The world of parkour meets the world of synth with the release of Playrock Studios’ Synthrun. This unlikely combo sounds like a novel concept, but the end result fails to capture what makes its inspiration so great.
Players take control of a spiky haired fellow named Jake, who lacks a personality and doesn’t say a single word. The world around him is a lifeless one, suspended over a bottomless pit that goes on forever. Other than the occasional glowing block or streak of color in the air, everything is a drab shade of gray. There’s not much character to this game, lacking in anything that would distinguish it from other titles.
The ultimate goal is to get to the glowing orb at the end of each of Synthrun’s 50 stages, climbing, jumping, and wall-running along the way. Unfortunately, this proves to be far easier said than done. Its basic concept of using the WASD or arrow keys for movement, though less intuitive than an analog setup, is still passable. Rather, things start to unravel when things get moving. Jake moves at a slow pace and packs some tank-like controls. It often feels like you are controlling a hulking piece of metal rather than a speedy human being, and the action suffers greatly for it.
To make matters worse, all actions require a herculean effort. One would think a simple press of the space bar would make the character jump a fair distance, but the end result is an awkward forward flip that is barely enough to clear even the smallest distances. Another element that comes into play is the grabbing of certain surfaces, which propel the character to different areas. The sudden jump makes it hard to keep track of what’s going on, and the camera lacks focus, meaning that players will be looking at a wall more often they would like. Certain platforms also serve this same purpose, but those who have not already memorized where they will go will be dumbfounded when they see what happens to the environment and the camera.
Players can also wall run by holding down the shift key on certain surfaces, but doing so locks Jake into a fixed pattern. This does not work as it should, as sometimes there is not enough clearance to make it to the next platform. Though most levels are around a minute in length, expect to see the same areas multiple times as players succumb to yet another death.
Rounding things out is a poorly mixed synth soundtrack that is downright jarring. Unlike the works of Perturbator or Gost, what is here is crunchy and dissonant, serving as an unwelcome addition that takes players out of the game. Tracks also start and stop jarringly, and are not matched up to each world. The end result feels like a playlist that was not edited correctly.
Synthrun’s broken platforming and bland aesthetics make for an experience that fails to capture the art of parkour or the world of synthwave.
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