“Get with the program, Kilo”- Merit
- Platform- Xbox 360 (version tested), PS3, Windows
- Developer- Starbreeze Studios
- Publisher- EA
- Release date- 21st February, 2012
Please note- This review is purely based on the single player campaign. I didn’t set up an Origin account just to try the Co-op. While I’m sure co-op is important to the overall experience, regulars of TGL will remember that I very rarely focus on anything other than the main campaign of a game.
I’ll admit it, I prejudged Syndicate. They were taking a beloved tactical franchise, turning it into a FPS, and with EA attached to it, and their general stink around the downfall of numerous franchises, I didn’t think it was looking good. But I was wrong. Well, partly wrong. While Syndicate may not be a terrific game, it isn’t the mess that a huge chunk of the gaming press made it out to be. It’s actually quite fun. Rather than in the game play play itself, its major failures come in the form of its unwillingness to fully explore the ideas it presents. Syndicate is the younger, flashier, louder brother of Deus Ex:Human Revolution.
Developed by Starbeeze Studios and published by EA, Syndicate tells the tale of some of most extreme examples of class warfare in gaming to date. The year is 2069. Due to the rise of Eurocorp and its DART chip- a neural implant that lets its users access the dataverse, and thus effectively making governments obsolete- the world is ruled by mega-corporations known as Syndicates. While half of the worlds population embrace the DART chip, the other half reject it, and are left to waste away in the old, pre-DART chipped world. Due to the growing tension between the worlds Syndicates, Agents are created; bio-engineered individuals that protect the interests of their respected Syndicates to any means necessary. You play the role of Miles Kilo, an Agent of Eurocorp that is hurled into a world of espionage, murder, and the idea of free will in a world where there isn’t any.
As mentioned before, Syndicate puts a new spin on the series and brings it to the realm of the FPS. What’s noticeable at first is how slick, smooth, and tactile the controls and gunplay are. Much like with The Darkness and The Chronicles of Riddick, Starbreeze Studios are known for nicely replicating a true first person view, rather than a floating, disembodied perspective. Syndicate takes this to new levels. With an excellent addition of sliding and jumping over objects, getting around in Syndicate never feels clunky, and in turn keeps gameplay moving along swiftly. The shooting mechanic is quite effective too, with guns feeling intense, powerful, and extremely versatile. For instance, some guns have two iron sights; one for far away targets and the other for up close combat. Another nice addition to the game is that when up against an object, Kilo will hold his weapon accordingly. Right up against a wall? Kilo will hold the weapon to his chest. Barely peeking over a container? Kilo will position his arms over the container itself. It’s really quite impressive how much this adds to the level of immersion in Syndicate.
The DART chip adds a great twist to the game too. Using the DART overlay, players can speed up Kilo to the point where it appears as if time is slowing down. Also, the player can use certain hacks to disable enemy targets too. These come in the form of Backfire, Suicide, and Persuade. Backfire overloads an enemies firearm, Suicide effectively compels the target to kill themselves, while Persuade makes them fight alongside you for a short time. These hacks are quite fun to play around with during the game, but they never feel like they’re quite enough. Three hacks in a game based on a premise of a digital world is a little limp, I felt. However, it’s the combination of the slick shooting mechanics, DART overlay, and hacks, is what makes Syndicate such a thrilling experience. Running towards an enemy, sliding while slowing down the gameplay, and unleashing a torrent of bullets makes for some of the games better moments. That said, the games focus on shooting stuff in the face does sadly take precedent over the story, its implications, and the moral story Starbreeze Studios is trying to tell.
Visually Syndicate is excellent. It’s design is similar as to what Spielberg was going for with Minority Report, along with a healthy dash of Blade Runner and it’s overcrowded, neon-lit future. Much has been said about Syndicates overuse of bloom effects. While there are times where it’s almost laughably overdone, I did find its use of bloom gave the world a very dreamlike feel. Personally, this added to the notion that this new world, the world of the DART chip, is based on control rather than free will. This can be seen during the game when the player views pro-Syndicate posters using the DART overlay. Using the overlay reveals the posters to be dominating, 1984-like propaganda. Viewing this propaganda in its true state is very much inspired by the John Carpenter film, They Live, and is done to great effect. When the player gains access to the Downzone- the old world where its inhabitants still haven’t embraced the DART chip- Syndicate takes on a completely new look. In the Downzones the game takes on a more downbeat and less fantastical appearance. This visual juxtaposition between locations is rather effective, and further shows the player the extreme class warfare that is bubbling beneath the surface of this seemingly perfect technological world.
But Syndicates biggest failure becomes apparent when it doesn’t tackle these issues with grace. Syndicate presents the player with a world divided by a chipped and no-chipped society. The non-chipped populous are being cast aside, left to wither away among the ruins of the old cities, on which a new civilisation is being born. It raises the idea of free will in a world wherein its inhabitants are giving over their very minds to these giant, massive syndicates. It raises these wonderfully interesting ideas and, well, doesn’t know what to do with them. So instead of delving deeper into these ideas, and presenting the player with an interesting, thought provoking tale, Syndicate just makes you shoot more things in the face. That’s the solution to it all. That’s how this monopoly of the mind is overthrown, by killing things. That didn’t settle well with me.
The sound design is great, but the music of Syndicate got some shit because its inclusion of dub-step tracks. While some of those tracks are overkill, they do admittedly suit some of the intense battles the player will go through. However, I found the less publicised ambience tracks composed by Gustaf Grefberg much more interesting.
Syndicate is great fun. With a simply unforgettable shooting mechanic in place, Syndicate is truly a thrilling ride from start to finish. Hell, even the boss battles are quite inventive. But as the credits rolled I got the distinct feeling that it felt like a dry run for something greater, much greater. With Syndicate, Starbreeze Studios have created a launch pad to something truly special. But as it stands, Syndicate, though very much flawed, is worth playing. Lower your expectations and you’ll enjoy it.