Back in 1993, a company called Bullfrog released a top-down isometric, tactical shooter called Syndicate with great success. In 2012, EA and Starbreeze Studios have re-launched this series, but this time as an FPS. We have seen in the past when a series is rebooted and relaunched the result is often pretty bad. I can confirm, however, that Syndicate is not bad at all. In fact it’s pretty dam good, what’s more, as a FPS it introduces some nice ideas and throws in a pretty cool on-line co-op too. The graphics are really polished and the animations as well as the AI are also some of the smoothest and smartest I have encountered. So let’s just dive right in there and see why this is so good.
The story is a pretty standard one, large corporations called Syndicates rule the world and, as such, they have the power to do pretty much what they like. Chips have been implanted into the heads of most of the population, allowing the users to interact with all the machines around them in a far more efficient way. The top tier of the population have special chips in them, and you, as a prototype solider called Miles Kilo, have the DART 6 chip in your head. This, of course, gives you special abilities and powers. This is the novel part of this FPS as it allows you to do all manner of cool things, including slowing down time, use the tactical overlay, commanding people to commit suicide or persuade them to join you for a time. These are all easy to do, but you need the power gauge to be built up so you can have access to these bad boy moves. Now, this is a FPS which encourages you to use these abilities in an intelligent way as you can’t just run and shoot (I have tried). It’s both a good thing and bad thing as you feel a little restrained, but trust me, it’s worth it.
During gameplay you begin to learn about Mile’s past as he begins to understand why he fights and what is driving him. The story is told in cut scenes which you can take part in and move around in. It helps a game when there are two Hollywood stars such as Rosario Dawson (Sin City, Men in Black II) and Brian Cox (The Bourne Identity). The controls are standard FPS ones and easily accessible, using the R2 button gives you access to the DART mode and you can target a person using the other trigger to initiate one of the breach events. These may be just hacking doors or computers, but also include dealing various blood thirsty acts on the unsuspecting soldiers. I can’t help but think of last year mega-smash Deus Ex and draw parallels between these two games. Whilst Deus Ex gave us mainly gold and black colours, Syndicate uses blue and pink. This paints a moodier scene and gives the graphics a nice polish to them. The world around you is a bright, colourful place with skyscrapers and lights everywhere. The guns look just lovely and the detail taken in the shooting and reloading is especially pleasing to me. Since it’s an EA game you know it’s going to look good. The facial expressions are somewhat odd at times, although other times they’re basically perfect.
There is a lot of good in the campaign mode, the high octane shooting sequences (very much like Bodycount), the breach powers and the running and action bits. There is, however, some bad as there is no emotional connection made between the story and your actions. It’s also true that whatever actions you choose it seems to have no bearing on the story. The boss battles sadly are tedious and not the action-fests I thought they would be. The characters themselves are a bit 2D and the story has many unanswered questions. If you take this as a FPS with some neat ideas then you won’t be disappointed. If you are after a deep story, I suggest Deus Ex. The AI is very clever, as mentioned, and different soldiers require different ways of killing. For example, the more powerful ones need to be hacked first so you can access their chips and make them do what you want. You need to mix your gun play with your powers and movements. The combat has a good feel to it and its satisfying, although you may need to adjust the sensitivity of the movements as I found them to be a bit slow.
The tactical overlay is one of my favourite aspects of Syndicate, as you can, for a brief period, see where the hidden enemies are and plan your attack. The slowing down of time is done very well and looks damn cool. This isn’t just an FPS as there are lots of puzzle elements that require you to jump around hacking terminals (Deus Ex) and gaining access. Whilst the campaign mode will offer you some fun, I believe the 4 player cp-op is where Syndicate shines and since there is no EA Online Pass needed, it’s a free for all. The approach here is a day in the life of a mercenary. So you are given tasks to perform and you set off with your team gathering points and kills. A new element is the added ability to heal each other, but this is no easy task as because you are constantly getting pummelled by bullets you need to find the right time to heal them. This is where a tactical brain comes in handy. There is nothing more fun than playing with your mates and watching them die as you heal and then run wild on the enemy. This co-op mode offers a lot and the missions are pretty fun as well, it gives the right balance between gunplay, action and fun.
Overall, Syndicate is a full on action game with puzzle aspects. The single player campaign mode is fine and has bits of great fun in it. These are mixed with some holes in the story and lack the motivating factor of other games. The co-op online mode is very very good and gives a lot of fun and just has a fine balance to it. The graphics are bright and sharp at the same time, the sounds are polished. This is an FPS with new ideas and, for the most part, it implements them well. The breaches and powers you have look super cool and are easy to execute. The shooting mechanics are spot on and overall this is a well packaged game. There are some missed opportunities here as this could have been a Deus Ex killer. It’s the future, but not exactly as we would like it.
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