8th March 2012 - One of my favourite games as a child was the original Syndicate, and its sequel, Syndicate Wars. The intelligent mix of strategy, sabotage and seemingly complex missions had me captivated despite my age and naivety towards adult games. One of the worst kept secrets in gaming news as of late was that EA Games and developer Starbreeze studios were planning to revive the Syndicate franchise for today's gamers. The results are mixed, but it is a refreshing change compared to other FPS games available at the moment, especially if you have a craving for something different, or need a new FPS to invest in with some mates.
Syndicate takes place in 2069, and the world is owned by massive corporations. 57% of the world's population have embraced the DART chip. The DART chip (which was invented in 2025) enables chip users to access the dataverse, which is basically a massive stream of data (like the internet) you can see right before your eyes. Unfortunately the chip itself, as well as the apparently obvious conveniences that come with, are not part of the overall story, and we are left with a plot focusing solely on Miles Kilo, a Eurocorp agent who awakens from unconsciousness via several punches to the stomach and head. After escaping an interrogation and certain death, Miles reunites with his team at Eurocorp, and jumps immediately back into action. The story is weak, and the gameplay is pretty predictable, but the use of the DART chip in gameplay proves entertaining. Being able to "breach" an enemy's gun so that it backfires in their face or being able to breach a grenade (disarming it) and then being able to use it against them are highlights of the Syndicate experience. Not so much because of their originality (which is questionable) but because of how seamless they integrate into the fast paced shooting. Whilst I am behind cover, I am able to slide out from cover, change between shooting styles, break a man's neck, and all the while I am able to hack a security turret to shoot my enemies, or hack the scenery to provide valuable cover to hide behind.
People looking to Syndicate for complex decision making or moral decisions can forget that notion, as Syndicate is an almost on-rails experience, not that it bothers me. It is nice to be given options to carry out a mission, but at the end of the day it is exactly that, a mission (with strict guidelines). The missions can also suffer from a lack of direction as a lot of the time there is no dialogue between characters, and mission objectives can be as vague as "find a way to proceed" or "proceed with extraction". This wouldn't be so bad if the lighting hinted at where to go (like in Left 4 Dead) or if the DART chip provided me with a GPS system or even some arrows, but I found even in the first mission I had missed a dark corner with a fairly well-hidden vent to crawl through. Maybe I'm lazy, maybe I've gotten used to games telling me my objectives in depth, but it did irk me slightly.
Multiplayer is more of the same, but ultimately more fun due to its harsh difficulty. Whilst not being as difficult as Dark souls, it is harder than Call of Duty's Veteran difficulty. If you have a good group of friends and you find you gel co-operatively at games, then Syndicate's multiplayer missions will keep you entertained for quite a while. Team work is truly essential, and attempting to be a lone wolf, or running ahead to hog kills will ultimately prove suicidal. Supporting hacks such as healing each other and reviving fallen allies are crucial to a mission's success, something which unfortunately a lot of people have yet to get the grasp of in my time online with Syndicate.
Syndicate at times looks truly beautiful, and other times looks boring and sterile. One of my personal peeves with video games today is film grain, which Syndicate seems to ramp up at its own convenience. I find film grain in a non-cinematic or story-driven title to be lazy, and ultimately jarring, as opposed to a game such as Left 4 Dead, which has a bevy of cinematic, horror, and grindhouse influences. The character and level design is competent, though nothing special. Hollywood calibre actors such as Brian Cox and Rosario Dawson look enough like their real life appearances, though this lends nothing to the game, much like the dull dialogue given to the actors. Call of Duty style set pieces such as the back of a high-speed train, where you attempt to fend off rival agents in an air ship and hover cycles look fantastic, and also showcase some of the game's terrific lighting effects, but also serve to highlight the larger, blander areas of design.
The sound in Syndicate is also adequate though not spectacular. I personally don't expect sound in an FPS these days to be spectacular, but when it is spectacular (like in Battlefield 3), it really is a treat. Syndicate has all the typical sound effects and audio clichés one can expect from a science fiction FPS. Female A.I voices, run-of-the-mill assault rifles and star trek style door sound effects are all frequently heard. The only highlight in the sound (and this may also not serve as a highlight, but more of an annoyance, depending on your musical preferences) is the inclusion of remixes by popular DJs to the classic Syndicate theme. The first "boss fight" sequence features a dubstep remix by Skrillex (you may now groan or cheer as you desire) which I did in fact, enjoy.
Value in purchasing a game is usually a very easy thing for me to calculate in a game's purchase, but not so much with Syndicate. Despite its shortcomings, Syndicate is an entertaining game, although with little to no replay value. I have had more fun with its campaign then any recent Call of Duty game's campaign, though I am not enthralled by Syndicate. Also worth mentioning is that, being an Australian, I had to import Syndicate to even try the game, which is not something I would recommend to anyone who is indecisive about picking up the game. I wouldn't argue that Syndicate is a must have title, but I am having fun with it, and it is something new for people sick of calling in UAVs, and following orders from Gary Oldman.
You may have noticed the words "competent", "adequate" and other similes are littered throughout this review, which reflects my opinion that Syndicate is a good game, but not great. Everything is safe or average, but not daring or exciting. Syndicate also completely disregards the classic Bullfrog franchise of the same name, and that's not a good thing. Although Syndicate does provide some entertaining and frantic gameplay, it feels like a shallow experience borrowing from other games and films to provide a "safe" approach. This seems to be a trend in new franchises, with developers not believing they can reach sales, entertainment and originality in one package. This is a shame, as the gameplay itself (as well as the multiplayer) proves to be more fun than other recent FPS games. It just happens to be met with a boring story and redundant art and sound design. If the sales warrant a sequel, I have no doubt that the criticisms and short comings of Syndicate will be addressed, as well as (hopefully) a less linear approach, and more elements of the business and strategy approach from the classic game.
AAG Score - 6/10
+ Excellent lighting
+ Entertaining, frantic shooting gameplay
+ Multiplayer is rewarding and challenging
+ Dubstep - Wub wub wub!
- Mundane, "safe" approach to development
- Boring story and characters
- Exaggerated camera movements could make some people motion sick
Reviewed and Written By Nick Getley