Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Reviewed: June 2013
Game Type: First-person shooter
Syndicate is a game about a Lottery winning group of hippies who go around the world spreading peace and love. Ok, I lied. Syndicate is actually a kind of modern sequel to a very different game series, of the same name, which instead were based around an isometric perspective, and were tactical shooters rather than the basic first person shooter style of the game I’m reviewing. A lot of fans of the games, made many years ago in the depths of gaming history, are quite annoyed at this fact, as it has taken the game away from its roots. Had I played the original games, I would probably feel the same way, but as I haven’t, I can only ever produce an impartial review, as my feelings towards the game before I started were pretty neutral.
Moving on, the main protagonist is called Miles Kilo; I guess a name such as that carries a lot of weight. A person like that will go far too. Perhaps he was named after a bag of sugar, by parents that liked to travel. Who knows?! Ok, enough of the terrible puns and onto the review proper.
You start off as a hostage of some sort, fighting your way to… something. It quickly becomes clear in this short interval that this is just a test exercise, though, and after that is where the game starts proper. You are part of an organisation called EuroCorp, a technologically advanced company that designs and creates chips that are inserted into the human mind, and which control virtually every aspect of the modern citizen's life, from ordering a beer in a bar, to the level of access they have for a given building; basically a neural implant. From here is where the game’s title comes into play, as companies like EuroCorp are in a sort of syndicate with other mega-corporations around the world, and it is these, rather than governments, that rule in the future, the 2060’s to be exact.
EuroCorp’s involvement in the game is central to the main focus of the game, and is based around their neural implant, which is called the DART chip. The society of the world is split into two groups: those that live in relative luxury and have the DART chips installed in their heads, and others that have refused to comply and live in squalor.
A fair bit of detail about the game world can be found in various electronic journals that you can pick up, virtual news kiosks or from emails on terminals that you have accessed. A lot of it isn’t all that interesting, but occasionally you may find the odd exception with a snippet of back-story that helps flesh things out a bit more.
A lot of fuss was made that the game allowed you to go around and just execute random unarmed people, such as staff at the companies you infiltrate, hobos, or just general civilians living in the ‘Down Zone’, the poor and crime ridden area where people live underneath the elite of society in their majestic skyscrapers. While you can do that, if you like gratuitously killing people, you don’t have to, and personally I left them all alone. It may be a game, but I still don’t like doing it anymore than if I were to force myself to play with the Dark Side in a Star Wars game. The game is violent in other areas though, as you can pull off some pretty nasty hand-to-hand take downs when close to enemies, and at various points through the game, you can upgrade your DART chip by a gruesome device you plunge into the cranium of your deceased victim, and pull out their own chip. This allows you to upgrade things like your armour and health, as well as the DART Overlay mode, which can be used to highlight enemies and slow things down a little, making it easier to pick off your enemies. Unfortunately that mode runs out so fast that, even after upgrades, it’s not as effective as it could be.
Throughout the game though, you’ll find yourself running and gunning just like any other shooter the majority of the time, apart from a minor subtlety in the game-play that involves the use of your own DART chip to take control of your enemies via their DART chips. The game has three main DART abilities that you’ll gradually gain access to throughout the game, and each time you try a new one, you are briefly put into a kind of wireframe-3D style introductory level. The DART abilities are called Suicide, Backfire and Persuade respectively, with the first two relatively self-explanatory, but the third more deceiving, as it doesn’t suddenly invite you into a dialogue with an enemy, but instead involves an enemy briefly fighting on your side before killing themselves once all the other enemies in their visual range have been taken care of. I feel that more depth should have been added as the three abilities by themselves don’t exactly make the game-play any more exciting, and as they quickly run out, like the previously mentioned DART Overlay mode, you’ll end up just shooting away like a normal shooter game anyway.
On the technical side of things, the graphics are generally decent, but the weakness lies with the lighting, as quite often there is way too much ‘bloom’, making the light far too soft and bright. I often wonder what was going through a developers mind when they do things like that; they obviously thought it all looked good themselves. Personally I think that the lighting effects have spoiled the game graphics, and distracted from the bits that do look good. The lighting does look good sometimes, though, and combined with a look and feel that occasionally emulates Sci-Fi classics such as Blade Runner, the game can be a pleasure to look at. Just make sure you use sunglasses.
Sound wise, the game is also decent enough, but there aren’t any stand-out ambient tunes to be found, so just expect your usual sci-fi themed backing. Voice acting is average overall, but with the added celebrity of a Hollywood B-Lister, Rosario Dawson, and a Scottish actor called Brian Cox (not the constantly grinning particle physicist of the same name!)
Syndicate is a solid enough game, and I did enjoy playing it, but there isn’t anything that really stands out to make it a great game. It has got its own unique style of course, but nothing that is distinct enough to make it much different to play than most other shooters. There are elements, such as the augmentations and journals lying around everywhere that a game like Deus Ex used, but there is none of the depth or strength to the story or game-play which that game has. It is also quite short too, with me finishing the game in around eight hours, but that seems to be around the norm for a lot of shooters these days.
I was also a little bit annoyed by how difficult the final ‘boss’ battle of the game was, since it seemed to involve an intricate process of defeating a group of enemies in a particular order and within a certain time frame, otherwise their health was reset, and you’d have to restart the battle all over again effectively. There was plenty of ammunition lying about, but trying to figure out what exactly I had to do required a trip to the Interwebs.
On the plus side, the plot/story central to the game, and the game world in general, is far better than other budget games that I have picked up recently though – games such as Red Faction: Armageddon, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine and Hard Reset spring to mind. So I have to take that into account when giving my arbitrary score.
Save System Review: Checkpoint saves are used, but they are generally well spaced, so shouldn't give you too much hassle.
Arbitrary Final Score:
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