Imagine coming face to face with a horde in Days Gone. Now imagine a couple of your buddies have come along for the ride and, with the right skills, you can take control of that flesh hungry mob and use them against your enemies. That’s exactly what you can do in Synced: Off-Planet, the first game from Tencent's own Next studio. Although I was going solo for my hands-on at GamesCom, you can – and probably should – play in squads of up to three. Within your squad, the main aim is to fight through the zombie horde to your dropship and make your escape. But as well as the undead, you also have to contend with other player-controlled squads trying to do the same thing. Think The Division 2’s dark zone helicopter extractions, except with more zombies and less walking down three blocks of deserted city streets looking for a key.
The 10-minute demo (which you can see in the video below) takes place in daytime and drops you straight into the action. You start in an abandoned warehouse full of crates and puddles – which are very handy for showing off the Nvidia RTX ray-tracing effects in the demo – and one zombie who had conveniently wandered a little bit too far from the rest of the pack, which meant I could shoot him in the head and gain control of his friends. In order to do that you first have to take them out without disturbing the rest of the pack. A quick shot to the back of the head with a silenced pistol drops him and out falls a sync node, which is essentially a nerochip that seems to be implanted in everyone's heads. So far there’s no explanation as to why everyone has a clip in their head but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the zombies aren’t actually zombies and it’s just malfunctioning chips turning regular people into bitey human butchers.
Upon picking up the chip you become the most popular girl in school and all the zombies in the vicinity bring their milkshake to the yard and start attacking anything not under your relatively short-lasting spell – aka anything but you and your squad. Once your connection wears off though, you're not going to be in the firing line. Instead, they'll continue attacking your enemies, and also each other.
The final area of the demo features a much bigger, more open, area and it was here that I run into other squads all fighting over control of the landing zone. To secure it you have to take down a Ranger – a bigger, but slower, meatball who sucks up bullets like an elephant in a peanut factory. I suppose you could work together in your squads at this point and take him down more easily but, just in case anyone got any clever ideas, I instead shoot all the other players who might have been trying to steal my ship. Once secure, the landing zone defences are activated are you just have to wait it out until the ship is ready to leave. Unfortunately this also triggered a huge swarm of the undead to converge on my position until I ran out of bullets and scuttled away like a coward inside some cargo containers. Eventually, with the 3-minute countdown at an end I could make a quick evac in the shuttle via a cutscene.
The horde tech is just as good as in Days Gone, and the end environment especially reminded me of the Saw Mill section complete with explosive barrels to shoot and zombies that rush down hills and around objects more like water from a breached dam than a group of decaying creatures. It plays, and looks, a lot like The Division. Even the HUD displays your characters ‘level’ above your ammo count in the same way. But it’s also graphically on a par with Ubisoft's looter-shooter which is no bad thing. The guns all feel different enough and, although I didn’t get to use any here, I was also told that there’s a number of different gadgets that you can use to help you in your fight.
There are a lot of questions that Synced: Off-Planet still has to answer. How many maps are there? How does the levelling system work? Will we see a whole host of different enemy types? I’m sure these answers will come in due course and being able to take control of a huge army of undead adds a neat dynamic to the PVP vs PVE genre that’s quickly becoming oversaturated. If you found the Dark Zone a bit of a slog and like your zombies with side of co-op then this is one to keep an eye on.
Synched: Off-Planet currently has no scheduled release date, or launch platforms beyond PC.