The lights are on
Having never played or even heard of the original Syndicate for the PC, I had no idea what to expect coming into the game. I checked some trailers and some gameplay footage and it looked interesting enough to give it a try. I'm not necessarily a fan of sci-fi shooters, but I am through and through a FPS fan. Any and all FPS games with a heartbeat, I'm on. And I can tell you after playing through Syndicate's campaign that any fan of FPS games, sci-fi or otherwise, will find more than enough in Starbreeze's new addition to this genre, to keep their pulse going, and their guns blazing.
The campaign's story follows Miles Kilo, an agent of the Eurocorp Syndicate, implanted with the latest DART chip technology. Players take control of Kilo as he infiltrates rival Syndicates to assassinate scientists and later, retrieve one of their own. While I honestly didn't even pay attention to where the story was taking me, which for a while kind of seemed like nowhere, the story isn't necessarily bad. It's just more or less the same story you've heard before. Futuristic corporate oppression, a downtrodden portion of society that spawns a resistance, and your inevitable journey from perpetrator to resistor to savior. I more or less knew where it was all heading about 5 minutes in, but it really doesn't matter. As with any FPS, it's all about the action. And Syndicate provides it, with a twist, in their DART technology.
The DART chip gives agents the ability to hack their surrounding environment and even the chips implanted in other peoples heads. This is basically the core of what Syndicate is all about, and certainly what made it stand out for me. Not only do you have the ability to hack environmental obstacles like turrets, bots, doors, computers, and even cover, but you're given 3 'breach' (hacking) abilities that you can utilize against your enemies. They are Suicide, Backfire, and Persuade. Suicide gives you the ability to make your enemy commit suicide, taking themselves out and anyone that might be close enough to take some of the damage. Backfire basically breaks an enemy out of cover by dealing moderate damage and knocking them on their backs making them vulnerable to gunfire and actually decreasing their defenses requiring fewer hits to take them out. Initially Backfire will put down 2 soldiers when they're close enough to each other but you can upgrade it to 3. Persuade is definitely my favorite of the 3. It gives you the ability to make an enemy soldier fight on your side for about 20 seconds or so, after which they'll do you the favor of killing themselves for you. Not only does this provide you with a little support on your side but it also acts as a decent distraction because their buddies will try to take them out. Used at the right moments and on the right enemies, breaches give you great strategic advantages when things get inevitably out of control.
Syndicate does a great job of keeping things interesting and challenging by adding new enemies and weapons as the story progresses. You'll be faced with improved enemy types in almost every successive level. Every one of these new and improved enemies has some form of breachable defensive armor that you need to balance both breaching and gunfire to get through. Things ramp up when they add environmental and human jammers to keep you from being able to breach a tougher enemies armor until you've dealt with them first. The most effective enemies are of course the bosses. Your 3 breach abilities are always rendered useless against these enemies and as the story progresses their difficulty ramps up accordingly. The final boss battle is particularly difficult and I probably died at least 6 or 7 times before I even figured out how I could win, which took me probably 4 or 5 more lives just to accomplish. When it's all said and done and the story predictably ends exactly how you expected it to, Syndicate's campaign felt like a great experience filled with everything a FPS fan wants. Plenty of new and differing enemies, well rounded and interesting weapon variations (here's a tip, hold on to the laser rifle), and a fantastic new twist on strategy in Syndicates breaching system. This system can be upgraded periodically as you 'extract' (violently) chips from VIP's scattered throughout the story. There are more upgrades than chips so you have to choose wisely because there's no going back. They give you an incentive to unlock adjacent upgrades by giving you a health bonus when you do.
My only real complaint with Syndicate was it's inconsistent environmental quality. It feels in some places like they just simply decided to cut and paste or exclude altogether, any sort of detail. I'd say more often than not the graphics are decent and the environments are immersive, but there were certainly moments when I felt things were a bit plain. I realize the trend is to make future environments these clean, simplified, minimalist utopias, but there are effective ways to do this without making the world feel barren and flat. Syndicate does a good job in some locales, but in others it simply feels like they either missed the mark, or simply rushed through it without giving it much thought. It's actually kind of confusing at times to go from these rich detailed places, to some plain flat environment. On top of that they seemed to reuse some fighting environments over and over. The basic battle up or down a flight of stairs is revisited a few times here with little change. The action is fast and furious enough that you don't really notice or care, but at some points it is noticeable.
Overall, I'd say I definitely recommend Syndicate to anyone that enjoys FPS's and is looking for something a little different in the way of strategy, enemies, and weapons. The predictable and cliched future oppressive corporate drama aside, the campaign gives you all the action and progression you'd hope for in your gunning experience. I never touched the co-op, but I more or less never do, so I can't add or subtract anything from Syndicate because of it. Based on my experience with the campaign though, I would say this is absolutely worth checking out. The total campaign length felt a bit short, but that might just have been because I was enjoying myself too much to notice. I think it was somewhere in the realm of 10 hours, but I never really calculate those things. 20 hrs should be the mark for any FPS that doesn't have a multiplayer, but that's probably just wishful thinking. I'm about to jump into my second playthrough as I always do with a new and interesting game, so I'd say the replay value is moderate, They rate your play in each chapter of the campaign so you have something to shoot for in playing through them multiple times. The confusing dip in environmental detail notwithstanding, Syndicate is a future I'm on board with.
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