For those expecting a high definition version of the isometric real time strategy- assassination game from our childhood’s best brace, you’d better prepare for a shock as Syndicate has gone all first person shooter on us. This is not the Syndicate we all remember, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The basic back story is relatively unchanged, with corporations (or Syndicates) becoming bigger than the governments they are based in creating, Chips that are embedded into the civilians, granting them instant access to pretty much any electrical device they desire. With each Syndicate vying for the market, the creation and production on the Chips is a cut throat business, with Agents willing to do anything to protect their Syndicates wares.
For a change I will start with the multiplayer, solely because this is where you will be spending the majority of your time and which also has a lot more similarities to the Bullfrog original, although with a few alterations to bring it more up to date. Online, Syndicate allows you to either create or join an already existing Syndicate and then proceed to become the best in the world by the only way that they know, hostile takeovers, or to put it a better way, killing and stealing everything in sight. The infamous world map from the old version makes a welcome return, even down to the Atlantic Accelerator in the middle. From here you can decide which part of the globe you wish to take your team to and sit through a briefing to make sure you are properly equipped. With a decent variety of classes available, from heavy weapons and sniper to the standard soldier, each one will hold their own on the battlefield but it is always good to chat in the lobby, just to make sure you haven’t got four snipers going out.
All online missions are designed for four player co-op (though some you can attempt with less if you have decent upgrades) and range from leaving nothing alive to capture the flag style data theft, with each Agent required to carry out a very heavy hard drive, causing them to move very slowly. Each mission also hosts side challenges that will earn you extra points to spend later. The idea of sticking to your team is deeply ingrained into these modes, strolling too far away could mean you get jumped by one of the extremely tough to defeat rival Syndicate Agents, not someone to take on alone. With App powers and reviving all required to be in close proximity, keeping it together will mean a successful Syndicate.
After missions you will see what blueprints, tokens and ranks you have earned which can then be spent in the Research and Development areas of the game. Weapons can be upgraded from the many classes available, Chips can be levelled up to purchase new stat boosts and you can also grab a whole new assortment of Apps. These are what make your agents better than the average citizen, enabling you to hack their chips and create a variety of grizzly ways to die. In co-op there is a broad range of these available, from the aggressive backfire that causes the enemy to drop their guard for a few seconds or a damage link to boost the team’s damage output; for support there’s Apps like shields and Health regeneration abilities. With plenty of areas and upgrades to unlock and various difficulty settings, co-op mode will take a very long and satisfying time to complete.
That can’t be said for the single player. Whilst it’s a solid experience, it’s over a little quickly and really does not add anything new to the FPS genre, but what it does do, it does pretty well. With a predictable and extremely linear story having you playing as an Agent running errands for Eurocorp, the biggest Chip producer in the world, starting with an extraction of a suspected stolen Chip that runs on similar technology to what Eurocorp has designed and then turning into rollercoaster of deception and an awful lot of dead bodies. Though the majority of the action is a first person corridor shooter, the game is helped by some of the Starbreeze magic, with a supporting cast including Rosario Dawson, Brian Cox and the amazingly voiced Michael Wincott, it’s all a little let down by the anticlimactic ending.
On the way to the rather wet ending the game, is at least, fast and furious; in-between the usual corridor moments Syndicate has some great set action pieces that really get your heart pounding, especially the battle on the roof of a fast moving train, tearing into anything that moves your extremely satisfying to use minigun, spectacular!
As an Agent of the largest Syndicate you have a wealth of the best weaponry available to use; hand based weapons can be a standard pistol or assault rifle to something with a little more zing, like a rifle that can shoot through walls, or a machine gun that can shoot around corners. Fun enough but the Chip in your Agents brain is the real star of the show. The DART 6 overlay can be used for short periods of time, putting everything into a digital orange hue, slowing the pace down similar to bullet time, allowing for some juicy headshots and also granting other power boosts once upgraded.
To upgrade your own chip you need to defeat other agents and remove their Chip. Since its embedded deep in the brain the only way in is through the ears or eye, and with a graphic and squelchy stab, your DART heads up will show tentacles creeping out of your retrieval tool and pull it out of their heads. Your advanced Chip also allows for a Breach control which grants powers over more basic electronic items, like pull out beds to use for cover, cause small hovering bots to drop spare ammo, reprogram machine gun turrets and even short out an enemy’s shield.
As you progress through the story you’ll earn additional Apps that grant even more powers over the lower graded Chips embedded in the local populace and soldiers. Backfire operates the same as in co-op, briefly short circuiting their Chip and granting you a chance to take them down. Suicide causes mass feedback in the enemies’ brain, screaming in agony until their head pops, Scanners style. With well-placed suicides you can use them as make shift smart bombs, taking out or injuring other enemies nearby and finally the Persuade, which causes the target to start firing at their own team, not stopping until the last one is dead, finally tuning their gun on themselves.
After the initial shock of the first person perspective, Starbreeze’s Syndicate has everything that the Bullfrog version had, with plenty of upgrading and the constant urge to make your Syndicate even better. It’s just a shame the single player went for the more formulaic route as the co-op makes this a must have purchase.
Rating: ExcellentReview Policy(version tested: Xbox 360)
You can pre-order your copy of Syndicate on PS3, PC and Xbox 360.