It seems like only yesterday we were mourning the then-recent loss of the PC adventure game. But in this wondrous future world of 2015, the biggest issue with this genre is markedly different: deciding which of the dozens to play. (Truly, ours is a wretched existence.)
I had some reservations about the recently Kickstarted Dead Synchronicity, if only due to its post-apocalypse backdrop. It's a popular and overused setting, and one that gives designers a wealth of options: With the fabric of society destroyed, player characters can encounter obstacles not found in the civilized world, and, with no justice system to rely upon, fall back on violence as a solution if the situation calls for it. Thankfully, Fictiorama goes for a much more intimate approach towards life after The End, which made this preview build of the Spanish developer's first project hard to put down.
Much like The Walking Dead (the comic and TV series, that is), Dead Synchronicity opens with the protagonist waking up after some horrible, world-altering event: In this case, a cataclysm known as "The Great Wave," which essentially destroyed all of human civilization's infrastructure, causing society to completely fall apart in a short period of time. In order to fully explain this new world to the player, Fictiorama falls back on an old device—amnesia—but they do their best to justify it: The Great Wave affected the memories of many when it hit, even causing some to waste away because they forgot how to eat. And this lack of information motivates Michael (the protagonist) through most of his tasks: One of his strongest motivations lies in finding out who he is and was.
Of course, no post-apocalypse would be complete without some sort of plague, and thankfully, Fictiorama steers far away from zombies. The disease du jour in Dead Synchronicity turns people into what's known as "The Dissolved:" First, they enter a trance in which they apparently have the power to speak with the dead, then, after this persists for a while, their body simply melts away into a gooey mess. The fascist government that rose to power in the wake of The Great Wave have a vested interest in suppressing this disease, which is why the refugee camp you awaken in is soon revealed to be a makeshift concentration camp—with a swift death awaiting all those who attempt escape.
It's an interesting premise, and one that's made very playable by Fictiorama's obvious understanding of the genre. With Dead Synchronicity, they've created a very user-friendly but not necessarily easy experience by eliminating the most common issues that can crop up in an adventure game. Hitting the space bar quickly highlights every item and person you can interact with, and Michael always keeps a journal (written in his voice) that details his basic objectives. And, to avoid spoiling anything, the few puzzles in this preview build required a bit of thinking outside the box, but nothing ever escalated to the "How was I supposed to know that?" stage.
The beautiful (though budget-friendly) art does a great job of assisting with Fictiorama's storytelling, and provides some strangely beautiful backdrops for human misery. And they really know how to make the most of their limited resources: Though the characters exist in 2D, the camera has a bit of life to it: It zooms in during conversations, and even cuts to a close-up of Michael's head if he has any thoughts on the current dialogue, which adds a bit of dynamism to what could be a static experience. Dead Synchronicity's music also helps lend to its atmosphere, even if it feels a bit atypical: Most scenes are accompanied by moody guitar riffs that feel straight out of Akira Yamaoka's work on the Silent Hill series. Honestly, it's hard to believe all of this sprung from a five-figure budget.
I've played plenty of bad adventure games by this point, so it's honestly refreshing to see a developer approach this often-misunderstood genre with know-how and confidence. I've only had a taste of the story so far, and I'm interested to see if Fictiorama can keep up the momentum—and if the planned voice acting completely ruins the mood. If you're having trouble keeping up with the multiple adventure game releases on Steam, definitely keep an eye on Dead Synchronicity—I came in with no expectations, and walked away definitely wanting more.