Action-Packed Cyberpunk Shooting
You may remember the original Syndicate as an isometric real-time tactical game that came out in an age when sprites were the norm and loading a game through a DOS prompt wasn’t all that dated. Well, forget what you know, because the new Syndicate is a first-person shooter that plays absolutely nothing like the original. With nothing but tenuous ties to the original’s metaplot, Syndicate instead sells itself on its action-packed campaign filled with RPG elements rather than nostalgia. While it’s certainly no Deus Ex, the futuristic cyberpunk world and constant challenge will keep you playing through the end, if only to find your next cybernetic upgrade.
Syndicate takes place in a world ruled by corporations. It’s your standard dystopian future society where money and technology do all the talking. You take on the role of Miles Kilo, an employee of Eurocorp, which is beta testing a brand new weapons grade neuro-chip. Your chip lets you hack into the chips inside other people’s brains in order to control their movements and make their heads explode, something extremely powerful in a world where competing corporations might as well be warring countries. It starts as a simple attempt to “handle” a competitor that knows about your special hardware, but later becomes drenched in conspiracy and backstabbing. While the story can be clichéd at some points, and nonsensical at its worst, the setting alone drives much of the action. The cyberpunk vibe pushes you from mission to mission simply because it seems like the right thing to do in a world where a corporate suit can choose who lives or dies.
Unlike games like Deus Ex which stress exploration and intricate problem solving, Syndicate is all about the action. In each of the game’s twenty chapters, your main goal is to get to your objective by slaughtering pretty much anyone who stands in your way. Enemy encounters range from epic scripted boss battles to almost RPG-like random encounters that are easily dispatched with a couple shots.
The levels are almost entirely linear with branching paths only serving to throw random hidden collectibles your way. Every so often you’ll stumble upon a hacking puzzle or a small mazelike level layout, but both of these are easily solved and merely serve as stop-gaps between one bucket of slaughter and the next. The worst parts of Syndicate’s level design are the scattered first-person jumping puzzles, which will inspire many gamers to throw their controllers out the window. Once again, you rarely encounter enemies or obstacles during these sections, so they serve no purpose other than to stall you before the next enemy encounter. The controls in Syndicate are tight, but not tight enough to make first-person jumping fun, and you’ll frequently wish that the designers had taken these sections out for, say, a mid-boss with a puzzle-like victory condition.
Now, does repeatedly shooting enemies over and over again get boring? To an extent, yes, but never in a way that impedes the game’s progress. Syndicate is very crafty about its battle segments and makes sure to mix them up for you. One shootout will take place in a crowded office with lots of cover, while another will take place in an open warehouse, asking you to employ classic shooter skills like circle-strafing. New enemies are introduced at a pretty steady clip, with new weapons following right behind them. Your arsenal is huge and innovative, ranging from straight-up chain guns to assault rifles that fire bullets that can curve to meet your target. Using varied guns to slaughter your opponents in many ways is more than enough to keep the game interesting.
Don’t forget about your new military brain chip though. It gives you tons of abilities to play around with. The most basic is the ability to go into “dart vision,” which slows down time, highlights your enemies, and makes you deal increased damage. You can also “breach” enemies, which essentially means hacking directly into their brain. You can then use “apps” that make your enemies do some pretty gruesome things. The most “G-rated” app has your opponents’ guns basically exploding in their hands. More hardcore apps involve controlling your opponent to fight alongside you, or even worse, commanding him to stick his own gun in his mouth and pull the trigger. Each app can only be used when its “adrenaline” bar is full. This bar fills by essentially playing the game. Kill streaks, headshots, and other stylish maneuvers make the bars fill quicker, and, as a result, you always seem to have some power play on standby. It’s up to you to decide which gruesome way you want to finish off your enemies. Personally, I am a fan of head-exploding.
Syndicate features online co-op missions where you’ll be playing as a part of a squad, taking on the role of a character that persistently upgrades after each mission. There are nine unique maps and many different goals to complete, and teamwork is required for each of them. Enemy encounters are far more random and more difficult, though defeating enemies allows you to upgrade your loadouts with new weapons and abilities, some of which you can’t access in the single-player. You can also resurrect your teammates should they fall in battle, or even heal them if their life is running low.
Strangely enough, co-op here feels less like a first-person shooter and more like Diablo; you never really feel like your goal is to complete the campaign, but to upgrade your character instead. You’ll happily play the same maps over and over again just to gain a little bit more experience. You’ll be more compelled to play many of these at higher difficulty settings for the better rewards that come with them. Since the enemies attack with the same health and numbers no matter what party size you bring into the game, bringing in a full four-person party almost feels like cheating, but in a good way. Eventually you’ll create the exact class you want, but then you’ll then have little reason to play the multiplayer anymore because there is nothing left to upgrade.
Syndicate is, all things considered, a competent shooter. It has some good ideas that are unfortunately marred by repetitive gameplay and out-of-place puzzle elements. Its true strengths lie in its interesting setting and fast-paced gameplay. I would recommend this game to cyberpunk or sci-fi fans looking for a good shooter to hold them over. Syndicate won’t be winning any awards anytime soon, but it’s certainly worth its 60-dollar price tag.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
The augmented reality overlays drive home the sci-fi setting. 3.7 Control
The controls are responsive enough, but the jumping puzzles are still frustrating. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Do you like dubstep? You’ll be hearing quite a lot of it. 4.0 Play Value
The RPG elements in this game keep you coming back for more. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|