Have you ever gone into a game completely unsuspecting, only to have the reality of it dawn on you like a hammer dropped from the Eiffel Tower onto your head? That was the Desynced experience for me. The multiple layers of AI systems for the drones. The research tree that I thought was one block of seven pieces, was actually half a dozen blocks.
Desynced is a base-building RTS automation game. That description in itself should tell you what kind of Alan Turing levels of equations you’ll be needing to understand. However, despite being completely overawed by the depth and complexity of the game, I was massively impressed, too. So much so, that I’m genuinely quite shocked it’s an Early Access title.
Turing My Patience
When you first boot up Desynced, you might be under the false impression that it’s a straightforward, homely kind of RTS. You have little drones you command and which will go about accomplishing tasks on their own. That is, until the tutorial starts introducing you to the Connectivity system, or the Power Grid, or the resource collection system.
Very quickly, the depth of the mechanics is laid bare. Being totally honest, I was pretty overwhelmed. After my first two hours, I actually had to take a break from the game for a bit. However, when I came back to it, I started to see through the initial cliff-edge learning curve.
As an example, in order to make structures effectively output items or resources, you have to manually arrange for equipment to be sent, and then equipped. Sounds straightforward, until you realise that the building you’ve crafted has Medium slots, but your Fabricator is Small. Now, all of those resources that went into that building are wasted.
Which kind of epitomises the steep learning curve Desynced has. The tutorial is very in-depth and explains a lot of the mechanics, but it doesn’t cover everything. It’s easy to miss details and become overwhelmed, but that actually made working it all out that much more satisfying. If you’re really into super in-depth RTS titles, Desynced will have you hooked very quickly.
The most important mechanic Desynced builds itself around is the Connectivity range and Power Grid. Being led by AI and drones, means that electrical communication is king. If drones venture out too far, they’ll need manual guidance or will lose most functioning. When they’re connected however, they’ll automatically fulfill tasks.
Which is actually great, as it allows you to focus on exploration, research and your next steps of progression. As you explore the frankly ridiculously sized map, you’ll come across ancient human ruins, which you can complete obtuse puzzles for and loot. You’ll also discover all manner of terrain, bug life forms and more complex resources.
Even after half a dozen hours, I’d uncovered less than 15% of the whole map. There’s a host of environmental hazards, unreachable areas until certain technology is researched and hostile creatures to subjugate. Manufacturing and equipping your drones with suitable gear therefore adds to the gameplay layers, creating a host of dynamic problems to solve with limited resources and output speed.
This is where one of my only issues with Desynced lies: the bottlenecks in progress. Whether it’s having a slowdown of a particular resource to create higher-end materials, or not being able to craft the necessary equipment until a huge amount of research is completed, things can grind to a halt. Granted, some of this is likely due to my inexperience and poor organisation of production, but it’s still a bit boring to be waiting around for long periods.
Broadcast Your Signal
When the gameplay does click however, there’s just so much potential in Desynced. You can manually tune the AI behaviours of almost everything. What starts off as a basic research tree expands into multiple trees that cover entirely new mechanics like hacking. As your technology develops you can even create more powerful versions of tools you’ve been using for hours.
Like an emergent-learning AI, Desynced continues to grow the more you engage with it. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface after so many hours. Even more is planned, including an entire research tree for a second faction, more story and mod support. When this game is complete, it will be like peering into the Matrix’s endlessly expanding numbers of content.
Surprisingly, the control scheme and UI is pretty intuitive and it’s easy to keep track of important details. Laying down a row of buildings is as easy as dragging the mouse across the screen, while you can even copy and paste structures you’ve already produced. There’s just so much thought and attention that’s been ploughed into Desynced to make it a fulfilling package, but without the hindrances typical of the genre.
With multiplayer support already available (and thriving) and procedural generation of the maps creating a new variant almost every time, there’s huge time-potential. Desynced is the kind of game you dedicate a month or eight of your life to. I can only imagine the kinds of bases that’ll be erected in the near future as people master the game and generate an AI utopia.
Syncing Up Nicely
Desynced has a few different biomes you’ll come across as you venture across the great unknown of the world. Rolling fields of green juxtaposed against the dull browns of the plateaus. Shimmering pools of water flowing out of alien-like rock formations, the electrical pulse of an anomaly that stumbles into your base.
The raw graphical power of Desynced won’t be winning any awards, but the creative direction makes up a lot of that slack. Every component adds a unique look to buildings and watching your AI-developed base expand into the world is exciting.
It can be difficult to differentiate individual units from one-another at times, which can get frustrating in places. Separating your scout drones from your worker bots would be straightforward if I was an all-knowing computing system, but as a mere human, the naked eye is more fallible. I ended up resolving the problem by keeping my scout on the outskirts of my thriving (read: stagnant) city.
There’s not a whole lot of music in the game, but the ambient soundtrack compliments the game nicely. Most impressively, Desynced is a smooth experience almost throughout. No bugs, no glitches, no crashes, Hell not even a framerate drop for the most part. Once again, for an Early Access product, this is supremely polished already.
Desynced took me by significant surprise. If anything, I wasn’t really prepared for the depth of its mechanics and the fine-grain details it allows you to tinker with. I felt like I needed to be a super-computer technician just to even get started. Yet, that’s actually not really true. Even as a simpleton approaching the game as a nice base-builder, there’s plenty to enjoy.
There are options to tailor your experience – like having passive enemies – which will provide more easy-going players a more relaxed time. As such, Desynced caters to a more casual audience, even if they’re not the intended target. If you are one of the people who love to dig your digital teeth into a complex, programming-based RTS, then you’re going to be lost in this game for dozens of hours.
In truth, I probably wasn’t the best prepared nor the best placed to review Desynced, given my simple-minded approach. The fact that I had as much fun as I did, and can see the almost boundless amount of potential it has, should tell you just how promising this base-building title is.
I’m still wowed that it’s in Early Access, as from a content, performance and time-investment perspective, it’s probably better than most “complete” AAA games right now.
Forgoing the usual problems with Early Access, Desynced already feels like a complete package with hours worth of AI base-building. Complex systems, a huge randomised map to explore, layers of research and tech trees, it almost seems to have it all. If you’re into your resource-management RTS’, Desynced is shaping up to be passing the Turing Test.
Desynced is available now on PC via Early Access (review platform).
Developer: Stage Games Inc.
Publisher: Forklift Interactive
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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