Starbreeze is experienced in delivering dark, futuristic experiences, and Syndicate is the latest offering from the Swedes, based on the 1993 strategy title. Pulling the viewpoint down from isometric to FPS level is, for the most part, a pretty enjoyable and action-packed experience, although it comes with its fair share of shortcomings.
Syndicate paints the picture of a dystopian world where mega-corporations have greater control over nations than governments due to the controlled supply of bio-chips that allow interaction with the world’s networks. As the population soars, a social rift develops between those that can afford the implants and those that can not. You play the role of a corporate Agent, carrying out the will of your company’s CEO and using experimental implants that allow you to “breach” (hack) into various interfaces, including other people. Starbreeze, as always, has done an excellent job of modelling and texturing the game world, with highly detailed characters and some quality NPC animations (apart from the awkward melee combat).
The curious thing about Syndicate is that, despite its FPS tendencies and varied firearm selection, the focus is definitely on the breaching aspects of the game. Breaching can affect objects in the game world, such as moving objects that can provide cover. Enemies can be controlled and persuaded to do things beyond their free will. Weapons can be tampered with and set to backfire, leaving enemies prone to increased damage. These abilities are controlled by “adrenaline”, your ability to perform killstreaks and headshots, which in turn encourages more creative gunplay and use of breaching tactics.
The good thing about the game is that there never seems to be an overwhelming sense of omnipotence when using these abilities: killing enemies quickly and efficiently, and maintaining a steady pace are both key to recharging these abilities quickly. Enemies are also buffed with electronic shields, multiple flying drones, and increased health in an attempt to interrupt the flow of combat and encourage some hairy situations. As a result, the game is actually quite enjoyable.
The stumbling blocks are distracting, rather than gameplay-breaking. The bloom effects are heavily applied, blinding the viewpoint and obscuring detail in the game world, but it’s otherwise fairly harmless (other than potential scarring of your retinas). Most of the weapons, while unique and sporting alt-fire functions, feel weak and ineffectual against enemies. It seems ironic that the guns feel like they are supporting the breaching functions, rather than the other way around.
What really hurts Syndicate, though, is the length of the campaign. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of gameplay for a full RRP title. The story is weak and the ending is hurried. There is a moral dilemma in the game that forks the storyline into two directions, but other than that it barely lasts 6-8 hours, depending on your playstyle. A four player co-op mode is also available with separate missions, but no competitive multiplayer is present.
Syndicate may not represent the best value for your gaming dollar, but the ride is great while it lasts. The action is frenetic and goes a step beyond the familiar FPS motions, and if you can find it at a cheaper price, it’s a great weekend title to enjoy.