Syndicate – The PS3 Attitude Review
Rebooting an old but dated classic is a thankless task. How do you keep the old fans happy while making it relevant for today’s audience? Is it even worth the effort? Starbreeze Studios certainly thinks so.
Their approach to reviving Syndicate has been to ditch pretty much everything. Gone, unsurprisingly, is the isometric tactical shooter gameplay in favour of a trendy first-person shooter style. This has more in common with Modern Warfare than the 1993 original Amiga/PC version.
The controls feel fast, responsive and satisfying as you duck in and out of cover, and the main shooting gameplay is neatly supported by a handful of special abilities that allow you to steal turrets, backfire enemy weapons and even persuade them to turn on their buddies.
Syndicate hasn’t gone all fantasy on us. Your agent has a very smart “DART6” chip in his head which allows him to “breach” (hack) into enemy chips. This adds a tactical layer to the gameplay. Outnumbered? Why not get one of the enemy soldiers on your side? If you’re stuck in cover, you could always stun your opponent by backfiring his gun. These powers have an adrenaline meter which fills as you kill. The faster you kill the quicker it fills.
The idea is that it rewards fast and aggressive gameplay, but DART6’s other talent, its ability to slow time while producing a sort-of X-ray vision kills the pace of the game. Slow-down is entirely optional, of course, but you intuitively use it (a lot) and the game inevitably creeps down to a snail’s pace.
Nevertheless, as a pure shooter, it is still satisfying and visually it’s very flashy. The sleek cyberpunk vision of the near future is pleasingly faithful to the original. It’s not especially impressive in terms of detail, but the style is irresistible, similar to last year’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Comparisons with that game are unfair, though. While they are similar thematically and stylistically, they are polar opposites when it comes to gameplay. Deus Ex is smart and flexible – you can play it in a wide variety of ways – but Syndicate only knows how to play as a corridor shooter.
This is surprising. The futuristic world and DART6’s many potential abilities should have opened hundreds of doors for Starbreeze to go wild and do something different, but this is sadly a generic corridor shooter, and it’s not a particularly impressive one either. It’s not as visually stimulating as the genre’s most popular shooters, like Modern Warfare, Battlefield or Medal of Honour, and the range of abilities do not offer anywhere near the amount of opportunities for creative play as the more playful shooters on the market, such as Bulletstorm.
Attack patterns are varied with multi-tiered level designs, but you are essentially moving from one blue corridor to another and shooting the same grunts over and over again.
You hope the set-piece moments will add some variety, but you end up wondering why standing on top of a fast-moving train, taking out ships with a huge mini-gun feels, well, dull. The boss battles are equally disappointing. They usually have you facing up against a super-agent from a rival syndicate. The first one, for example, is fast and agile, and it starts off well. But it overstays its welcome fast, turning into a long slog as you drop hundreds of bullets into his impenetrable body. Other boss battles follow a similar, predictable, format.
Fans will be pleased to know that the game is at least faithful to the Syndicate universe. It’s set in the not too distant future “where business is war”. It’s a world in which three massive corporations run the country. These syndicates are brutal and will stop at nothing to gain/retain power.
You are Miles Kilo, the latest prototype agent at Eurocorp (one of the three leading syndicates), tasked with infiltrating rival syndicate bases to steal intel, assassinate key employees and extract valuable chips from the heads of those dead employees.
The voice acting is also in safe hands with the Emmy Award-winner Brian Cox playing one of the lead roles. Yet, despite this Hollywood sheen, the narrative is largely ponderous, as well as lacking in any real depth or subtlety. There are lengthy logs available, allowing you to dig deep into the world, but the poor menu presentation (tiny text) makes reading them an unpleasant experience.
The singleplayer campaign is underwhelming, but you may find your needs better served by the co-op campaign. It offers four-player objective-based gameplay across nine missions.
It allows you to customise your loadouts with a wide array of weapons and attachments and select from Offence, Defensive and Support play styles. There are more DART6 abilities than in the singleplayer campaign – with healing and rebooting mates as well as creating shields for them being the main ones – and there is an XP levelling system in place so you are constantly working towards new ability upgrades and weapons. You can also create your own syndicates (a clan, basically) and work your company up the leaderboard.
You may pick up Syndicate looking for a great singleplayer experience, but in our opinion, the co-op gameplay is where the game shines best. The gameplay is much more fun and varied when you have three others to bounce off, but whether it’s enough to keep you entertained for more than a couple of weeks is another question.
Syndicate is certainly not a bad game and I expect it to shift a decent number of units and reasonably entertain most who play it. The gameplay feels natural and fun and more creative than most FPSs. But it doesn’t add any real substance to its genre and it offers even less for the revered Syndicate name. Considering the series’ history and Starbreeze’s excellent record to date, I doubt I’ll be alone in being disappointed that it’s not more exciting or original than it is.