released on Nov 19, 2019
Use the Molek-Syntez to create small molecules with various pharmacological effects from the comfort of your small Romanian apartment.
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Molek-Syntez is another of the more visual games from Zachtronics, that while still using some kind of programming logic are less about coding and use a set of instructions that are more approachable to someone with no programming experience.
It is hard for me to not compare this game to Opus Magnum, even though they are trying different things, overall I can't help but feel that it doesn't reach the same levels in both presentation or gameplay. It still provides a solid Zachtronics experience, with lots of opportunities to optimize your solutions, just don't expect gifs that are as mesmerizing as Opus Magnum.
Puzzle games can often frustrate me because they are designed with a single solution in mind. It's easy to concoct some obscure answer to a problem that makes sense in my head, but in reality it won't make sense to most people. Making problems that have a breadth of different solutions allows for the game itself to progress faster but at the same time incentivizes improvement. That's why Molek-Syntez hits all the right buttons for me. It's one of those programming games which has a complex system with open-ended problems. It's not to difficult to brute force solutions with enough instructions, but the real reward is finding the optimal solution. Much like programming in real life, efficiency is key, and the game even shows you a bell curve of solutions which always intrigued my curiosity (i.e. how the fuck did they do in that few cycles I need to figure this out for myself). I remember a few levels into the game I had really bad results and the levels were getting quite tough. Out of curiosity I decided to google what one of these pristine solutions looked like and I realized you could configure the starting position of the little modules that shoot out hydrogen. I was so excited to apply this new technique that I replayed older levels with the challenge of getting the best possible answer. The point is that the mechanics themselves are intuitive and fun to play around with, and every time you pick up new techniques and algorithms you can go back and apply them to get better solutions. This, in turn, adds something that is rare to find in most puzzle games: replayability. You can spend hours tinkering away to shave cycles off your solution, or you can just go start to finish without worrying too much about efficiency. Worth mentioning the atmosphere of the game (I'm referring mainly to the sound effects and ambience) really compliments the experience of playing. The sound effects for right and wrong answers became like dopamine receptors/inhibitors, and the game itself has this isolated feeling to it, which makes it easy to get immersed in the work. Also their version of solitaire is quite good.
A development of the Opus Magnum formula in a more abstract form, MOLEK-SYNTEZ is one of those Zachtronics games that is aimed more at the layman than the programming expert. While it is as accessible as its predecessor with its easy-to-understand moves, it is more devious with its limit of agents and instructions. Sobriety is the hallmark of the title, but it is regrettable that it is absolute in the narrative, where Zachtronics had progressed over the last few games. Also, some people may be frustrated by the easy difficulty of some of the puzzles – although there is a good progression curve to be acknowledged, with the reuse of easy patterns in more complex levels – as the real challenge comes from the second page of synths. It is hard to understand why there is such a dichotomy between the basic and the side puzzles, as there is a perfect continuity between the two. Despite this, MOLEK-SYNTEZ is quite competent and easy to grasp: it just lacks the elegant charm of its predecessors.
One time I watched an actual scientist play this for a few hours and talk through all the how's and why's of things worked the way they did and it was one of the most fascinating experiences I've ever seen.
And then I tried to play it myself and I felt like a toddler trying to drive a car.