The classic IP returns for a new generation...
Written by Super User
Published Saturday, 03 March 2012 19:00
In 1993, Bullfrog Productions released a game called Syndicate. Upon its launch, it received a lot of praise from critics and gamers alike for its engaging tactical gameplay. On the other hand, it was also criticized by some for its brutal violence. Fast forward to 2012 and you see a much different video game community, with violent first person shooters dominating the industry. In that, Starbreeze Studios saw what they thought to be a great opportunity to reboot the 1993 classic with a brand new game. The result is a first person shooter with tactical elements, but among the strong competition in the saturated FPS market, does Syndicate manage to stand on its own feet?
The story remains pretty simple despite its Sci-Fi orientation. The year is 2069, technology has made a lot of progress and, as a result, a neural chip known as DART was invented. Because the chip lets people enter the digital world and render any electronic device useless, the government was overthrown and the world is ruled by mega-corporations such as EuroCorp. The game puts you in the shoes of Miles Kilo, EuroCorp’s latest agent, whose brain is equipped with a prototype of the latest chip, DART 6. Your goal is to protect EuroCorp’s interests against those of other mega-corporations. As such, you are put in the middle of a political power-struggle of sorts. Making your way through hordes of opposing special agents equipped with their own chips, you are tasked with infiltrating your competitors’ installations and stop them from making technological progress that would make EuroCorp’s technology seem obsolete.
"Syndicate offers a very worthwhile experience that deserves your attention."
While it does offer some twists and turns along the way, the story never truly manages to reach its full potential. It uses every trick in the book, and tries to pull the rug from under the player, but an overpowering sense of déjà vu always seems to spoil the surprise. The atmosphere remains dark and oppressive throughout the single player campaign, and while Syndicate has a compelling world to explore, it can sometimes feel out of place or unfocused. I could never tell if the developers meant for the world to be high-tech, clean looking and futuristic or if they wanted to paint a dark, apocalyptic portrait of the future. On top of that, the 20 missions (or “Milestones”) of the campaign are far too brief. The whole single player experience is not likely to last you more than 7 hours on normal difficulty. The campaign does not leave you with much incentive to replay it either. The included co-op campaign, however, is a pure delight to play through, and is something you’re likely to want to go back to from time to time.
In terms of gameplay, Syndicate follows most first-person shooter conventions with controls that fit the usual Call of Duty standards. The gunplay feels great, and the silky smooth, constant framerate helps players feel more in control of their actions. Although, a few level-design flaws can sometimes get in the way of the fun. While this is supposed to be a linear shooter, the path to take is sometimes unclear. For example, near the very beginning of the game, it took me a good ten minutes to figure out the way I was supposed to go. I was going through every door and looking in every corner only to find out that a poorly placed ladder was the path I had to take. It was frustrating to say the least.
What sets Syndicate apart from other shooters is its tactical gameplay mechanics. Due to the DART 6 chip, players have access to a variety of powers that add a whole layer of strategy to the experience. In sections that may sound familiar to fans of Rocksteady’s Batman games, the objective is to clear the room of all the enemies while being severely outnumbered. The only solution to the problem is to use your abilities - such as X-Ray vision, or powers that let you force enemies to kill themselves and everyone in close proximity, have their weapon backfire, or temporarily become your ally. Perhaps more interestingly, Miles also has the power to breach through electronic security and remotely hack a variety of things, such as elevators, which he can bring up to his level to use for cover, or to clear a path.
These puzzle-oriented segments do help Syndicate feel like a richer experience, but some missed opportunities in the single player mode can be frustrating. For example, while the powers are really fun to use at first, players will quickly realize that they don’t really carry much weight since their effect always remains pretty much the same. I personally stopped trying to cycle through my different powers about halfway through the game, having realized that whichever one I use isn’t going to make much of a difference in battle. Another thing worth mentioning is the arsenal at your disposal. The different weapons are well-balanced and varied enough to keep the player wanting to try all of them rather than picking favorites and sticking with them. Some have special abilities such as locking onto enemies and seeing the bullets fly in their direction no matter where you’re aiming. It doesn’t have the variety of a Resistance game, but Syndicate’s arsenal remains fun and satisfying to use.
The movement variety is also fairly large. In fact, the different moves that can be performed with the main character reminded me a lot of games like Mirror’s Edge. You can run and slide down under tables, jump long distances and even bash through closed doors if you’re running fast enough. The character feels appropriately heavy and you can definitely feel every step you take.
As for the enemy AI, it is truly a hit or miss affair. While you’re going to run into some bugs with enemies blankly staring into space as you shoot them, they usually are pretty good about finding cover and surprising you with their strategies. One element that I simply have to mention is that enemies will often see you through walls due to their X-Ray vision, and this forces you to be moving constantly rather than to stay behind cover. All in all, despite some missed opportunities, Syndicate is very fun and intuitive to control.
This brings me to my next point and arguably the most purely enjoyable experience the game has to offer: The co-op mode. I’ll put it bluntly, playing Syndicate’s unique cooperative campaign is some of the most fun I’ve had with a first person shooter in a very long time. The reason why is clear, almost every single problem I have with the game’s single player campaign has been resolved in the multiplayer offering. The tactical aspect is reinforced, the powers (which I’d rather not spoil) are different as well as more varied, and the atmosphere is also slightly lighter while still retaining its serious aspect and menacing tones. I couldn’t help but ask myself why EA didn’t focus more on the co-op campaign while marketing this game. Up to four players can join the action online in the unique missions the mode offers, and the different strategies that can be employed are extremely fun to explore with friends.
In terms of presentation, the game definitely shines, and you can tell Starbreeze put a lot of work into this one. The lighting effects, for one, are absolutely gorgeous, and definitely help suck you into the game’s world. While the shiny graphical effects sometimes get in the way of good visibility, you can always turn on the X-Ray vision to clearly see your opponents. The environments look great but the problem is that they are so consistent visually that they may contribute to the game feeling repetitive by the end of the campaign. The sound design is very good and every weapon feels appropriately powerful. The music is very fitting with the action you see on screen and the voice acting is truly stellar.
Even with a few flaws in the single player area, Syndicate offers a very worthwhile experience that deserves your attention. If you’re tired of first person shooters, you should probably steer clear of this one, as there’s little here that will change that. On the other hand, if you’re a fan, you can definitely expect to have a good time with it. The co-op mode is an incredibly rewarding experience and if you have a few friends willing to take part in the adventure with you, do yourself a favor and accept this mission.
Release date : 2012-02-21
Publisher : Electronic Arts
Developer : Starbreeze Studios
Gameplay : Shooter
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