If there was one game that completely flew under everyone’s radar during its development stages in 2011, it would be the EA published and Starbreeze-developed Syndicate. Seriously, with all the games I’ve seen in the past year, I didn’t even know this was a “thing” until about three or four months ago. As it turns out, it’s actually the re-imagining of a series that’s nineteen years in the making. Because of that, Syndicate shares the same basic foundation as the original but manages to add a whole ton of character (read: story) along the way.
Does it live up to the original title? Is it a silent hit in the making? Read on to find out.
If you’ve got a thing for futuristic corporate espionage, then this will be the game for you. The story in Syndicate takes place in 2069, a time when the world has been flipped on its head and corporations have taken control, both literally and figuratively. Thanks to a company known as Eurocorp, the world’s upper class population has built a dependency on the DART chip; a piece of silicon that attaches to a human’s nerve system and acts not just as an identifier but as a means of endless information. In other words, a Google search engine…in your brain.
In this digital future painted by Starbreeze, knowledge is power, and that knowledge is everywhere. The corporations of the world want to harness the power that comes with these DART chips and use it as a means of control. You play as agent Miles Kilo, a “super chipped” syndicate bred to fight under the control of Eurocorp. His sole purpose is to ensure the company’s survival by protecting its secrets at any cost.
The game opens up on a routine intel collecting mission, but once that data is obtained, you’re thrown a curveball. You learn about a mole on the Eurocorp side; one who has been giving up company secrets to Aspari — a rival coporation building their own DART chip based on Eurocorp’s design. What happens next unravels the chain of events that take you through Syndicate’s single player campaign.
Finally, an espionage game that doesn’t have me hiding in shadows. If someone would ask me to describe the gameplay in Syndicate in two words, they would be ‘fast’ and ‘furious.’Because of its fast paced nature mixed with platforming, as I was playing I couldn’t help but call it Mirror’s Edge with guns.. However, don’t expect to find any parkour here save for the slick floor sliding technique you get when you hit the crouch button while sprinting.
Syndicate does a great job of creating a futuristic New York City by developing a stark contrast between the high rise, high society living of “chipped” inhabitants with the dark and dingy “underground” environments that house the “chipless” downtown city dwellers. As you explore the world as Kilo, you’ll notice that all of your surroundings are blanketed with what seems like never ending meta-data adding to the whole “information overload” that the DART chip is known for. Anything and everything you look at in your field of view has some kind of value in the form of information.
Visually the game rips a page right out of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but instead of hues of gold, we see tons of blue thrown in it’s place. Stylistically the game has a good amount of unique design and decent use of color but it’s ultimately erased when you start noticing all of the “light bloom” effects that are constantly thrown in. It’s so bad at certain points, with the screen so overly washed out, that it literally hurt my eyes while playing. If this was done as an attempt to create some sort of visual interest, it’s certainly an aspect that fell flat on its face.
The title looks really slick but there was something I couldn’t help myself from thinking the entire time. How can a game so pretty have such boring level design? Sure, this kind of story is best told in a linear fashion, but it doesn’t have to necessarily feel that way. They give you all of this sci-fi to work with which, in turn, creates intrigue, but they disallow any sense of exploration and it’s something that could have helped to add to the game’s story as well as the paltry six hour play time.
The game’s sound is on par with what you’d expect with any shooter these days. We get a decen’t 5.1 mix, however the voice work and soundtrack (an engaging but underwhelming techno) is for the most part, forgettable.
The game’s biggest redeeming factor is without a doubt its co-op mode. You can take to Xbox Live or PSN with up to three more friends for non-stop action all the while ditching most of the annoying issues of the single player campaign. DART chips and all the benefits that come from them are also found in this mode, and instead of the usual “revival” techniques found in other shooters, you’ll find yourself “rebooting” your downed comrades back to life. Co-op also gives you the chance to check out some other locales outside of New York City in the game.
As a gamer who has been looking for more engrossing single player campaigns as of late, I was stunned to find just how much more fun I was having with Syndicate’s co-op. It was good enough to the point that it actually helped the title gain back some points in my book. Had this mode been left out, it would have barely made this game a rental, but now that it’s in there I have to recommend it for any fan of co-op games.
Syndicate has a lot of good ideas going for it. The sci-fi foundation and the mood it creates is one part Bladerunner, one part The Matrix, with a nice sprinkle of Deus Ex: Human Revolution to act as a binder. For the most part it works. Unfortunately, as you get into the juicier bits of the narrative, the flaws in the game step in the way of the science along with the story that its creators wanted to tell. Mix that in with some trivial platforming and “where do I go next” moments that manage to rear their ugly head from time to time, and you’re left wondering why, all of the sudden, there are dead end stops in what you thought was going to be a rollercoaster ride.
Try it for the science. Quickly run through the story. Stay for the co-op.