Welcome Your Corporate Overlords
Syndicate. Just the name tells you a lot about the game, referencing the corporate culture that permeates the entirety of its storyline and shapes its gameplay. Syndicate is a game in which corporations have overtaken the political systems meant to keep them in check and govern the world based on their overwhelming patron: the mighty dollar. The year is 2069, and you are agent Miles Kilo. Is his name, comprised of two different systems of measurement—”miles” is a measure of distance, and “kilo” is often used as shorthand for “kilograms,” a unit of weight—intended as a joke? Is it a nod toward an aspect of his character that is as of yet unrevealed? More likely, it’s a callback to Snow Crash main character Hiro Protagonist, though it’s uncertain what Miles’ name could be describing. Perhaps the distances he can run or jump or the weight of the weapons he carries, because this is a game with weapons upon weapons.
Though Syndicate originated as a series of tactical, isometric shooters back in the ’90s, in which players controlled squads of agents, the new game has taken the same route as Fallout, placing players more directly in the shoes and behind the gun of a single character. This character is the top prototype agent for the biggest of three corporations that struggle for control of North America’s corporate landscape, the final piece of an ever-changing pie. You are a tool of your corporate masters.
Is Syndicate, then, a meditation on the spread of corporate culture? Does it propose that its constant spread, the rise in power of a few megacorporations, will subsume our ideals and replace them with the desire to serve it and, in turn, be served? In the game, your corporation provides you with the tools you need to do your job and cuts you loose to slaughter and subdue as your see fit with little regard for the sanctity of life, even among non-combatants. The tools it gives you are advanced and powerful, ranging from guns that fire bullets along their expected linear trajectories to more specialized fare that can curve tracking bullets around corners to catch foes unaware, as well as “Breaching” tools that allow you to hack the environment and people’s minds alike.
Is Syndicate a picture of where our digital fixation might take us? Technology becomes smaller and faster as it’s integrated with increasing freedom and fervor into our lives. We adopt it willingly, from cell phone to PDA to smartphone and, in Syndicate, to chips implanted in people’s heads. It’s a world that links not only our possessions, but our very minds. Miles Kilo can break into a foe’s weapon and force it to backfire, but he can also drill his way into the enemy’s head—the aforementioned “Breaching”—and influence his victim to fight his allies or commit suicide. Objects in the environment can also be “Breached,” but doing so has a specific predetermined effect. Further, while working on objects is free, influencing people requires adrenaline, which is primarily recharged by killing enemies. All of this is possible because of the DART 6 Bio-chip in Miles’ head. Could he, too, fall prey to the sorts of digital wizardry he can perform on others?
It would be a welcome vulnerability in a character who appears to otherwise be an absolute tank. Miles Kilo is the latest prototype agent, designed to be able to take punishment just as well as he can dish it out. While stealth and manipulation are both options, the player is able to hold his own in a firefight. The gunplay, however, trends toward the deliberate side, much like BioShock or Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Miles also has an array of FEAR-esque melee maneuvers, designed to increase his mobility options in combat. Further, despite his already premier status among agents, Miles is able to upgrade his abilities as he progresses through the story, which increases his lethality as well as expanding his options.
While the primary story is a solitary affair, there’s also a four-player co-op mode with its own separate missions, based on levels from the original game. That said, there’s no competitive multiplayer; this is an FPS that isn’t looking to unseat the reigning kings of multiplayer gameplay, but offer something different. Something that is, dare I say, Cyberpunk?
The Matrix is said to have killed cyberpunk by merging it with traditional science fiction and Hong Kong-style action. Pure cyberpunk, along the lines of Neuromancer or Snow Crash, hardly exists anymore, having had its elements absorbed into the general body of sci-fi. The corporate future is one of these elements (see also: Schismatrix ), while the proliferation of digital technology and its infiltration of the human body is another. Syndicate aims to hit on these notes while providing a satisfying first-person shooter experience. Between it and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, it seems as though the entire sub-genre might be seeing something of a resurgence. How cool would that be?