The lights are on
Score: 8.25 / 10
PC - PS3 - Xbox 360
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Release Date: February 21st, 2012
Syndicate was a series of computer games produced by Bullfrog Productions back in 1993. It was a top down, tactical shooter in which you controlled a squad of agents in a cyberpunk setting, establishing global dominance - one country at a time. It's been well over a decade since the latest Syndicate game, and Starbreeze Studios looks to reboot the series as an FPS. Even in a market saturated with bland and repetitive shooters, Syndicate still manages to make a name for itself.
Wave of the Future
Syndicate takes place in the year 2069 in a world controlled by mega-corporations, also known as syndicates. Offering citizens the ability to meld with the digital world among other benefits, civilians flocked to get "chipped" by various syndicates. In turn, the syndicate gains control over the individual and their behavior. With no established government to police the syndicates, it's an all out war to expand with specialized agents at the front lines. You take the role of Miles Kilo, EuroCorp's latest agent with the Dart 6 prototype chip at his disposal.
Syndicate boasts a decent story, but fails to break any real ground. While the story starts promising enough with missions to cover corporate secrets and investigate possible information leaks, the predictable events unfold before ultimately coming to an abrupt halt. Brian Cox and Rosario Dawson do a fine job of holding your interest with their performances, and Michael Wincott's rough facade as your questionable sidekick manage to keep the story alive.
Though the story may not hold much, the look and feel of the game is truly outstanding. Visually, Syndicate is top tier - intense lighting, detailed textures, and seamless character animation do its part in bringing the cyberpunk world to life. However, sometimes the light saturation and lens flares can be downright blinding. Though dubstep might not be your cup of tea, it melds perfectly with the futuristic setting. Every sound, from the soundtrack to a bullet leaving the chamber of a gun, will make sweet love to your subwoofer.
While the general format of the game does little to stray from the pattern of clearing rooms of enemies and moving on to repeat the action, the actual gameplay is what keeps everything alive. There is a smoothness to Syndicate that separates it from the standard FPS format. Whether it's the ability to slide and put your back against a piece of cover or the ability to pop between targets down the iron sights, the fast paced run and gun aspect of the game never fails to keep you entertained.
As you progress and unlock additional abilities, the game becomes a test of your multitasking consistency. Environments can be manipulated to provide cover, enemies gain shields that must be breached before damage can be done, and your powers constantly recharge with each soldier that you put down. Tense situations arise, and Sydnicate does a fine job in testing your management skills under pressure as you scramble to reboot an ally or race to cover before you fall.
The typical gunplay is further enhanced by the clever AI. Unlike most shooters, the enemy AI is constantly on the move, and can be downright ruthless in some situations. There are multiple circumstances in which enemies will flank you from all sides, move in behind a larger character, or flush you out of your hiding spot with grenades. You find yourself constantly having to adapt to this smarter enemy, and use everything in your arsenal to overcome the odds.
The single player experience is short and sweet, with twenty chapters running a total of six hours. To influence replays you can find chip upgrades to experiment with different builds for your character, hunt for data transfer points sometimes hidden in various corners, and try to surpass your previous record of headshots in a Milestone.
There's An App for That
Syndicate gunplay is all well and good, but it's the Dart 6 abilities that you will utilize the most.
The most useful ability is the Dart Overlay. This constantly recharging meter will put you in a bullet time mode, while simultaneously highlighting enemies in an orange glow. Not only do things slow down, but you will increase the amount of damage you can deal and take. This becomes essential in a tight situation for planning your next move, or laying the hurt on a tougher enemy.
In addition to your overlay, there are three base abilities at your disposal. Backfire will allow you to jam an enemy's weapon, and the splash damage results in an opening to attack. Persuade will overtake a soldier's chip, and turn them to assist you instead before putting a bullet in their own head. Lastly there is Suicide, in which you overtake an enemy's mind to have them take out a grenade and blow themselves (and their friends) sky high.
Each ability has its uses, and with upgrades you find yourself constantly shuffling between the base three to help in each situation. Later enemies will be immune to some effects until breached first, and there are plenty of other gadgets to hamper your ability to simply throw these out at free will. It's a healthy balance, and must be used in conjunction with your own weapons to be truly effective.
The single player may be short lived, but the co-operative experience is where the game truly stands out. You and three other friends must work together to move through various levels to complete certain objectives. Most of the time these involve eliminating a team of agents or procuring information and extracting it at a dropoff points. Though some of these objectives are repeated, the same appeal of a clever AI and company of three additional players keep this mode enjoyable.
Teamwork is key, and you will quickly find that going off on your own is a quick way to die. Despite three pre-made loadouts, you have the ability to customize your agent as you see fit. Players are given the ability to choose a weapon and two Dart abilities. Your abilities cannot be changed once on the battlefield, but weapons can be picked up if you find another to your liking. This keeps the game from limiting you to playing a certain style.
At the end of each level, every player is awarded experience and tokens to unlock research. You can upgrade existing weapons and follow a skill tree similar to the single player game. The addictive nature of upgrading a weapon to add a secondary fire or enhancing a Dart ability to become more affective, will soon have you jumping right back into another mission to become a more effective weapon.
Syndicate is really what you make of it. It may not break any new ground, but the fast paced run and gun nature of the gameplay keeps the game engaging from start to finish. While the single player may be short, the co-operative experience helps extend the life of the game and offers plenty of content to keep you busy. The overall polish of the game helps it avoid being just another FPS title, a makes it a great shooter to kick off 2012.