Released in April of 2015, Fictiorama Studios’ new graphic adventure game Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today felt like a rough beginning of what could be an interesting series. A game with beautiful backgrounds and a dark, gritty story is hampered by difficult and often repetitive gameplay which comes to an abrupt ending. Perhaps future chapters will receive a little more polish.
Dead Synchronicity plays as a pretty normal point-and-click adventure game. The game uses a standard “lock and key” mechanism of finding an item and adding it to your inventory for use in the later progression of the story. This is often done while completing a task for an NPC and can lead to some pretty unsavory actions by your character.
So, the story unfolds of “The Great Wave” that has wiped out much of civilization, and your character (named Michael) has just come to with no memory of what has happened; a “blankhead”. As Michael you will try to escape from the Refugee Camp and find out what has happened to you and the world. At least, if you can bear with the game for that long..
I enjoyed the animation style and the dark, post apocalyptic world as well as the ending, but I came to dread trudging through the “use item here” puzzles that completely dominate the game. These interactions (I hate to call them puzzles; they aren’t) can only be solved in a certain order and in a certain way, often with ambiguous suggestions for assistance. Perhaps worst of all is the complete lack of satisfaction at completing one of these tasks knowing all the time that there will be more just like it around the corner.
I’m not sure how much time I spent wandering around the strikingly small world after I exhausted lines of dialogue again and again and still had no idea what to do. I began randomly trying to combine items at certain points just to progress the game. And I was often times successful with this approach. But that is not how a game should be played, and I was not having fun. Finally the game ended and I received a nice portion of story and a lead-in for another chapter. However, I’m still not sure if it was worth it.
Two buttons on the keyboard and a mouse were all I needed as far as controls are concerned. Meanwhile, the escape key will become quite useful in skipping the cutscenes of the Great Wave’s aftershocks that plague Michael every, say, thirty seconds. Oh, and liberal use of the space bar is recommended.
What I Liked
The animation style is what caught my eye first. It reminds me of 70s era cartoons like Heavy Metal or, more recently, The Venture Bros. The musical score was superb as is the voice acting, though sometimes the NPCs sound as though an accent is either attempted for regional effect or is trying to mask a natural one, and this often detracts from some of the authenticity. The voice of Michael, however, is excellent, as are those of most the other characters.
The plot is graphic and contains mature themes for sure. Without giving too much away, the subject matter can be quite graphic in nature. Scenarios involve providing a weapon to children as well as forced prostitution. Thematically, many of the actions the player takes as Michael are morally questionable. This includes lying during conversation prompts and a prevalent attitude of “do whatever is necessary.” The desperation of this dying world is best shown during these dark times. Excellently written, there are some very memorable moments and the ending actually made me more curious about this world than any of the rest of the game. This reinforces my thought that this is a well scripted but poorly executed story.
What I Didn’t Like
In retrospect, I did not hate this game the way I thought I did. The ending saved it, While playing I just felt like I didn’t understand what was to be done, and that was my fault, but I wandered around a lot. Way more than I would have thought necessary. And then I started to feel stupid. I felt like I was trying my hardest to understand a foreign language. It became “What the hell do they want me to do?” rather than “What can I intuit that should be done here?” I was being funneled through rather than exploring the environments. Early in the game there is a dark sewer that you need light for. “I know where a lamp is!” I thought. I retraced my steps to where my character first awoke, recalling a light source being in that location. And:
Take the lantern, Michael! Take it! But no. It is not until much later, while armed with a flashlight, that you find where the sewer becomes accessible. This may seem like a petty example, but it shows a larger issue within the game. Many objects can be interacted with, but not many are actually used. This in conjunction with a lack of directive for how to use or interact with the items makes for a frustrating experience.
I cannot recall how many times I returned and tried to get that lantern. Partially because it is literally the first item you interact with, and partially because it would have solved several different scenarios. The “ah-ha!” moments that give me the mental and emotional reward for figuring out puzzles were lacking in Dead Synchronicity. Worse than that, I was often spending a tedious amount of time trying to progress even a little way. And so began a frustrating trial and error game of “guess what the developer wants you to do here.” Not all the objectives are so obscure but enough are that I stopped caring what happened to the characters or the story. And story is all this game really has.
What could help this game? I think a time limit, perhaps. Allowing the player to walk around for an endless amount of time, struggling to figure out what needs to be done next, is too torturous. Adding a time frame for finding and solving the next action would give a reference for how far you must search for the item. Or, I don’t know, hints? Some simple queues from Michael while trying to interact with an object would be beneficial, at least more than him repeating what it is he won’t do. It wouldn’t take much.
So if you are aching for a decent science fiction story and have some dollars burning in your pocket, then give Dead Synchronicity a go. But just do yourself a favor and load up a video walkthrough for the more aggravating parts, as there is no reward worth the struggle found in this adventure game.