Review by Lakerz
July 2003

Now here's an adventure game that one doesn't hear much about, partly because of its Europe-only release. Synnergist was the first release by then-newcomer Vicarious Visions. I wasn't sure what to expect when I popped open the CD tray and went through the installation process. However, if there's one thing I do enjoy, it's games about a mystery. The back of the box sets up the game well:

2010 AD: New Arhus; a city tormented by every crime imaginable; murders, muggings, drug dealing and prostitution. Tim Machin, a reporter both underpaid and overworked, finds himself on the trail of a sinister force that appears to be connected to the crime and killing. Unable to ignore the evil events surrounding him, Tim finds himself drawn further and further into a potentially fatal web of secrets that threatens the future of the city. What is the significance of the disturbing visions that plague Machin's mind? What effect will they have on his sanity and what role will they play in protecting the future of New Arhus ... ?

Okay, I'm hooked. Let's get this party started and unravel these mysteries! Only one little problem to deal with before playing, however. This game can be a challenge to install and get running properly, and that may be putting it a bit lightly. Synnergist needs DOS in order to run, although the manual makes mention of a special method to run it in Windows 95. Given the problems one can experience just running it from DOS, I didn't feel the need to further tempt the fates. Fully 75% of the manual is dedicated to installation and technical help. Now, in my eyes, this is both a good thing and a bad thing: A good thing because it's nice to see a company do all it can to get the user running the game, and a bad thing because it gave this DOS newbie the willies just thinking about getting Synnergist running. Eventually, however, I was successful, using an older computer running DOS 6.2 and Win95. Just for kicks, I tried to install Synnergist on a Win98 machine but had little success. I suspect it might be possible, but it just wasn't happening for me. Now that I've harped on the difficulties of installing this game, I also should note that the game was very stable once running. It only crashed to the DOS prompt once during the entire game. Not too shabby.

Once the intro sequence was finally rolling, I was pretty excited. After the opening movie, you find Tim Machin getting chewed out by his boss at the New Arhus Chronicle, Mr. Hallmags, for not getting his stories in on time. He makes it very clear that we must complete two stories posthaste: an interview with the great humanitarian Victor Ambrose and a restaurant review of the Skyline, a swanky new upper-class eatery. With over a dozen locations to visit and cause trouble in, there is a lot to see and do. In pursuing these stories, the player soon finds out that all is not well in New Arhus. There is a killer on the loose who is leaving severely mangled bodies and baffled police in his wake. Perhaps Tim has even bigger stories than restaurant reviews to pursue after all! I'm not about to give away any of the plot twists that occur, but I will say this game had my attention from beginning to end. Be prepared for a roller coaster ride.

The interface for Synnergist is very clean. Put the cursor over an item and click the left mouse button to read and hear a description. Yep, I said "hear." Every line of text displayed on the screen, whether it's a description or dialogue, is spoken. The sole exception is with Tim. His only voiced dialogue occurs in some of the interlude scenes. Either the text or the voice can be disabled should the player have a preference. I was happy with both activated.

In order to interact with an item or to talk to someone, all it takes is a right-click. This takes a little getting used to, but after a few hours of exploring the city of New Arhus, it becomes second nature. Push the cursor to the top of the screen, and the inventory window drops down, displaying all of the items found thus far as well as access to the save/load/quit screen. I was impressed with how many saved games Synnergist allows. The manual boasts up to 512 saves! Quite a refreshing change from all the games that inexplicably force you to manage with only a few measly save spots.

Traveling from one location to another is very easy thanks to the subway system in New Arhus. Clicking the subway icon in the inventory window whisks you off to the overview map with all discovered locations visible. Click on where you want to go, and you're there in a blink. Every once in a while, there will be an interlude in the subway where Tim mulls over some of the evidence he's come across. I liked these scenes as it made current developments a bit clearer for me.

The graphics in Synnergist are pleasing for the most part. For a game published in 1996, I wasn't expecting graphical splendor like most modern games provide, and true to form, the low-res, 256-color palette showed its warts in spots. Still, Synnergist compares favorably with its peers of the time. The graphics are a mixture of third-person 2D, with a dash of first-person perspective mixed in. All of the characters are live actors, which was a nice surprise to me. With every dialogue, a small window pops up in the upper left, showing the person you are conversing with. The digitized actors are definitely pixelated, but I marked it down as just a drawback of the technology at the time—there's only so much you can get out of a low resolution. Truthfully, the storyline was interesting enough to me that the graphics played second fiddle, which is always a sign of a well-made game. FMV cutscenes are sprinkled liberally throughout the game, providing a nice change of pace.

As far as the music is concerned, I thought it blended nicely with the scenes. It didn't make me want to hum along with it, but I don't think there are many sounds that come from a Sound Blaster 16 that would have that effect on me. My only complaint, really, is the fact that it was a bit soft volumewise. To get the sounds to my liking, I had to go into the options menu and max out the music while turning down the sound effects. There also is an audio effect in one particular song that sounded like it didn't really belong. The first time I heard it, I thought the serial killer was out to get me!

The voice acting for Synnergist is up and down, with most of the performances being satisfactory though a bit cheesy. With over 70 actors and five hours of digital sound and speech, there is a lot to hear. Some of the characters are quite funny, too! You communicate with the game characters through the good old dialogue tree. There is no trick to getting through the dialogues—just keep clicking through every choice, and sooner or later you'll hear everything a character has to say. I'm not necessarily knocking this system, but it does get a little boring after a while.

The story pacing and puzzle difficulty are just about right. None of the puzzles are unfair, but a few veer toward the tricky side, especially near the end. It is possible to die in this game due to a foolhardy move, so making good use of the 512 save spots is recommended. One good thing: I didn't come across any dead ends in Synnergist. Hurrah for that!

The back of the box claims over 50 hours of gameplay. I wasn't keeping track, but I'd guestimate that I was playing for a little over 30 hours before reaching the end. There are multiple endings depending on certain actions taken during the course of gameplay. I'm not a big fan of multiple endings, but I know others are. I've discovered two different endings, but there may very well be more.

I've also gotten wind of possible secret location(s) within the game that explains the plot more thoroughly, and why the game is named Synnergist! No, I haven't found them. No, I don't know for sure if they exist or not. It's an intriguing thought, though, and I wouldn't mind learning more about the title choice as I still don't have a clue! So if anyone has uncovered one of these secrets, please drop me a line to let me know.

My overall impression of Synnergist is very positive. Here is a game that has an interesting plot with many twists and turns, nice graphics, unobtrusive sound and music, easy interface, and a good number of varied locations to explore. Synnergist has a similar mood and style to Noctropolis, with a little Gabriel Knight–type understated tension thrown in. It ended up being more macabre than I was expecting, which is a good thing in my book. I'm a sucker for any game that's sinister and foreboding without being too over the top. It's a shame that Vicarious Visions didn't follow up Synnergist with any other adventure games. It's a testament to them, though, that the company is still around, unlike a lot of other adventure game developers. Here's hoping that they decide to do another adventure game in the same vein as Synnergist down the road. Maybe next time it will get the attention it deserves. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Vicarious Visions
Publisher: 21st Century Entertainment Ltd.
Release Date: 1996

Available for: DOS Windows

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System Requirements

486 66 MHz or better
4 MB RAM (530 KB free conventional memory required)
VGA (VESA local bus video card recommended)
4X CD-ROM drive
MSCDEX version 2.22 or above
4 MB free hard disk space
DOS 6.0 or above
EMM386 memory management only
Mouse and keyboard

Where to Find It

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No reproduction in whole or in part without express written permission.