Following on from our interview with Luis Oliván of Fictiorama Studios back in March 2014, here are our thoughts on the first episode of Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today.
|Release date:||April 2015|
|PEGI rating:||Not listed|
|Platforms:||iOS, Mac, PC|
|More information:||Official website|
Back in March last year, we received an email about a Kickstarter campaign for ‘a dark point-and-click adventure’. Dead Synchronicity was promoted as ‘featuring a script with dystopian overtones’ and paying ‘homage to classic adventures (The Secret of Monkey Island, Broken Sword, Day of the Tentacle) but revolving around a more mature theme, along the lines of games such as I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream or Sanitarium’.
Loving the genre as much as I do, I tried out the demo and couldn’t resist becoming a backer myself – and also reached out to the Fictiorama Studios team to find out more about the first episode, Tomorrow Comes Today. The lovely Producer Luis Oliván kindly answered our questions and told us: “We want to recover the experience of ‘free roaming’ that adventures of the 90s had. Nowadays… you enter a location, meet a character, solve a couple of puzzles, and then move to the next location, never going back. If you play The Secret of Monkey Island now, you’ll get astonished with the amount of locations and characters to interact with simultaneously. It was like playing in a quite ‘living’ environment… We want to get back to that feeling, in a progressive way.”
That’s partly the reason why it has been so hard to write this article. In some ways Dead Synchronicity is a complete game: it took me a little under eight hours complete, and the amount of content here means it doesn’t feel as if it’s an episodic release. But this is the first part of three and the ending leaves plenty of questions unanswered (something which has provoked many comments on the title’s Steam page – more about that later). So the format of a preview is possibly more suitable right now and we’ll bring you a full review once the complete game is available. Let’s begin!
A terrible pandemic is slowly turning all of humanity into the Dissolved, the sick whose deliria provide them with supernatural cognitive powers but also results in their gruesome death. The root of this illness seems to be an inexplicable chain of natural disasters that those left alive have taken to calling the Great Wave; all energy sources and communications have been destroyed, and the world has been plunged into chaos and is now controlled by the authorities and army. Michael wakes up in this New World with no recollection of who he is, but he’ll need to recover his identity and decode the events that brought the planet to the edge of collapse if he’s to avoid the impending point of dead synchronicity: when Time itself dissolves…
I don’t want to give too much away but the plot for Dead Synchronicity is excellent – top marks to Alberto Oliván for some superb writing. Little reveals at just the right moments provide clues as to what Michael is going through without disclosing too much too soon; so when the players arrive at the conclusion of the episode, the ending isn’t entirely unexpected but there are still a few surprises. Although the Kickstarter page mentions humorous classics such as Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle, make no mistake: this isn’t a game for children. Although there are similarities between the titles, the storyline here is a dark one and contains some mature themes.
For example, when two children are pulled up in front of the firing wall for their unwitting part in the death of a guard (thanks to Michael), the only way to resolve the situation is to find a scapegoat. Planting the murder weapon on the corpse of a dead Reverend is a good start but nobody is going to believe that this man of the cloth had anything to do with the crime; so it’s up to our protagonist to disfigure the body beyond all recognition. When a vat of hydrofluoric acid doesn’t do enough damage, the only way out is to attack the preacher’s face with a blade…
The puzzles never feel as if they exist for their own sake: they support the storyline and help move the plot along.
Although that description may sound slightly gratuitous, the puzzles within Dead Synchronicity never feel as if they exist for their own sake. They support the storyline and effectively help to move the plot forward, revealing backstory about the environment as they progress. As Luis told us: “The New World Michael wakes up to has little to do with the one he knew. Basic needs are not fulfilled for a big part of the society so everyone can turn merciless. There are new rules and as The Hunter, one of the most complex characters of the game, usually says: ‘One does what one must do.’”
Moon logic is something that exists in many classic adventures including those mentioned in Dead Synchronicity’s description on Steam. I’m pleased to say however that despite taking influences from such games, Fictiorama’s project rarely frustrates and the majority of challenges are extremely logical when the player gives them enough thought. Only a puzzle in connection with a fix for a broken camera was a little confusing as the small item needed was completely unexpected; but as I didn’t have many objects within my inventory that could be used, it wasn’t difficult to overcome.
The game’s visuals enhance the New World’s oppressive undertones, particularly when you find yourself in locations such as Suicide Park. Tormented souls come here to end their suffering and the faces of the decomposing corpses hanging from the trees are pulled into contorted grimaces. Instead of masking the horror, the expressionist style somehow highlights their pain; as Luis explained: “As the plot is so dark and mature, we had to get a look that fitted the story perfectly. So, we decided to look into two of the most stunning art styles we knew: expressionism and tribal art. That way, we have got a style which is angular, hard, geometric.”
Sadly for Michael, not only does he have to face the dangling bodies in the park but he’s also confronted with flashbacks of their final moments: a dead boy rises up from the ground, ties a length of rope around his neck and jumps from a nearby bench. Such hallucinations become more and more frequent as the title progresses and they have a bit of a double-sided effect. On one hand, they add to the urgency of the situation and emphasise the impending moment of dead synchronicity; but only the other, it can get a little annoying when you’re met with the same flashback upon entering locations. Fortunately however these scenes can be skipped with a simple key press once you’ve witnessed them once.
Our protagonist starts the game wearing a white shirt loaned to him by the kind Rod Atkinson. By the end of the first episode, his attire is covered in blood and dirt and it’s a clever visual representation of the changes in his personality. The frustration of not being able to recall his past; the terrible decisions he has to make; the horrible sights and sounds of death; the increasing flashbacks. Michael is faced with some awful situations during his struggle to survive and it will be interesting to see how his character develops further during future episodes.
Dead Synchronicity features music by indie rock band Kovalski, of which Fictiorama colleagues Alberto and Mario Oliván are members. It sets the scene for the hard and dystopian New World remarkably well and there are also some tracks which highlight moments of compassionate. One particular piece containing piano notes – Mr Sleepyhead – was stuck in my head for days after completing the game, and the soundtrack is available to purchase as downloadable content (DLC) from Steam if you enjoy it.
As mentioned at the start of this preview, Dead Synchronicity’s ending has provoked many comments on the Steam discussion. Many gamers have stated that the game is ‘incomplete’ and the ending comes about too abruptly. It seems that the issue here may be to do with the title’s description rather than the game itself: the Steam page makes no reference to the fact that this is episodic content and the story will be continued in two further chapters. As such, I can understand why some players have come away disappointed with the conclusion.
Being a Kickstarter backer, I was always aware that this was the case and could tell when the title was ramping up towards the cliff-hanger. I therefore have no disappointments whatsoever – other than the fact that the next episode isn’t already available because I enjoyed the first so much! The game’s storyline is one of the best I’ve experienced for a while and I’m already looking forward to future instalments: will Michael rediscover his past and stop time from dissolving? Please Fictiorama, don’t keep us waiting too long.
Dead Synchronicity is possibly my favourite adventure game this year. If you’re a fan of the genre and can stomach a dark and mature storyline, then I highly recommend Tomorrow Comes Today.