Back in 1993, Syndicate hit the streets running on that awesome speed demon we remember as the Commodore Amiga. Fast forward to 2012, and the new relaunch aims to capture us just as its predecessor did, but with updated hardware, graphics and gameplay; after all we’re not using floppy discs anymore.
Syndicate, at it’s core remains true to its roots as a dark, cyberpunk story in which corporations, rampant greed, and cybernetic augmentations are commonplace. Governments have less and less power and private military companies are setting up full blown bases throughout the globe.
Sound familiar? Syndicate may look on the surface like other games, notably Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but only because the themes in cyberpunk are near universal. I thought at first Syndicate would resemble DXHR a lot, and was pleasantly surprised when it did not. There is no reward for going through entire levels without killing enemies, just the opposite since the only way to upgrade yourself in game is to extract implanted chips from a few skulls.
The game starts off in 2069, with you playing the part of Agent Miles Kilo, a high ranking paramilitary operative with one of the world’s largest corporations involved in a experimental project with the new DART 6 neural chip. A rival company has developed their own version of the DART 6, and Miles, along with Jules Merit are tasked with acquiring the chip in order to hedge out the competition.
Things progress from there into a series of twists and betrayals, until Miles learns of his own history and finds himself on the run from his former employers. Overall, the story is y interesting, but while you do finally learn a bit about your character, it seems like there should be more to it.
Things have come a long way since the days of the original Syndicate. The reboot turns the isometric, squad based game into a First Person Shooter, with the updated graphics we’ve come to expect of today’s releases. If I had to compare it to anything, I would say it resembles Crysis 2‘s Single Player campaign in terms of quality. The images are crisp and sharp. It really does look good, however I did notice some glitches, particularly during the unarmed takedowns, or the odd floating weapon after eliminating an opponent. What really turned me off was the too bright glare of the game, even after adjusting the graphics options, that reminded me of being too long under a spotlight in a room filled with florescent lights. Just a little too much of it for my tastes, but short of starting a migraine.
Some of the depictions of characters are downright hilarious, like Merit, who looks constantly hungover, bored or perhaps both. You would think the man would comb his hair or something. When you finally do get a look at yourself in game, you get the impression the developers are really into GI Joe.
The voice acting is top notch, although you never hear your character talk. Merit adds to his air of just waking up after a horrible night with his speech, and the one liner he delivers in your confrontation with him is a bit disappointing; but other than that things are good. Most times I turn off portions of the audio that have no effect on the story, but this time I left them in place. If anything else I was able to rock out at the completion of the game, that is until my wife started staring at me.
Syndicate uses the standard controls for fire and movement, along with an action key to open doors, and pick up items, as well as the option to crouch, slide and surmount low obstacles. Something that comes into play often is Breaching, or the use of your chip to control objects and people. Using breaching, you can override electrical devices, open sealed doors, reroute power, take control of augmented enemies, and various other things.
When used against enemies, breaching is of limited use, and sometimes not usable at all. You can at times, weaken an opponents defenses, but not in conjunction with the other powers you pick up along the way. Some opponents are not augmented at all, so you can’t use your chip to override theirs, but you can cause their weapons to disrupt, momentarily stunning and damaging them. During one boss fight, for some reason you are not able to use your weapons at all, and instead must rely on your chip to redirect and deflect oncoming attacks back towards the enemy. Challenging, but ultimately it was frustrating because I kept wanting to shoot the bastard. But ultimately, you will use it, and will need it at a critical moment when you are getting your rear end served up hot and steaming on a silver platter. During those times, causing an enemy to suicide, or to fight his comrades is a tremendous help.
Unarmed takedowns are tremendously fun and challenging, and you can go through entire portions of the game without firing a shot. The cut scene varies from a quick neck snap to grabbing an enemies weapon and physically forcing him to shoot himself with it. I haven’t seen any sort of bonus or reward for doing it, but hell it is a blast. Make sure you learn how to do them, and assign a good key for it, they will be necessary later in the game.
Character upgrades can be purchased at different points in the game, particularly after ripping the chip from certain characters’ skulls. These abilities boost health and allow certain offensive and defensive modifications. HINT: Even at Normal Difficulty, the game is punishing at times, boost your health as much as possible.
A number of points are little more than maneuverable cutscenes. Your character will be able to move about, but you will have absolutely no weapon play or abilities to you; really all you are doing is watching an NPC and listing to his monologue. While they do help the story, there are quite a bit and it starts to get old.
Co-Op is a whole different beast. Up to four players work together to clear a map and obtain certain objectives. Advancement is earned through points, with bonuses earned for the successful use of abilities, killing enemies, and retrieving the chips of key opponents. You also collect blueprints and other goodies, which allow you to research and upgrade your characters loadout. You can create your own syndicate, and track its progress through your actions. Consisting of up to 4 players, this syndicate is basically your team and allows you to compare your stats to others.
Syndicate however, suffers from a lack of a proper multiplayer component. After completing the storyline you are left wanting to explore more, expecting more, and you don’t get all of it. Co-Op is fun, but really you are always tied to the abilities of the other nimrods running around with you, and either must pull the weight yourself, bail them out, or be left stuck waiting at the checkpoint while they go on an expedition to explore every nook and cranny of the previous room. There does not appear to be a chat function, which would allow you to yell at them, but you can kick an inactive player after a few long minutes. So, while dummy is in the head taking care of his business, you have to stand there and stare at a door until he decides to finally get off his ass. Public matchmaking and lobbies in any game, SUCK. This game could benefit from a proper player versus player experience.
Since the game tracks not only your Co-Op, but also your Single Player stats, you always feel the need to improve a little. Add to that the ability to replay any single chapter in the storyline once you complete it, you feel the urge to beat your last time or kill count. The number of upgrades, and the system in place for Co-Op make regular forays something to do. Now, I won’t lie, once you beat the game, unless you just want to do a little better at it, there is no real point to doing the Single Player at all. You can reselect your upgrades and try different things out, but really it is about the same. One possible choice near the end of the game may affect the immediate outcome somewhat, but it doesn’t grab me enough to replay an entire chapter to see how it would play out. You will die, a lot, and the sheer frustration of trying to beat something will motivate you to come back and do it again and again until you succeed. All told, even with the various deaths I put about 6 hours in the Single Player campaign, and I died a whole hell of a lot.
Checkpoints keep you from having to backtrack too much, but there is no way to save a gamemanuially. This is bad if you are in the middle of an important point, or a boss fight, and mess something up. You won’t go all the way to the beginning of the chapter, so that helps out, but you just start to feel like a hamster on a wheel. One particular point took me over two hours to beat (did I mention I played the entire campaign through in about 6 hours?).
With a little more content, Syndicate would be a steal at any price. There is a lot to like, but still as it is, I’d have to say it is overpriced. It’s certainly worth a rental to see if you would like it personally, but without more of a proper multiplayer or a greater fleshed out (and longer) storyline, then the current price of $59.99 is too high.
EA would not comment on the possibility of, sequels, DLC or other additional content when I asked, nor even drop a hint. So it’s hard to say what the next few months will bring.
I want to like Syndicate, I really do. the game has a lot of the elements and themes that always attract me, but overall the delivery feels shortened somehow, you want more and are left wondering if somehow it were rushed at the end. I’d like to see more, but it’s got to have MORE.