Game Review: Syndicate (2012)

Release Date: 21 Feb 2012

Developer: Starbreeze Studios

Trailer

The original “Syndicate” game which made it’s debut on Commodore Amiga in 1993 was a smash hit and instant favourite with strategy game fans. It had heavy Cyberpunk influences, being set in a world where warring corporations send their cyborg agents on espionage, assassination and kidnapping missions. The 2012 First Person Shooter game based on the franchise has made lots of hardcore geeks very angry – firstly by being an FPS reboot of a popular strategy game, but also for being released less than 6 months after the highly acclaimed Cyberpunk game “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”, with which obvious comparisons will be drawn amongst some gamers as they wail the Internet battlecry “RIP OFF!”

Syndicate (1993) Original Game Footage

The first thing you notice is that the general look and feel of the game stays true to not only the Syndicate franchise, but tech-heavy Cyberpunk in general and it is very nice to look at and interact with. The world certainly does not have the depth of a game like Deus Ex: HR, but what we have here is more suited to the game’s faster gameplay. There is a nice HUD interface which feels comfortable to use and does actually help to convey the illusion that you are walking around with a chip inside your brain, continually scanning and displaying information about your surroundings as you progress. There is also a “DART” mode which you can use in bursts to slow down time and see through walls in a Tron-style overlay. The character upgrade system is certainly not as comprehensive as those found in other RPG/FPS hybrids, but is an integral part of the game and you will have trouble progressing without putting some thought into your upgrades – this is not an easy game.

One notable idea which has been introduced is the ability to wirelessly “breach” (hack) technology throughout the environment and also enemies’ neural chips. This gives you the ability to turn robotic weaponry against enemies, or even force them to attack their team-mates and commit suicide. As you play, this becomes an increasingly natural part of the action (shoot, reload, breach, run, melee attack, shoot) which can provide some of the most fun in the game, but it frustratingly never quite gets as fluid as it feels it should be. Breaching features more heavily later in the game as you must use the ability to defend against incoming rockets and your own neural chip becomes susceptible to hack attacks. It also introduces an element of strategy which you can take advantage of by choosing to “persuade” an enemy who has a clear shot of other enemies, a moment before you charge at them from another direction.

Gameplay walkthrough with the game’s producer

The game is not without it’s faults though. My main gripe is probably the one feared by most Syndicate fans – the forced attempt to give the game a standard FPS story backbone. The introductory sequence for the original Syndicate game showed a citizen on a futuristic street corner being abducted to become brain-hacked and cybernetically modified for use as a syndicate agent. From there on in, the objective was simple: take over the world with your team of identityless agents. It was cold, faceless, dark, and set the background to the game perfectly. Unfortunately what we have now is the cheap Hollywood story aspects completely taking over not very far into the game – you are an agent rebelling against the syndicate which owns you. There are bad men doing bad things with whom you have to fight. There is a girl in danger you have to save. It just doesn’t feel dystopic enough for a Syndicate game.

Overall, it’s hard to hate the game as it is quite simply a good First Person Shooter, and makes genuine homage to it’s Syndicate roots (although it definitely stretches them to widen appeal). If you really hate the idea of an FPS Syndicate game, then yes, this will prove you right. But lighten up! At the very least it’s a good scifi shooter with deep-rooted Cyberpunk themes; and for less-sensitive fans it is still a respectable addition to the Syndicate universe. We’ve got most of the blood and gritty aesthetics we wanted from a Syndicate game, but with some political correctness bolted on. Plus the flamethrower is actually the best enemy-frying action I’ve experienced in a long time.

Pros:

  • Uncompromising, gritty Cyberpunk experience
  • Fast / furious gameplay
  • Decent Cyberpunk environments
  • A few interesting/unique weapon ideas
  • Challenging / aggressive enemy AI

Cons:

  • Unnatural “forced” narrative
  • Annoying stops/blocks in generally fluid gameplay
  • Short single-player campaign (6-8hrs)
  • Many weapons feel too similar

Reference

Syndicate 1993 original game article on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syndicate_(video_game)
Syndicate Universe Wiki: http://www.syndicatewiki.com/
Official Syndicate YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/syndicate

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