Some of Dead Synchronicity's attempts at “ripping away the veneer of civility to show man's true nature” are downright comical.
Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow Is TodayPublisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Developer: Fictiorama Studios
Release date: 2015-04-10
Regarding its adventure game output, I find that Daedalic Entertainment is too enamored with the past. Rather than building upon the past as an inspiration for contemporary works, they are content to copy the style, tone, and design of their favorites from the golden era of adventure gaming. The result is the degradation that one gets from making a copy of a copy. There are exceptions like the magnificent Memoria, but I find most Daedalic games mediocre at best.
Yet, with all their previous games, I could at least see a spark of imagination in their settings and the passion behind the ideas in those games, even if the developers fell short in execution. I don't see anything like that in Dead Synchronicity: Tomorrow is Today.
In Dead Synchronicity, you play as Michael, an amnesiac who has woken up in a world that has gone to hell in a hand basket, though the game seems content with continually telling you that it has gone to hell, while only occasionally actually showing depictions of evil. Society has fallen and a ramshackle military force now herds people into camps. Rather, some people are herded into camps, others are allowed to live in a nearby city that is falling apart. It's never adequately explained why one group of people are interred, but not the other. I don't think the authorities in this universe have a reason. I think that if one solider doesn't like you enough, then off you go. Additionally, there are those called "the dissolved." A pandemic has ripped across the planet, most likely thanks to a reality altering rip in the sky, and those infected by the pandemic receive visions of some metaphysical abstract world and then later dissolve into a puddle of nothingness.
Also, yes, we do find out later through some mystical science mumbo jumbo that this metaphysical plane is both the cause and potential solution of the world’s problems. My best guess is that what all this is trying to suggest is that the universe couldn't keep track of everything anymore and chose the worst possible way to clear its paperwork from existence. None of that matters, though, because that information is revealed in the last 15 minutes of the game, and I would consider that I was spoiling something if the details had made any goddamn sense or had connected in a clear way to the previous eight hours of Michael trying to figure out his identity or really had any purpose at all to the story other than to serve as sequel bait.
The most pervasive problem with Dead Synchronicity is that it wants to be a dark game. That's dark in the Linkin Park "Crawling in my skin" sense of the term. The world is miserable, people are awful, and everyone deserves what happens to them. One character called the Hunter literally espouses a philosophy of dog-eat-dog libertarianism, a kind of survival-nut objectivism, if you will.
Awful things happen to people in this game, the nadir of which is a mentally disturbed girl, whose mind has regressed to that of a child, being prostituted in the middle of a garbage dump. Her purpose (other than making you sick to your stomach, I mean)? She took your wallet while you were unconscious, and you have to get it back because it possibly has your identification information in it. You need that to find out who you are and get the "real" plot started. You don't get the wallet back until about three-fourths of the way through the game, making the "real plot," the superfluous part of the game.
If it wasn't for awful material like that hanging in the back of my mind, some of Dead Synchronicity's attempts at ripping away the veneer of civility to show man's true nature are downright comical. At one point, you meet a tall, thin guard playing straight man to his small, squat, buffoonish partner who talks about how much he likes to beat people up. They could have been transplanted from a nihilistic Warner Brothers cartoon, and I wouldn't have been surprised. One of them goes on and on about this alley cat that he would like to show what for. These are the people we are supposed to be scared of? I know they are only because the game told me that they are.
The game is really big on telling you things. It tells you over and over how bad the world has gotten, how shocking and terrible the sights are, the likes of which Michael has never seen before. We know this because Michael comments on how bad everything is. Well, first off, how would he know? He has no memory. And second, the game is trying so hard to push forward this point that it makes me wonder who it is trying to convince.
The misery of human beings in this game has one or two moments that speak to the truth of human nature in a horrible, nightmare reality governed by the status quo. However, these moments are lost in a sea of some teenaged boy’s fantasy of what the end of the world looks like. It's practically a cartoon.
I can see the core behind the other adventure games in Daedelic's catalog, even those I don't have much love for. The zany comedy-adventure antics of Deponia want to evoke the comedy stylings of Monkey Island. The Night of the Rabbit wants to be a fable complete with talking animals and a magical boy on a quest. 1954: Alcatraz wants to describe the beat generation’s experiences in San Francisco. I get the aspirations behind these games. All I see in Dead Synchronicity is not so much a specific idea that the developers wanted to share, but rather an outcome they wanted to achieve: the serious, meaningful work.
As a result, the game is relentlessly dark for little reason. This is a problem that a lot of art following the trend of presenting the world as grim and gritty tends to fall into, as the creators of such worlds fail to say something within such settings. Misery isn't artful. The unrelenting misery in Dead Synchronicity is a hindrance, and the audience needs the light of truth, wisdom, or hope to allow them to soldier on. The developers claim the game has a more mature theme than the classic adventure games that it takes inspiration from, but I honestly don't know what it could be.
Instead, they seem to have gotten tangled up in the shocking nature of the window dressing, while missing the nuanced observation and complex interactions that make good examples of such works powerful. This is misery without a message. It's exploitation of issues and material that deserves better treatment. Unfortunately, the game highlights the sense that everything has gone wrong, but it has nothing more to say about it.