Syndicate has been met with mixed reactions by fans of the original since its debut, but many gamers have become very attracted to it over time as it continued to reveal what it's about. Now that it's here, it's time to see if the angry fans were right, or if Syndicate in fact changed for the better.
- Worth The Time?Not at full price, but it can be worth a play if you're looking for a brief distraction or new co-op game
- Things LovedThe awesome visuals, the gunplay and great weaponry, the unique Breach system, the HUD, the fast pace to the game, the enjoyable co-op
- Things HatedThe campaign lacks variety and is extremely short and hugely repetitive, the story is almost non-existent, heavily shielded enemies become a chore to fight repeatedly, there are a very limited number of melee kill animations, the inconsistency of the cover system, the hit and miss AI, there's no lasting appeal, it feels like a lot more could have been done with this game
- RecommendationAt this point in time, we're spoiled for choice when it comes to co-op multiplayer. So with Syndicate's single-player mode hardly being enough incentive to buy this, it's difficult to recommend this game on its co-op alone. Give it a play if you're interested, but I wouldn't recommend a full price purchase. It's good for a brief distraction, but nothing more.
- Name: Syndicate
- Genre: First Person Shooter
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online Co-op (4 players)
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox360
- Developer: Starbreeze Studios
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Price: R289-305 (PC), R515-539 (PS3, 360)
- Reviewed On: PC
Syndicate is a game that attracted a wide amount of attention from us because of its exciting trailers and difference to other shooters on the market. Yes, many comparisons have been made with it and last year’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but apart from a few story details I can assure you that the two couldn’t be more different. Syndicate takes place in 2069, and puts you in control of Agent Miles Kilo, the latest prototype agent from mega-corporation Eurocorp. Thanks to Eurocorp’s DART chip, which is a neural chip implant that enables its users to access the dataverse, the world isn’t controlled by governments, but instead by mega-corporations called Syndicates. The world is split between chip-users and “unchipped” people, who are deemed inferior. The various Syndicates are at war, and to fight it they have created Agents, who are bio-engineered and chip-augmented super soldiers designed to carry out their will. Kilo possesses the new prototype DART 6 chip, which naturally makes him special, and the game begins with him getting sent on his first mission. From there, you’ll be diving right into the middle of the Syndicate war, trying to make sense of what exactly you’re fighting for.
While the premise of the game makes it sound like there is a lot going on here, the truth of the matter is that Syndicate’s story is practically non-existent. At least, it gets completely lost in all the action, and is barely even told. The game constantly alludes to there being something big happening, or that events are slowly leading up to some kind of grand finale, but nothing ever comes. In fact, hardly anything of significance happens in the story at all. Now, looking at Syndicate it’s clear to see that there are some great ideas here, especially with the conflicted and inhuman main character, but the problem is that this plot is so cliched by now and the game makes no effort to differentiate. Everything is told to you in such a casual manner that all importance is soon sucked out of the plot. Basically, the plot can be summarised as follows. Kilo takes orders from a big-time corporation who turn out to be using him, and once he gets a mind of his own he realises that they’re the baddies. Not every plot needs to be entirely unique, but it was definitely possible for Syndicate to make something more out of this one, especially when they have such an inhuman and twisted protagonist to drive the story forward with.
Kilo for me was somewhat interesting. He seemed to have some kind of humanity buried deep down somewhere, but he was far more robotic than human. He doesn’t speak a word and kills without hesitation, and that includes innocent people if you’re trigger happy like I am. But aside from brief flashbacks to his past towards the end and some comments from other characters here and there, Kilo is never explored in any depth. Not just that, but he couldn’t possibly be. And the reason for that is because the campaign abruptly ends after barely six hours with what can only be described as an eyeball-explodingly predictable and cliched ending. But that’s not the main problem even. The issue is that the ending the game goes for requires substantial character development in order to have any lasting meaning, but the campaign is just too short for any of that and the game doesn’t make any effort to develop its protagonist. What I’m criticizing the game for may sound quite excessive, but the truth is that it’s just the basics of good storytelling. Syndicate has nice ideas, but it fails in its execution of them. I’m not expecting a work of art, but a story with substance, and one that is at least engaging.
The good part is that the campaign can often be good fun with its enjoyable and fast-paced brutal action. It’s just unfortunate really that it’s far too repetitive, and sadly stays at the same level of intensity throughout its entire duration. What I mean is that you won’t really be doing anything else aside from walking down linear paths and going trigger happy to clean out a room of more-than-happy-to-die enemies. Now, the idea behind enemy AI is solid, and they do display some level of intelligence often enough when they dive out of cover and go prone to shoot at you, or rush at you if they’re at the advantage. But the problem is that for the most part enemies are content with being canon fodder, and will freely allow you to blast them to hell or charge straight up to them and perform quick executions, taking them out one by one. Sadly, there are only a handful of execution animations. That said, the combat, weapons and great pace to the action makes it entertaining, but there is a lack of variety and some issues. One of those being with the cover system, which is entirely automatic, as in if you get close to a surface you will enter cover. While in theory this should make for a fluid system, the problem is that you don’t stick to cover, so you can become exposed quite easily just by moving your crosshair.
