Rewind to last month for just one moment. If you had told me Syndicate was getting released, I’d have given you a stare not too dissimilar to the one I give my girlfriend when she asks what I think of her new dress. I know hardly anything about the two. This week however I got the chance to sit down and play through this mystery shooter, and I have to say I’m glad I didn’t let this pass by unnoticed. While it’s not the best first person shooter out there, it definitely has some interesting ideas and plenty of tweaks on a genre that definitely needs them in order to stand out.
Syndicate takes place in the year 2069 where giant corporations rule the world thanks to their creation of data chips implanted in the heads of the population as a means to help make lives easier. These corporations are in a constant battle for dominance employing special bio-engineered and chip-augmented enforcers named agents to fight for them. Syndicate’s protagonists (you included) are employed by a company called Eurocorp responsible for creating a top tier prototype chip named DART 6 which grants the subject with almost super power-like abilities. Taking the role of Miles Kilo you are implanted with this new chip and given a series of missions to complete. Along the way Miles will question whether he is fighting for the good guys and also rediscover his origins. The story isn’t bad and has the usual twists and turns you’d expect from the sci-fi genre, all told from the viewpoint of Miles himself.
The original Syndicate was an isometric real-time tactical game released way back in 1993 so it’s a surprising move to see EA give this hibernating series a reboot and with such a radical face lift. Instead of a strategy, the genre instead switches to a first person shooter (seeing as we have so few of them at the moment). Shooting feels fairly satisfying and the guns offer a nice range that combine the regular firearms like pistols and machine guns with some interesting futuristic tweaks like the ability to lock on and fire round corners. Also something that I thought worth noting was the fact you can sprint and shoot a pistol at the same time! I haven’t seen this in a shooter before and I have to admit performing this makes you feel like an action hero.
Perhaps the best executed idea in Syndicate is DART 6 – an embedded microchip that allows you to perform a handful of actions in order to give you the advantage over your foes. DART 6 has two main features, both of which you’ll be relying on repeatedly both in the single player and co-op. The first is an ability called DART Overlay that when activated gives you a tactical view of any enemies and your surroundings for a short period. Time is also slowed down and damage lessened making Overlay key to winning most battles. Breaching is your other means of tactically winning fights permitting you the chance to manipulate microchips in an enemy’s head giving you the choice of one of three actions. Backfire simply causes guns to well… backfire giving you a brief moment to inflict extra damage. Suicide causes others to kill themselves by detonating their own grenades sometimes taking out more enemies nearby. Finally (and most fun) persuade turns those targeted against their own team before finally turning the gun on them self. Utilizing these abilities, is limited to your levels of adrenaline, with gunning down more agents gaining you more chances to use them, encouraging a trigger-happy approach when taking on squads. The DART 6 is excellently implemented allowing you plenty of ways to plan and dispatch your attacks. From the first time you control someone into killing their own squad to the last, it never outstays its welcome.
Manipulation of the environment is something that is also touched upon with the DART 6 but never something that is fully explored. Outside of a few points where you can drop cover to take enemies by surprise or control turrets, it rarely comes into play any more than as a fancy means to open doors or continue forward. It would have been great to see more opportunities to use the environment against foes with the DART 6 and feel like you’re in total control.
The campaign is split into twenty smaller stages totalling an average play time of around six to eight hours. There are a few collectables to find but nothing to really keep you coming back. Stages are also very linear taking you from point A to point B with very little meandering between which can help keep the action focused but at the same time make the experience feel a little too archaic; events kept simple with the usual pattern of clearing a room of enemies before moving on coming up all too often. This doesn’t prevent the campaign from still being entertaining; it just means areas lack variety and tend to drag on after a while resulting in the game never feeling like it’s reaching its full potential or truly blowing you away. It definitely has it’s high points but these are bogged down with repetitive sections that focus too much on samey objectives.
Stronger enemies and boss battles also tend to suffer from a mix of harsh difficulty and a lack of ideas usually requiring no more than activating your Overlay, shooting and then hiding until it regenerates again. Rinse and repeat. Overall though, the campaign kept me happy for its runtime, frustrating moments aside.
Co-op mode is the true highlight of Syndicate offering the chance to tackle a series of stages with up to three other players online. Spread over nine levels, you’re given several objectives to complete usually consisting of eliminating enemies or collecting and returning important items as a team. While it all sounds fairly standard, it’s the actual focus on team play that makes this mode interesting combing gun play with the previously mentioned DART 6 chip. Breaching can be used to your team’s advantage helping heal others, provide them with temporary damage boosts and more perks. A good team will shoot and occasionally heal one another from time to time but a great team will plan and find the perfect balance between breaching and killing utilising all available abilities to their full potential.
Taking a page out of the Call of Duty book, you can customize your loadouts and apply perks giving you specific abilities to help you and your team out. Everything you do in-game whether it’s killing, assisting, healing or reviving rewards you with experience which in turn increase your level and unlocks new weapons, advanced perks and challenges. Killing specific enemies also unlocks the opportunity to research into modifications for your weapons such as red dot sight and higher capacity magazines. You’ll constantly feel like you’re working toward something as finishing a mission will usually unlock new extras to be explored and customized.
Syndicate has a nice look to it. New York is full of tall ultramodern skyscrapers, Atlantic sea bases overlook vast waters and China blends its culture into the environment resulting in a nicer fusion of futuristic scenery. More often than not you’ll be walking through corridors and rooms of buildings which do start to look the same, but when you do get to a new setting you can’t help but marvel at the overall style. Furthermore in a nice touch, objects and signs around you display pop-up labels when close enough. Sure these are no more than markers stating that a plant is a plant or a hobo is a hobo, but it shows the attention to detail emphasising the fact that your character has a chip in his head scanning everything you see. There are few inconsistencies with lighting making particularly bright points tough to see and characters do move and talk with stiff animation, but overall it’s sound.
Syndicate does just about enough to help differentiate itself from the wealth of shooters already out there delivering a game that has some really interesting concepts only let down by moments of mediocrity. Single player will offer an okay distraction, but it’s the co-op that will keep you coming back for more. If you’re looking for a new run-and-gun game then Syndicate might be worth checking out. Next genre defining shooter though, this is not.