SYNDICATE (PS3) REVIEW – It is pure madness that Syndicate exists, really. Like XCOM last year, Syndicate is a reboot (of sorts) of a cult classic 1990’s strategy game. Unlike XCOM however, Syndicate is a far cry from its origins, and instead is a first person shooter based on the universe. Developed by Starbreeze – a favourite developer of mine – Syndicate takes the dystopian corporatised future envisaged in Bullfrog’s classic strategy game and puts you in the shoes of an ‘improved’ corporate agent. The result is an amazing, visceral first person romp through a world of cyborg humans, corrupt global corporations at war in a not-too-distant future earth.
I’ll be straight with you, outside of the awesome ‘corporations gone mad’, the story didn’t ever really get its hooks into me. The characters are largely lifeless and the story never really hits a narrative stride, meaning confrontations with characters and protagonists never really mean anything outside of surviving to see the next part of the game. In some cases characters who one can only assume have some level of gravitas in the storyline are introduced, only to be killed off seconds later. So the storytelling, the narrative, the characters, they all left me a bit cold. But the concept, the idea of corporate sabotage and the lengths a dominant company will go to control its market and its employees, really hit the spot. Call a case study in why businesses should be suitably regulated.
And the concept is certainly done justice in the brilliantly exhilarating campaign. If I were to describe the game itself I would call it a slightly-augmented first person shooter, so while it does have a few features gameplay-wise that makes Syndicate stand out from the pack (like the ability to persuade your enemies to commit suicide), at its heart is a pretty conventional first person shooter. You look down a sight. You shoot. Rinse and repeat. No strategy, no squad management, and no tactics. This is vanilla first person shootin’.
Which all sounds rather boring and incredibly critical on paper, but what the description doesn’t do is describe the feeling of ‘rinsing and repeating’. Last year I wrote about how Crysis 2 made you feel like a real super-soldier. Developer Starbreeze has created a game that not only plays like it should, but feels like it should. From the movement of your character, the momentum and the amazing feel of the weapons in your hands, taking down your enemies feels suitably badass. But at the same time there is a real sense of chaos to the battles, that anything could happen, and that one soldier than managed to flank you could very well be the one that puts the nail in your coffin. At the same time however I always had the feeling that the enemy felt the same way. And that made everything feel utterly unpredictable.
Syndicate is nowhere near a perfect game. But it is absolutely a top class shooter and one that encourages subsequent play throughs. Once you get over the fact that it isn’t the Syndicate you know and love you’ll find an endearing workhorse of a game that achieves just about everything it sets out to. Just don’t go in expecting strategy.