Welcome! This column is part of a series in which members of the Tom's Guide staff share what they're playing and enjoying right now, with the goal of helping you find great games that you may have missed. Be sure to check out our previous entry, where we talked about how the beloved puzzle game Braid is the perfect game to play after you've seen Oppenheimer.
The PSVR 2 is a seriously impressive device, but it’s hard to deny that its first few months on the market have been fairly underwhelming when it comes to new software. There’s been a handful of worthwhile ports (The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinner, Beat Saber etc.), but a real dearth of bonafide exclusives. Which has been a little disappointing to me as an early adopter hoping for fresh experiences.
That’s why the launch of Synapse in early July took on increased significance in my eyes. I was banking on this PSVR 2 exclusive shooter reinvigorating my interest in the platform and becoming the first must-play game that can’t already be enjoyed on a rival device. And much to my delight, even with those high expectations, Synapse has become my favorite PSVR 2 game to date. This is the game that PSVR 2 badly needed and it’s the best reason yet to invest in the very pricey PS5 accessory.
Venture inside the mind
Synapse’s basic setup is a pretty intriguing one, you play as an unnamed operative that is attempting to invade the subconscious of a notorious enemy of the state in order to extract secrets that are vital to national security. And once you venture inside the mind of this mysterious colonel, their mind starts to fight back.
The game is presented in a rogue-lite structure similar to the 2021 PS5 exclusive Returnal. This means that you’re tasked with fighting through increasingly-tough levels and upon death must restart the entire process from the very beginning. But, as you advance further, you’ll complete challenges that unlock skill points that can be spent on permanent upgrades to help make each subsequent run a little easier. This is far from an original formula, but it works extremely well in Synapse.
Yes, Returnal offers flashier visuals and a wider array of weapons and upgrades, but because Synapse is played through the lens of a VR headset, it feels significantly more intense and immersive. In Synpase, failing during a deep run hits a lot harder as you feel like you’re genuinely invading the mind of an enemy as you play.
Playing with your powers
Synapse’s PlayStation Store listing describes it as “more than a shooter”, and to developer nDreams’ credit, this isn't just marketing jargon. Yes, you have access to a small arsenal of firearms that includes pistols, shotguns, submachine guns and even a grenade launcher. But the real silver bullet in your chamber is actually your telekinetic powers.
In Synapse, you can pick up certain objects with a squeeze of the PSVR 2 Sense controller triggers, and then throw these levitating boxes at enemies with a flick of your wrist. Pick up a cube and toss it at an enemy and their body will crunch upon impact, or you can squeeze an explosive barrel to denote it just as a foe takes cover behind a rock formation. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself neglecting your guns in favor of taking full advantage of your superhuman-like powers.
Things get even more interesting after a few hours of play because you should have enough points to unlock some of the early upgrades. The real fun begins when you earn the ability to directly pick up enemies with your telekinesis. Your gun suddenly becomes pretty much unnecessary as you hoist foes into the air and slam them back down to earth with an audible thud.
Granted, this single ability makes the game's difficulty level almost trivial, but Synapse trades challenge for pure fun factor and it's a swap that pays off handsomely. Even after hours of play, I still can’t help by crack a smile when I grab an on-rush enemy and send them zooming into the side of a cliff or throw them back at their own comrades to inflict double damage.
A short (but sweet) experience
If there’s one major drawback to Synapse it’s that it’s fairly light on content. This is a problem that plagues quite a few VR games, and it’s definitely an issue with Synapse. As a rogue-lite, replaying levels over and over again is expected, but the areas you fight in aren’t procedurally generated, which results in a feeling of repetition creeping in quite quickly.
The number of guns available to you is also fairly small, and the enemy variety is seriously lacking with less than a dozen unique enemy types in total. Fortunately, as explained above, the former is less of an issue because once you’ve upgraded your telekinetic powers you rarely feel the need or desire to make use of firearms.
However, it is a disappointment that you can basically see everything Synpase has to offer within around four hours. At least it’s launched with a pretty reasonable $34 price tag, but still, if you’re not the type of gamer who enjoys replaying the same levels multiple times, Synapse probably won’t represent particularly good value for your money.
A PSVR 2 showcase
As a game developed with the PSVR 2 in mind, Synapse takes full advantage of the Sony headset and makes for a fantastic showcase of its impressive capabilities.
For starters, its crisp visuals look stunning on the headset’s 4K HDR display. The clean visuals are helped by its simple but extremely striking monochrome aesthetic. While most of the game is bathed in black, white and grey, certain elements like explosions are presented in vibrant orange and red. This contrast has been done before in other video games, but it still works wonderfully here.
Synapse makes great use of the PSVR 2’s headset and controller haptics allowing you to feel the effects of enemy fire and detonating explosive items not just see them. Most impressively, eye tracking is used for targeting which objects you want to pick up with your telekinetic powers, and this is not only consistently accurate but also just downright cool to play around with.
There’s nothing more satisfying than spotting an enemy sniping you from a high vantage point in your peripheral vision, flicking your eyes up toward them, and then pulling them off the ledge to their doom. During moments like these, Synapse offers a rush that few games on any platform can match.
Like many VR games, Synapse is not a content-rich experience. But while it can technically be completed within a single afternoon — assuming you have the stomach for multiple hours straight in the virtual world — it provides such a powertrip that you’ll likely want to revisit it often just to throw enemies around like ragdolls and enjoy the slick visual style.
The PSVR 2 has gotten off to a slow start with a fairly underwhelming software lineup to date, but Synapse is the first exclusive game that can be considered essential. Hopefully, this is just the first of many to come over the device's lifecycle.