Syndicate deserves praise for its weapons and unique Breach system. The guns are awesome, and feel great and powerful to use. More than that, nearly all of them have secondary fire options that actually change the way the weapon functions entirely. For example, one of the machine guns can swap to its scope, which turns it into a heavy rifle that can hit enemies through cover. But the core of gameplay is Breaching, which basically enables you to “hack” other chipped opponents and computer systems at any point in battle by simply targeting and holding down a button. For example, you can dud grenades thrown at you, disable shields or cause turrets to attack friendlies. Furthermore, you also get access to unique abilities in the form of Suicide, Backfire and Persuade, where you can force an enemy to blow himself and his friends up with a grenade, short-circuit an enemy’s weapon to stun and damage him, or turn an enemy against his allies. Lastly, using DART you’re also able to slow down time and see through walls, but use of this is limited. These abilities need to be recharged after use, and to do that you’ll need to keep killing. All in all, it’s a fluid and fun system that works very well in the game, and while it doesn’t really add much depth to gameplay, it certainly gives it more personality.
It’s upsetting to see that despite the creative Breach system, the game chooses to focus purely on gun combat. It doesn’t often find unique and inventive ways to use its own mechanics, and even though it’s fun, you can’t help but feel there’s something lacking. I hoped to find something more in the game’s upgrade system, but there was no joy there. While the system is pretty solid and functional, nothing you unlock really adds anything new to gameplay, but simply makes you harder to kill and more lethal. That’s usually fine, but it becomes slightly awkward here because upgrade points are mostly available at set points in the campaign and to make matters worse you finish the game so fast that the majority of abilities remain locked. Ultimately what you’re left with is an experience that feels empty, and incomplete. With the story and post-mission player ratings and statistics not providing much incentive to progress through the campaign, it falls completely on the gameplay to keep you playing, and with that it’s only a matter of how long you can stay entertained with the limited experience on offer. It’s a shame really, because it makes you wonder whether the single-player should have been dropped entirely in favour of the more attractive co-op mode, or if more should have just been done with it.
Syndicate’s co-op mode is undoubtedly the better half of the game. It focuses more on the Breach system and teamwork, with up to three other players, rather than pure gunplay. There are nine missions on offer, playable on normal, hard or the unlockable expert difficulty level, and it’s up to you how long this will keep you hooked. The gameplay of the co-op has a similar style to Left4Dead, in that you and your mates will fight and survive through a number of enemy waves and eventually reach “safe zones” which serve as checkpoints and places to stock up on supplies. It’s just surprising how much more value is offered in the co-op mode. Things start out pretty easy in the first mission, but it quickly turns really difficult, and the AI become extremely punishing. This means you’ll need to pick appropriate skills and work as a team, focusing on healing each other, breaking enemy shields and using your abilities to help friendlies or to attack enemies. It really can be quite brutal, but this is all part of the fun.
There are both more and better skills offered in co-op than in the main campaign, such as Shield, which gifts your whole team with an armour bonus. You’ll get to customise your weapon loadouts, and earn experience to increase your rank and unlock new abilities. There is a lot more variety, in both level design and abilities, compared to the main campaign. Additionally, you’ll also earn research points in missions, which are used to unlock new weapon mods and abilities, and this allows you to play the role that you want to. It’s just puzzling why many of these elements weren’t incorporated into the single-player mode, even in some small way. I’m positive the campaign would have been a lot better if it had included these sorts of customistation options, especially since action makes up the entirety of the campaign. It would certainly have added some much-needed substance to the single-player.
However, it’s a sad thing though that as much as the co-op does right, it bares a similar set of problems to the campaign, in that things just become lackluster after a while. The Breach system doesn’t have enough depth or creativity to carry the gameplay forward on its own, and the scenarios and mission objectives are often not that diverse or exciting. Overall, you get the feeling once again that something more could have been done here. I just had no desire to continue playing after a couple of hours. Syndicate is unfortunately the manufacturer of its own demise. In today’s world, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to co-op multiplayer, and many games also include a great single-player package to go with it. So with Syndicate’s single-player mode hardly being enough incentive to buy this, it becomes difficult to recommend this game at its full asking price on its co-op multiplayer alone. And that’s a shame really, because the co-op is actually good fun, and offers something of decent value.
Graphically, Syndicate is gorgeous. Even though the bloom effect seems to be overused at times, the futuristic design is excellent, and the blue-hue colour scheme is awesome to look at, and surprisingly easy on the eye despite being bright and flashy. The visuals are clean in spite of the excessive violence, and the game retains a classy appearance. The feel of the world is great, and the game has plenty of personality, even if it doesn’t really feel alive. I particularly loved many of the weapon and character designs, especially Kilo. I don’t really remember any standout soundtracks, as music was pretty subtle for the most part. That, or it was just drowned out completely by all the shooting and explosions. However, the voice acting was actually of a good standard, which at least made the narrative authentic, even if it wasn’t really that engaging. In the end, as an audio and visual experience, Syndicate fortunately delivers nicely, and it’s definitely one of the best aspects of the game.
Syndicate is a fun game, there’s no doubt about that. You won’t feel like you wasted your time or gained nothing if you play this, but it feels like it should have been a lot more than it is. It’s not the worst of disappointments, but it’s unfortunate nonetheless. The game is entirely ordinary, doesn’t last, and quickly fades from memory. In the end, this is only good for a brief distraction, and nothing more.