Dystopian ideas in literature or movies aren’t new, and even games have used these concepts for a long time. So does Fictiorama Studios’ point-and-click adventure Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today offer anything memorable?
Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today (PC)
(Spain 2015, developer: Fictiorama Studios, publisher: Daedalic Entertainment, platform: PC)
Michael wakes up with memory loss and the realization that the world was stricken by a pandemic with people dying of a “dissolve” disease and that time itself is on the verge of breaking down.
It’s not easy to flesh out a dystopian world that is both believable and unique. Fortunately Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today handles this quite well by showing people at their worst, be it brutal to survive or fragile because they can’t cope with the situation. It also shows what they can be capable of. Mature topics like prostitution, suicide and rape are just as prominent as police brutality, false prophets and traitors. The world shown here is certainly not for the easily offended or those with a hope for humanity. The individual fates and characters are memorable, their dialogues very well written with a touch of poetic imagery.
The same holds true for the places Michael visits, e.g. the Suicide Park where people find their only way out or a hospital where all the people who suffer the terminal illness of “the dissolved” are quarantined. One scene in particular sums up the whole realistic portrayal of the downfall of society quite nicely in which the protagonist stands in front of Dystopian books by H.G. Wells, Philip K. Dick or Ray Bradbury. Michael only comments that these books depicting the future should actually be put in the “recent events” section now.
Unfortunately, the game suffers from the same problems so many adventure games with mature themes do: over-long dialogues which explain too much and a plot that moves forward too slowly. What is even worse is the open ending that begs for a sequel, showing all kinds of narrative possibilities, but doesn’t give the player satisfaction enough that this chapter is closed with most questions answered. Another problem, not only storytelling-wise, are Michael’s constant visions which first create tension and interest, but later only annoy.
Except for one situation, these don’t have any impact on the gameplay, and even this isolated instance creates a problem, as the player has to literally wait for the vision to occur, a not so very smart design choice. What isn’t great either is that Michael himself remains rather mysterious throughout the adventure. Of course this has to do with his amnesia, but the initial interest in his memory loss and visions soon makes way for a rather superficial character whose acts of violence and questionable treatment of people doesn’t help feeling sympathy for him, either.
Solving problems in a downtrodden world
The puzzle design doesn’t reinvent the genre, but at least it does a good job of unlocking more and more locations, introducing characters and slowly making the player explore the world. It’s also more logical than many other adventure games which try too hard to squeeze as many object combinations and obscure puzzles in between story segments. The inventory is rarely cluttered with useless junk or items one carries around for too long. One shouldn’t expect any memorable or inventive solutions to problems, tough. They’re simply part of the experience to get to new places and talk to new people while driving the story forward. It might sound obvious, but the way the difficulty is handled is commendable, as the player is always rewarded and never overwhelmed with too many problems. The game is also non-linear to a certain degree, offering various goals to follow, even if all of them have to finally be accomplished.
Expressionism in detail and deceiving sounds
While the game might not be as unique in storytelling and certainly not in puzzle design, the presentation is. Using Expressionism art for characters and also artful backgrounds offers an interesting visual novel effect. This can be seen in cutscenes which show various situations from different angles in a comic book-like panel, zooming in and out of the stills with some in-motion details like spilled blood or a teeth kicked out. Only the few character animations are disappointing, but this seems to almost be in vogue with the visual style.
Voice acting isn’t of the highest standard, as there’s some truly terrible voice work with lines delivered completely out of context and many text parts stressed for no reason. One gets used to this after some time, but it seems like a missed opportunity, considering that most of the actors’ or actresses’ voices fit the characters. The soundtrack is very good and offers enough variety with different instrumental accompaniments, although there are a few cases when a funky soundtrack is used in quite brutal and dramatic sequences that might fit a not-so-serious violent comic book, but feels out of place here.
The beginning of the end game
It doesn’t happen too often that a game’s storytelling almost has the same sensibilities literature can provide. While Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Comes Today is far from perfect in its plot and character development, it succeeds in portraying a dystopian world and evoking panic and fear of a future that goes horribly wrong. With memorable places and people, its potential for a very interesting and epic story is there, but it’s not fully realized because of the abrupt ending. As it stands, this is an interesting take on the dystopian novel in the form of a game that offers engaging puzzles and good writing. It stands apart with its unique visual style, but will hopefully receive a better direction in voice acting next time.
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