I, like many many people that were in to PC games during the 90s, played, and loved, Syndicate. I then played and loved the notoriously difficult expansion, The American Revolt, when I bought Syndicate Plus on a shiny CD ROM. I even went as far to play and love Syndicate Wars, which, despite numerous cool things, was not destined to be the high point in the franchise. So with the announcement of a FPS revival of the series, I felt that I was in a good position to understand the ‘core fan’ outcry over the betrayal of the originals squad-based RTS format, but really, I was just happy that something, anything was happening with the franchise. Now that I’ve sunk many hours into it, my trend of “playing and loving” continues.
Mega corporations eventually earn so much that they pretty much replace governments. With the kind of campaign funding and lobbying that happens in American politics (and no doubt other countries, to be fair) it’s a dystopian future that’s as easy to believe as it was when the original game came out. It’s 2069, and you’re Miles Kilo, an agent for Eurocorp, which means you’re a part of big business, and in this world, your part of the business it to literally kill the competition.
The time period of this game actually places it before the time frame of the original, and the modest campaign sets up the world pretty well, even if it trips over every gaming cliché in the book. Miles is a silent protagonist who has the latest and greatest DART chip implant in his head, and follows orders unflinchingly until he finds himself cut off and up to his neck in trouble, at which point revelations are made… I’ll stop there for fear of spoiling (assuming I haven’t already), but suffice to say, the story beats are as familiar as the second Dan Brown novel you read.
Thankfully, the unimaginative story is, aside from a couple of odd, very minor, glitches, the only complaint I can level at the game. It might now have the grand scope of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but it does what it sets out to do with absolute aplomb, and what it sets out to do is guns blazing, heart pumping action. The guns blazing part is key, because Starbreeze has managed to make them all look and ‘feel’ great. The animation of the weapons is key, and they do everything you’d expect from a modern first person shooter and more; it’s great when the act of firing a gun in a game is enough to be exciting, but the situational awareness of Syndicate is on another level. When you’re up against a wall, the gun is lowered which is another check box for a shooter in the current generation, but in lieu of a sticky-cover system, your character will poke his gun around corners that you’re hiding behind intuitively, allowing you to blind fire without any extra button presses. Syndicate’s basic shooting is so good that you’ll think about it when you’re shooting in other games, and feel dirty because of your infidelity.
Of course, it’s not cyberpunk action without some sort of hacking going on, and Syndicate has a tonne of it, though it’s cleverly integrated into all the shooting. Actually, Syndicate calls it “Breaching”, but that’s probably because the word ‘hack’ has been co-opted by simpletons who leave Facebook logged in and have someone with a sense of humour use the computer after them. Breaching is mapped to the left button, and manifests in a number of ways. World items can be breached by looking at them and holding down the button long enough, which could do things like move objects (creating or removing cover), open doors, or cause something to explode. Enemies can also be breached to deactivate their advanced (which is to say, impervious) armour long enough to make them vulnerable, or you could cause their gun to backfire, making them unable to shoot at you, and very easy to take out. Alternatively you could just seize control of their mind and cause them to pull out a pin on their grenade and eat it right there, or perhaps take up their gun against their comrades and then use it on themselves. The multiplayer has a host more breach abilities which are customisable and upgradeable, but they’re all charged up by adrenaline (that is, killing enemies).
Speaking of the multiplayer, while the single player campaign does set up a series of great pitched gun battles, the multiplayer is where it really impresses. It’s slow to start, since the standard weapons and apps aren’t going to fill you with confidence when facing the amount of enemies thrown at you in the four-player cooperative-vs-AI scenarios, but once you’ve got your favourite weapon completely pimped out with the sights, ammunition and alternate firing modes, you’ll keep coming back until you’ve devoured every single map, researched every gun and app upgrade, maxed out your DART chip, and done some proper work for your syndicate.
The Bottom Line
Syndicate is a purebred action game. The single player campaign might lack the ambition of a provoking narrative, but the presentation is slick in every regard, and the gameplay does everything you’d hope a conventional shooter to get right, and adds some less conventional systems that change it up in a meaningful way. Add to that an expansive online cooperative multiplayer experience, and Syndicate is a must play for any fan of action.