The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Back in 1993, Peter Molyneux’s Bullfrog Productions released a
now-classic PC strategy title in which players commanded a squad of four
agents working for a super-corporation on a multitude of missions to
dominate the world. Now Electronic Arts has resurrected the franchise
after many years, transforming it from an isometric strategy game to a
first-person shooter. If you’re a hardcore superfan of the original who
has an issue with this decision, nothing anyone says is going to change
your mind. But if you’re open to an FPS reinterpretation with loads of
references to the old games, or if you’ve never heard of Syndicate and
like sci-fi shooters, this may be the game for you.
put you in the role of a commander like the original games, Chronicles
of Riddick and The Darkness developer Starbreeze puts players in control
of Miles Kilo, a Eurocorp agent enlisted in the company’s experimental
new DART 6 chip program that gives him the ability to subvert the chips
in other people’s heads and hack the environment around him. The story
follows a predictable arc, with oppressive corporations simultaneously
empowering and controlling much of the populace with implanted chips
while an underground resistance fights back in the year 2069. Kilo
starts out as an errand boy for shady Eurocorp boss Jack Denham (played
by Brian Cox) performing assassinations, surveillance, and the like all
with the goal of keeping the company on top. While there are no “Jenny
on the couch” moments here, plenty of well-acted scenes play out while
you’re strapped to a chair or hoofing through a level.
Players will spend the first chunk of the game shooting up rival syndicate factions with elegant backdrops inspired by Blade Runner
and Mirror’s Edge (there’s even a massive floating city raft). You and
the rest of the highly skilled agents in the world wear snappy trench
coats like Neo from The Matrix, but act more like the deadly,
emotionless agents. Your partner, Agent Merit, practically goes out of
his way to shoot civilians, and you can too without penalty if you want.
Eventually, you’ll take on unchipped resistance fighters in the grimy
streets who have invisibility suits and other toys. While they don’t
have any chip powers to use against you, they can’t be manipulated by
All of the onscreen HUD elements and agent powers
come courtesy of the DART 6 implant. At a press of the shoulder button,
players turn on DART vision, a temporary overlay filter that highlights
all enemies in orange while the world turns a digital gray. While in
this mode foes slow down, you take less damage, and your weapons are
more effective. The DART 6 chip also has three different apps that you
can use to persuade goons to fight for you, make them blow themselves
up, or backfire their weapon (which makes them fall out of cover and
become more vulnerable to attacks). Performing well in combat allows the
apps to recharge faster.
The most-used DART 6 power by far is the
standard breach. This allows you to remotely unlock doors, reprogram
turrets, and disable the armor of minibosses. The breaches and apps
require you to get in close to the action and add in the tension of
watching the progress bar fill up above the enemies’ heads as you hold
the button down. Some foes are invincible until you breach them, so
there’s an interesting dynamic of breaching and hiding while a big guy
with a minigun flanks your position. Once his armor is disabled it’s
time to come out of cover, turn on the overlay, and unload. It’s a nice
volley of attack and defend.
Early missions task you with
assassinating a rival syndicate’s key scientist and then dealing with
one of its vengeful agents. Killing high profile targets allows you to
gruesomely extract their chips and use them to upgrade your health,
accuracy, the length you can use DART vision, and other abilities. You
can upgrade skills in any order, but you get minor health bonuses if you
beef up abilities located next to each other on the board. You can’t
respec or fully upgrade everything, so choose your investments
carefully. One time I upgraded my app recharging speed, and the very
next level disabled app use for quite some time. When things are this
inflexible, players are inevitably going to feel remorseful about a
choice at some point in the campaign.
The single-player campaign
offers some entertaining set pieces, like shooting at a flying craft
from atop a speeding train and battling a variety of super-powered agent
bosses. Most of the missions are spiced up with new guns, enemies, and
abilities, but the last 20 percent of the game gets stale as you battle
endless waves of goons. The final boss shakes things up and is suitably
challenging, which is always a tricky thing to pull off in an FPS.
career can be beaten in less than 10 hours, and while it didn’t blow me
away, I enjoyed Starbreeze’s take on the future of combat. The mix of
over 20 weapons (my favorite is the laser beam) and chip abilities gives
you plenty of options when faced with conflict. Even though the story
is extremely predictable, the key characters and intriguing backdrops
keep you engaged.
Syndicate’s cooperative mode is completely
separate from the story campaign, and it also shares the most
similarities to the source material. The nine maps contain many direct
references to the original, including an Atlantic Accelerator stage. Up
to four players team up as part of new syndicate Wulf-Western to
complete missions like stealing hard drives and assassinating targets.
progression system is widely expanded in co-op, with a few extra chip
upgrades in addition to those that appear in the single-player mode and
nine more apps. These new powers include sharable power-ups like team
damage bonuses and more creative apps like a virus that drains enemy
health over time. Players also earn separate weapon and application
tokens by completing missions, which they can spend to research
advancements in both categories. Strangely, the guns start out severely
nerfed in co-op, making players spend lots of time upgrading their
favorites just so they reach the default level of effectiveness in the
Playing through co-op is enjoyable with a full
four-player roster, but playing with a smaller group isn’t advisable.
The challenge jumps significantly when you’re down to three people, and
is nearly impossible with two. In several missions you’re supposed to
transport four items to your dropship, meaning if you have anything less
than the full roster you have to make multiple trips.
look of the maps changes significantly, the missions don’t. The co-op
settles into a predictable loop of shooting guys, regrouping to open a
door, and shooting more guys on the way from point A to B. After you’ve
made it through all the maps you can play them again at higher
difficulty levels for more rewards, but it’s tough to justify coming
back once you’ve seen all the game has to offer.
I went into
Syndicate with very few preconceptions and came out pleased. EA’s
lackluster promotion of the game implied that the publisher might have
been trying to sneak out a sci-fi shooter disaster, but Starbreeze
managed to add another unique spin to the FPS genre that’s worth
checking out if you’re not hung up on the property’s legacy.
Email the author Bryan Vore, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.