence. A relaxing evening in, I’m sure you’ll agree.
There’s more to Synced than one multiplayer mode though. PvE is promised in the form of episodic content. These will take place in a different locale to the one map shown off so far, and will attempt to flesh out more of Synced’s universe, characters and how human existence itself in teetering on the precipice. No more details were given in my short hands-on time with the game, but I will be unsurprised if it riffs on the age-old horde mode formula, à la Left 4 Dead, among others.
From early impressions it appears that Synced: Off Planet’s main obstacle will be convincing people that it is not just a combination of some very familiar concepts that have been . One thing that will go a long way to doing this will be delivering a tight gameplay experience with a compelling loop and satisfying gunplay. From my time going hands-on I’m yet to be shown that this will be the case. There’s still plenty of time before Synced arrives, though – first on PC and then later on consoles – and there are flashes in what I’ve seen to suggest it will find an audience.
Until then, start perfecting your Nano killing faces in preparation for getting it into the game. Those photos will, almost definitely, 100% not be used for helping to train AI facial recognition technology in a lab.
Simon Cardy is a video producer for IGN in the UK and can’t imagine what AI could possibly learn from his face. See it on Twitter here.